Editor’s note: Below is an open letter to our President from guest author Edo Segal, a concerned web geek who cares about the future of our democracy. It is followed by a proposal and a new website for anyone who thinks they know what #obamashould do (cynics please skip post).
On the night of your acceptance speech, just before you walked on stage, “you” sent out an email saying “i will be in touch soon”—but you disappeared and all we were left with was the strange feeling you get when your older brother ditches you for his cooler friends. Does it take you winning a Nobel prize to get another direct letter from you?
Where’s the attention? The yes-we-can attitude, making us feel we can be good again? It seems that since you made it to the Oval Office you have been too busy at work, and our relationship has really suffered.
I recall that as the election results where announced, there was an epiphany that hit the pundits and us web folks at the same time. “He’s going to govern this way” we all thought. What we meant was that you will continue the evolution of direct democracy beyond using the Internet for fundraising, heralding a new age of direct access to the citizenry. A new age of democracy where the President has your email and can talk to you directly. An age without intermediaries and pollsters—just us and that cool guy who’s running the country.
Regardless of our political views, almost everyone in this country was in awe of how you came to be in office and changed how elections are won forever. But for the readers of Techcrunch, the people who grease the wheels of our progress online, it feels like after the hangovers were over and you moved on to set up your transitional government, from that day, what was a highly effective and motivating direct relationship with your supporters, an emotional relationship that was predicated on a real connection evaporated. And what we were left with was the most effective spam bot in the world (Gmail doesn’t block it) . This is wrong in so many ways, let me count just a few:
1. Stop asking me for money: Why are you still asking me for money? I think I am not alone in being confused with the notion that you are still asking me for money after you were elected President (I know why you need it intellectually but not emotionally). I mean at this point, I feel like you should be paying me back with change and not billing me every week. I pay a big bill every April that should just about cover it.
Using the “Network” purely as a means to raise money without the additional layers of engagement and relationship is offensive. We are the network. By just using email as a system to raise money you loose the soul of the connection you established with millions of people.
2. Your singular focus is distracting: While there has been much discussion about the administrations’ notion of taking on multiple fronts at the same time, the online channel recently has been fully saturated with a singular purpose of supporting the very important policy goal of universal healthcare. But in doing so, you have played into the hands of your opponents. The grind on Capital Hill and the levels of complexity that are involved in making this happen, and the time it takes are not a recipe for engagement—they are a recipe for disaster. You are losing your audience and failing us on a major promise of direct democracy.
When I explained my support for you at the very early stages of your campaign to bewildered people who didn’t see how it could be possible for you to win the Presidency, I articulated that regardless of the specific nuance of your policies, the fact you have the power to motivate people in this way is priceless. You demonstrated that you can build on top of the best practices of prior online campaigns (Dean). Delegation to really smart people culminated in the most effective campaign financing system in the history of democracy. But if you don’t keep watering the soil from which your support stems, that direct relationship, you will not be able to make the historic policy changes you seek. Your base is eroding as you focus all of your communication channels on a VERY heavy piece of legislation. Don’t spam us, engage us.
3. The promise: From the perspective of the history of media, the level of engagement you can generate through the Internet has typically been reserved for occasions of war and violence, for times of strife and conflict. Like the days of WWII when people huddled around their radios to hear the comforting voice of their leaders. Imagine applying the same level of engagement that won’t just fuel death destruction and line the pockets of the military industrial complex, but rather will power true change, growth and improve the quality of life for all people. This is within your grasp if you follow through and use the medium appropriately.
Mr. President, beyond the content of your ideas, now is the time to extend the way you govern as we all heard you promise. Make us care again. Online engagement is the key to fostering the support you need to accomplish your policy goals. Engagement is the key to maintaining your base as you mount these vast campaigns. Getting the government to set up a network of Web 1.0 sites is a start, but we need much more. If you continue to spam us and recycle old speeches off a teleprompter into email (like you did with the Nobel eMail) you will lose your base, but if you step up to the challenge and continue to take risks and push the envelope in structural ways that only you can, your greatest legacy could be more than enacting historic legislation or winning a premature prize. It could be the very way our democratic process works and how we view government.