10 Sep 2005

Andrew Rasiej for Public Advocate

New York will be having an election this coming Tuesday. One of the offices that will be voted on is the office of Public Advocate, for which Andrew Rasiej is running. I have mentioned this race a few times in the past, but now they are down to the wire, and I feel that it is incredibly important to help out if you live in New York, or know anyone that does.
Andrew is a different kind of politician. He is the kind of politician I was looking for in local politics before I decided to run. His campaign has depended on low dollar donors, ideas from the public, and the belief that technology can be harnessed to realize a true participatory democracy – where communities are connected to help themselves and their local government make a better community. This is a vision that I share, and his campaign is breaking new ground for a type of politics that I hope to see explode in the near future. Campaigns where control is given to the supporters, where the focus is on the communities and the opportunities, rather than just the candidate. Where support and ideas are more important than who your family knows and how much money they have.
He has been a vocal advocate for municipal WiFi to blanket New York, and I don't think there is a better or more visionary idea from anyone else in the race. In an emerging world where access to the internet is essential for social, educational and economic opportunities, Americans are falling father behind the rest of the world every day. When the Commerce Department says that 95% of new jobs being created require significant computer skills, we are still letting huge telecom interests fleece most of our citizens for $40-50 per month for broadband access. Andrew envisions Municipal wireless as infrastructure – a public good like roads or electricity – that builds business and enriches everyone when it is universally applied to a society.
However, his campaign is not just about that, which some people think it is. That is simply a building block for a bigger vision. A new vision of what government and politics could be. His remarks at the Personal Democracy Forum were words that could have come from my own mouth, were I a more talented writer :
In my humble opinion, we have it backwards. Too much of the energy about technology’s impact on politics is focused on elections and what it can do for, or against, individual politicians.
We techno-politicos should instead be focusing on how we can restore health to our civic life — and in particular, how we can get more people connected to each other and their government to raise issues, share ideas and solve problems.
After all, there are lots of good reasons that most Americans hate politics. It’s been taken away from them and turned into a cynical game that is more focused on winning elections than getting things done, where tearing the other side down matters more than lifting ideas up, where people are treated as commodities, and the only ones who get any attention are the people who can pay to play.
So it’s not enough for us to use our skills and creativity to figure out a better way to block a bill or dial for dollars.
We need to aggressively advocate new ways to use technology to foster a more open, responsive, and accountable government.
This is the kind of politics I am also working for, and why I was attracted to attending the PDF conference in the first place. He is not just saying these things, he is working to realize that. A few months ago, he launched WeFixNYC.com, a small example of a big vision where people can take pictures of potholes or other public problems and send them to the website where they are posted on a google map, and when you click on them, you can see the status of the problem. Imagine if all levels of government embraced this kind of involvement and technology. This is participatory democracy, and it shows a taste of what could be possible if a politician who understood technology, and was not just in it for themselves, ever got elected.
If you know anyone in the area, please call them and ask them to vote for Andrew Rasiej on Tuesday. It is an important first step to a new, better politics coming to an election near you.
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