Yankee Doodle, Dandy
“The first duty of an American citizen is that he shall work in politics.”
Left, right or center, many of us spend too much time griping about what we think is wrong with America. Independence Day is a day to celebrate all that is right with it—but it’s also a day to consider where our republic has been in the past, where we want to take it in the future, and how we want to get there.
Our founders rode the crest of a wave of intellectual reformation and revolution called the Enlightenment, and at great peril to their lives put into motion what others in the Old World could only dare dream of. Today, a new wave is cresting, an electronic wave energized by the voices of the 172-plus million Americans now online, that promises to shake the nature of politics and government to their cores.
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We can quibble ad nauseam—and we will—over what words like “men,” “happiness,” and “rights” meant to the Founding Fathers as opposed to what they mean to us today, recognizing that it took nearly two centuries, a civil war and a civil rights struggle before the dream evoked by the words was realized, and even then, only in part.
Sure, we’ve got a ways to go. But we ought to be thankful that we have inherited the inspiring doctrines on this parchment, because without them, this republic, this nation, would be just another accident of geography.
Fathers of Invention
Our nation’s founders were also fathers of invention. Thomas Jefferson invented an encoding machine for protecting state secrets, a portable copying machine, automatic doors and a bookstand. He also made improvements on the plow and the swivel chair. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, the lightning rod, the Franklin stove and an odometer.
Surely, Tom, Ben and the rest would be dazzled by how far we’ve progressed in our ability to store, reproduce, publish and share knowledge, and they would immediately recognize the impact for society and democracy. (It took me less than five minutes on the Web to find lists of the founders’ inventions, a task that might have taken me several hours or more in my high school library, 25 years ago.) But they would also, I think, be pretty miffed about how much we take what they handed down to us for granted. (Between 1960 and 1996, voter turnout in presidential elections dropped from 69 percent to 49 percent.)
The e-Merican Revolution
But a second American revolution is in full swing. Call it the e-Merican Revolution...
Since political blogs first gained influence in the 1990s, literally millions of blogs and sites have sprung up, created by enthusiasts committed to putting the personal back into politics, making the national local, and showing how political issues and the policy decisions made by our leaders affect us all. The Internet is rapidly changing the culture of politics not only in the U.S. but around the world, empowering individuals, and governments and bureaucracies out of their long, torpid siestas:
- Political organizing by mobile phone text messaging is believed to have been a major factor in bringing Viktor Yushchenko to power in Ukraine 2004.
- In Northfield, Minnesota, citizens have been organizing on the Internet since 1993.
- In Canada, citizens voice their opinions and making an impact on foreign policy issues via the Web.
- In Malaysia, citizens of Subang Jaya influence policy through their local community portal.
- Seattle residents are collaborating with their city leaders through SeattleChannel.org, a virtual civic affairs community.
In between firing up the barbecue and slipping into the board shorts and bikinis this holiday weekend, we humbly suggest that you try to find a little time for e-democracy. Crank up the AC, crack a cold one, jump onto that ol’ Internet and get involved. It’s your Web, your country, your government, your life; so put your John Hancock on it, big and bold.
Here are just a few of the millions of resources out there to help get you started:
Yahoo! Directory: Politics
World E-gov Forum
Revolution 2.0 will be televised—and blogged, vlogged, podcast, chat grouped and text-messaged.
Have a happy and safe Independence Day!
(This post appears on my day job blog for Yahoo! Publisher Network. I've also got a few things to say about the holiday over at Dandyism.net.)