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Blogging and Social Media: The New Town Meeting

Tuesday September 23, 2008

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Last night I went to the federal public hearing regarding the completion of the 241 Toll Road. I am not a political person by nature, in fact I avoid political discussions for the most part because I rarely find that people want to “discuss”, but rather they want to impose their political opinion. I prefer to hone my opinions on my own, quietly research the facts and gather objective data, but there still remains an aching suspicion that I am ducking out of the political process from a mixture of cynicism and apathy.

Reflecting on this political apathy I turned to one of my favorite sources for information, Wikipedia, and found this compelling quote from John Dos Passos,

Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension.

Each speaker was given 4 minutes to make their point. Silence in the crowd was mandatory in order to give each speaker their full turn to be heard. Speakers ranged from public officials, some from the Toll Roads board of directors, impassioned park goers who want their children to have a place to enjoy nature in the over developed mass of housing projects that has grown to typify the Southern Californian landscape, surfers, environmentalist, and Native Americans threatened with losing the burial ground of their ancestors. Big business and the “little person” gathered in one room.

It reminded me of “Town Meeting Day”which we had in Vermont. I remember it of course mainly as a day we had off from school and were able to go skiing for free. People of all walks of life would gather in the town hall and discuss local politics. I reflected on memories of one of my favorite teachers, Mr Altman, who would forgo the teacher’s lounge and sit with us in the lunch room and discuss Plato’s Republic and point out how fortunate we were to live in a state that engaged the political process on such a grassroots level.

As I sat there quietly and listened to each person make their arguments I was wowed by the statements ranging from emotional pleas to uphold the promise that this land remain undeveloped, to union workers requesting the toll road be built in order to provide jobs and help the economy. From the ridiculous to the profound I am still trying to come to terms with some of those arguments.

I see the blogosphere as the new town meeting. Your blog post are a vehicle to layout your opinion, cite your resources, illustrate your opinion, share a video. The power previously reserved for the traditional media is now in your hands. The town meeting can be held on your home computer, even your cell phone. Communities of like minded folks can join together in social networks, share opinions, take part in the political process.


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