Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inching closer to democracy

I am very excited by the tangible increase in accessibility, accountability and openness in this election which is countering, at least a bit of, the traditional biases that traditionally serve to diminish our efforts at democracy. Some encouraging examples from the current election:

We have seen multiple lists of candidates in commercial media, and on advocacy group websites, reordered from biased ordering to alphabetical or random in direct response to complaints raised on Twitter.

We’ve seen ads for one candidate removed from CTV’s page listing their interviews with all the candidates, again in response to complaints on Twitter.

Due to a mix of citizen-led pressure, peer-pressure, and media awareness, we have many candidates pre-disclosing their donor lists — for the first time ever (that I’m aware of) in Calgary politics. This has made for some interesting, and sometimes quite telling, reading.

We have increased awareness of, and some tentative early actions for, accessibility for people with varying needs (such as disabilities and English as a second language). Many event organizers are becoming aware of the need to have wheelchair access. Some online videos are being subtitled for the hearing impaired and translated into other languages. There certainly remains much still to be done to ensure equal access for all, though.

We’ve had much increased — although still far from perfect — awareness of rules restricting campaign signs on public land.

We’ve had (or are having) public all-candidate forums for every ballot in the election — thanks in large part to significantly increased civic engagement with groups like (and especially) CivicCamp. We’ve got more people aware of and attending those forums thanks to the calendar on Calgary Democracy (shameless plug), increased social media “word of mouth”, and increased coverage from traditional media (increased relative to previous elections). And we’ve got more people exposed to the content of those forums through online distribution of videos, along with what seems to be more broadcast of forums on radio (thank-you CJSW) and television.

We have quite a few candidates engaging in previously unheard of levels of accessible dialogue with citizens. A significant portion I’ve seen of this has been through online tools such as Twitter, but also through what seems (at least to me) to be a higher quantity of accessible public events than usual.

It’s still far from “enough” in my view, but these are very encouraging developments and do bring us closer to democracy.

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