Saturday, November 08, 2008

Democracy 2.0

In the presentations I’ve been giving over the last six months or so there’s a part where I talk about how schools need to make these changes I’ve been blogging about not just so that students will be effective students and eventually employees in the 21st century, but also so that they can become effective citizens. I’ve pointed to the 2008 presidential election campaign as a prime example, comparing the resources I had available to me growing up to learn about the candidates and the issues with the resources available to students – and voters – today. I’ve talked about YouTube and how you can chart the rise and fall of various campaigns based on the current viral political video, and the plethora of websites where you can find detailed information (and misinformation) about candidates and issues, and the candidates own websites where you can read, hear and watch what the candidates themselves have to say. I’ve pointed out how both campaigns have used the Internet extensively, but that the Obama campaign took it to another level – not just with the unprecedented fundraising, but with the outreach and community building. And I always closed that part of the presentation by saying something like, “When the historians write the history of this election, how big a factor will they say the Internet was? And how are we preparing our students to be successful citizens in such a world?”

Well, that was before we knew the outcome of the election. Now that we do, it appears clear that the answer to the first question is, “Big. The Internet was a very, very big factor.”

From the Denver Post:
Barack Obama's Internet-based campaign has not only made history, it has forever changed the American political process.

. . . Over the past two years, Barack Obama carried Dean's pioneering techniques to an exponentially more sophisticated level. Realizing that America is really thousands of separate if often overlapping communities of interest, Obama used the power of the Internet to identify, organize and unite them. He raised probably more than $800 million when the final numbers come in, and that mostly in small sums from millions of donors. In turn, Obama used much of that cash to convert his virtual communities into a network of field offices and a get-out-the-vote team that brought millions of new voters to the polls.
From The Mercury News:
Former vice president Al Gore said Friday he was overwhelmed by Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election and credited the Internet for the campaign's success.

"The electrifying redemption of America's revolutionary declaration that all human beings are created equal would not have been possible without ... the Internet," Gore said.

From The Guardian:
While most pundits focused on the question of race, one largely overlooked factor was his powerful techno-demographic appeal. . . . It is no coincidence that one of Obama's key strategists was 24-year-old Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder. Hughes masterminded the Obama campaign's highly effective web blitzkrieg on everything from social networking sites to podcasting and mobile messaging.
From U.S. News and World Report:
A key turning point in the long and brutal presidential election involved a YouTube battle between dueling online videos.

It was primary season and Barack Obama was being battered in the press because of his relationship with controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Some of Wright's more inflammatory sermons were captured on video and were flying around YouTube.

Instead of letting the clips fester online, the Obama campaign immediately posted on YouTube the candidate's full rebuttal, a 37-minute-long speech on race he delivered to an audience in Philadelphia.

The video clip helped calm the controversy and attracted around 5.3 million views on the video-viewing website, proving the popularity and impact of a medium that was first used widely this election cycle.
From the NYTimes:
One of the many ways that the election of Barack Obama as president has echoed that of John F. Kennedy is his use of a new medium that will forever change politics. For Mr. Kennedy, it was television. For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet.

. . . Mr. Obama used the Internet to organize his supporters in a way that would have in the past required an army of volunteers and paid organizers on the ground, Mr. Trippi said.

“The tools changed between 2004 and 2008. Barack Obama won every single caucus state that matters, and he did it because of those tools, because he was able to move thousands of people to organize.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign took advantage of YouTube for free advertising. Mr. Trippi argued that those videos were more effective than television ads because viewers chose to watch them or received them from a friend instead of having their television shows interrupted.

“The campaign’s official stuff they created for YouTube was watched for 14.5 million hours,” Mr. Trippi said. “To buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million.”

There has also been a sea change in fact-checking, with citizens using the Internet to find past speeches that prove a politician wrong and then using the Web to alert their fellow citizens.
From Information Week:
And it's only the beginning, said Trippi. That kind of networking will likely transform the White House. Trippi anticipates Obama will create a similar social networking for his legislative initiatives and recruit supporters to lobby Congress to get his policies enacted into law.
That last quote is key, “It’s only the beginning.” We’ve already got, a website for the “Office of the President-Elect,” where the not-campaign-but-not-yet-administration is not only keeping followers updated on what they’re doing, but they are also soliciting input under a section titled “Open Government” with a link titled “It’s Your America: Share Your Ideas.” Does anyone think for a moment that after building up this huge network of supporters that they aren’t going to try to leverage it to help them govern? That they aren’t going to use the incredible community they’ve built to help them drive the conversation and pass legislation? Not to mention, of course, keeping these folks involved so they’re ready, willing and able to going into motion four years from now for Obama-Biden 2.0.

Yes, the issues facing the soon-to-be Obama administration are huge and not quickly or easily solved, and changing governing and politics is a difficult task, but never before has an incoming President had the kind of network and tools at his fingertips that President-Elect Obama has, nor the people who apparently know how to use them well.

So, all this goes back to the second question in the opening paragraph above (and my previous post), how are you helping prepare our students to be successful citizens and participants in Democracy 2.0?

Update 11-14-08: President-Elect Obama is taking the weekly radio address to YouTube as well.


  1. I truly enjoy your blog! The information you have gathered, from a variety sources, has helped me realize the impact of technology on all aspects of our lives. One of the comments from the NYTIMES realy hit home for me. It stated that the election process that Barak Obama used echoed that of John F. Kennedy. It went further to say that Kennedy's new medium was the television; Obama's was the internet. This opened my eyes to the power of technology.
    I too am an educator. Working as an elemnetary counselor I have the opportunity to teach classroom lessons. Some of my lesson topics are as follows: citizenship, integrety, respect, and careers. I have just begun to incorporate technology into my lessons. My students love it! I have a long way to go but I am trying to integrate both character education and career awareness with the use of technology as the medium. Wish me luck!

  2. is currently working with young people, ages 12 to 32, on a national project, the Democracy 2.0 Survey., the national youth civic engagement organization, has launched the second annual administration of Democracy 2.0: An Annual Survey of the Millennial Generation.

    The survey, which has was launched both on and offline this week, will ask Millennials about American society’s most important problems, the economy, technology use, and the role of the generation in the future of politics.

    Questions on the survey were created entirely by Millennials. The survey is being implemented by members of the Millennial Generation, ages 12 to 32, in over 20 states. The survey is available online at

    We are an organization dedicated to getting the voice of every Millennial heard and have had great response from high school students already who have had the opportunity to take our online survey.

  3. Watching and participating in this election through a web 2.0 lens has been fascinating. It only dawned on me a few weeks ago that none of these tools really existed in mainstream America in 2004 and yet they totally revolutionized the way I participated in this election. In 2008 I was probably directed towards more political information through Facebook and Twitter relationships than real in-person relationships. Its amazing to think that this revolution is taking place and yet we're hardly talking about it school. PBS has an interesting curriculum - Access, Analyze & Act> for helping students understand 21st Century Civic Engagement. I plan on encouraging my teachers to use it. Here in California is interesting to watch how the same tools that helped Obama win are being used to mobilize protests to repeal Proposition 8. The revolution continues.

  4. Great post and collection of examples. I agree and noticed much of the same which I wrote about on my blog in a post called, "Digital and Diversity Natives – Contribute to Obama’s Success," ( I will link to your post for concrete examples of what I saw and felt.

    Thank you.

    Lisa Nielsen
    Educating Innovatively at