Wondering: Yes, We Can or Let’s Do It

One thing I like that the President-elect and his transition team have done is to ask us, as individuals, to participate in the new government. After Tom Daschle was nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary, I received an email from John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, requesting that Americans hold small local gatherings to discuss a new health care plan.

“When you sign up to lead a discussion, we’ll provide everything you need to make your conversation as productive as possible… and, when it’s over, tell us how it went. The Transition’s Health Policy Team will gather the results of these discussions to guide its recommendations.”

This appealed to me, but unfortunately the program ended too soon. I was too caught up in other things to get it organized on time, but hopefully the new administration will sort through all the initial findings and do another round of Health Care Community Discussions, because it’s a good idea.

Obama’s people have been encouraging this all along, asking for more active citizen participation, and having read about the characters in Matt Bai’s book The Argument, I wasn’t surprised that someone like Podesta is behind such an innovative project.

A couple of weeks later another email arrived from Podesta. “We recently launched a new feature on change.gov called Open for Questions. Thousands of you responded, asking 10,000 questions and voting nearly a million times on questions from others.” This program continued to a second round, and I’m hopeful there will be a round three.

On New Year’s Eve, I received an email forwarding an idea someone submitted to the change.gov website. The idea was that Obama should revive the WPA-era Federal Art Project and Federal Writers Project. Another good one, and when I visited the website there were other good ideas and ways to get involved.

Last week, one more Podesta email came, this time outlining Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

“…it’s going to take a lot of work to get the plan approved, and your involvement is essential. That’s why we asked some leading members of the Transition’s policy teams to sit down and talk a bit about it — why it’s necessary, how it will work, and how we’ll make sure it’s as efficient and effective as it is bold…”

You can see from this video clip that they really need our input!

And yesterday came an email announcing another new feature on change.gov called the Citizen’s Briefing Book, in which ideas will be rated, printed out and handed to the new President after the inauguration.

I’m glad the computer has made it so much easier to participate, through emailing and writing letters and signing petitions online. It got me questioning though how I ended up on Podesta’s email list and who else is on it. Who isn’t on it? I asked a couple of friends and they weren’t on it. How about all the people who don’t have Internet access? Where do they fit into this new model of grassroots lobbying, and is it really effective, or are we just sending our opinions into the same black hole our resumes are going into this year?

It got me wondering if the many people who don’t have Internet access will have any say in this new government, and about the people who don’t have computers. The statistics I found were from 2007, but they were telling. {America Offline… By John P. Mello Jr., TechNewsWorld 03/30/07}

Thirty-one million households were offline. More than 40 percent of households who did not have Internet service had incomes of less than $35,000, while households with incomes of $75,000 or more had non-subscription rates in the single digits. Education also played a role. More than 84 percent of non-subscribers did not have a college degree. Age was another big factor. The two age groups with the highest percentages of non-subscribers were 55 to 64 year olds, and those 65 years old or more. Twenty percent of U.S. households did not have a personal computer. With the age of digital TV approaching, and the economy tanking, I wonder how many people in these groups will be left even without basic television from which to get information.

I’d like to know if Podesta and the Obama-Biden Transition Project are also making phone calls, house calls, or passing out handbills in low-income neighborhoods or to the elderly, telling them how they too can participate and have a say. Or is this an Internet-only revolution, or some savvy marketing ploy? This remains to be seen, but to me, the more involved people are the better.

The Internet has made grassroots efforts much easier, but we still have to hold our government responsible, and we’ve not been doing that these last eight years. With a new President coming in indicating that he wants our input, we should take advantage. And it’s most important that we represent those who don’t have the Internet as a resource. It is essential that those voices are heard just as loud and clear as the rest.

As a friend said recently, “Just because it doesn’t affect you personally doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

The first day of this new year, I went to Coney Island to protest the destruction of our beautiful rough diamond by the sea and ran into the polar bears lumbering down the beach into the water, and King Neptune on the boardwalk, which turned into an impromptu outdoor disco like it had on all those more festive occasions. The destruction of my favorite place in NYC despite much effort had me feeling quite hopeless, like nothing we do really effects change any more. But in the end, all of this has only strengthened my resolve to work more diligently toward just causes and keep trying to make a difference.

So whether answering the President-elect’s calls, spreading the message to those who might not otherwise get to hear it, signing online petitions, writing letters, making calls, marching on the streets, or starting a new political party, I’d say, start somewhere. Get up and do something to help make America a better place this year.

–Hope Dascher


  1. Mara van N. Said,

    January 17, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    This is a very interesting subject to me, because I’m always so skeptical of projects like this. I mean what on earth is the Transition project going to do with all the results they’re getting? Part of me thinks it’s just a way to pacify people, make them feel heard without actually hearing them, making them feel as if they have influence, when they don’t. So, I guess I’m of the mind that it is a savvy marketing ploy or at least I’m suspicious. You’re right though, if you do get involved there’s a chance it’ll lead somewhere, if you aren’t involved well, that’s the end of that.

    And, just wondering, it sounds as if you’re getting a lot of emails asking you to do something, is that actually true? Or is it just the way it appears because you’re listing them? It actually sounded kind of annoying, as if I should be glad not to be on the list… And also, have you figured out yet how you got on the email list? Because aside even from all the people who don’t have internet, I’d be curious to know which cross section of the population is involved now.

    Interesting subject, interesting post, thanks.

  2. Faith Healer Said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

    Hope, you are on the lists because you want to be and you actively seek out ways to get involved, which is commendable. People that are annoyed by these kinds of things probably will not receive them. You don’t have to be involved, but if you are resourceful and persistent you will be. I would venture to guess that you are exactly the kind of person the Obama administration wants to hear from – informed and passionate. And you are the right person to champion the cause of those who aren’t as informed, educated, or resourceful because you can lobby with a kind of eloquence that may actually be heard. So, keep it up!

    On another level, I don’t think you can ever be sure of a persons intentions, and lord knows I have trusted and been let down on more than one occasion, but I guess I prefer to believe that there is a core of humanity that is essentially good, and despite the corruption that is inherent in most political structures, I choose to extend that same faith to PEBO…but that’s just me. Please no hate mail….OHMMMM

    ~ Faith Healer

  3. Kris Britt Said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 6:35 am

    You mention holding our government responsible and Mara mentions what will they do with all the results. I feel that the other use of the Internet is not just to take a lot of data, but to publish the results so we can all know what the feedback is.

    We all hope that this administration is going to magically fix everything, but maybe the great thing that they will accomplish during their term is employing this technology to be transparent and give us full disclosure on just what feedback they are getting and how it is influencing their decisions.

    Even the ability to provide this kind of transparency is unprecedented, and we should acknowledge the difficulty in leading and representing us all, and the difficulty in sorting and weighing the vast amount of information that will come in even if only part of the population is represented via Internet feedback.

    This process may result in mistakes, and more questions for now than answers, but it will be courageous of the new administration to try. If we can have published results of the Internet feedback, it will hopefully make the inequities that need to be addressed more clear, and possibly help to spawn ideas for how to address them.

    It’s funny, in the Internet industry the assumption for dealing with the “Digital Divide” is always to get more people online. But you suggest that we need to take some “Old School” measures such as handing out flyers. This is why it’s great that we have these discussions. The more we all talk, the better.

  4. M. Porta Said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

    I was laying low all inauguration day, trying to avoid hearing more praise of Obama’s fluffy talk. Yes, I have Obama fatigue. No matter how lovely the words, the soaring rhetoric loses its effect after having heard it a million times. I’ve been especially upset lately over his call to “service,” not because I think volunteering is a bad idea, but because Americans are already among the most civic-minded people on Earth, and I fail to see how encouraging more of us to ladle soup, visit old ladies, and write to soldiers is going to take on big oil, corporate farming, and Detroit, all of whom keep getting rewarded for not only doing the wrong thing, but for keeping down those among us who seek to do the right thing. Time for a new news cycle. I’m keeping an open mind about Obama, but what worries me to pieces is that none of his groupies are. The religious fervor with which he’s been embraced is Orwellian; no matter what the guy says or does, he’s going to get a pass, it seems. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I see how easy it is for people. He connects with them, makes them feel that he understands them, tells them he’s going to fix it . . . but then he really doesn’t say how, he doesn’t demand anything substantive of us. Asking us to volunteer is standard fare for those in public service, and it’s easy for people to feel virtuous by doing so. But remember what Emerson had to say about charity? He thought it was bullshit. Right livelihood is the thing. It’s much harder for Obama to ask us to change our own habits–to forego the absurdly destructive comforts that prop up the economic, environmental, and social dysfunction–in order for our country and the world to change direction. He can do it, but will he?

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