Saturday, April 29, 2006

Going on Another Democra-cation

I know, my life is tough - yet another "democra-cation." However, this time I don't use the neologism facetiously. I really will be learning about democracy on this vacation - or rather, I'll be learning about citizen media. I will be in London all week attending the We Media Global Forum in London. According to the organizers, it will be "no ordinary conference, We Media is about how we create a better-informed society by collaborating with one another." It had better be, because it set the Bank of Mom & Dad back $800 clams.

I won't be blogging the conference, even though they expect us all to be wired. (I don't want to miss something because my head in buried in my laptop.) However, the tag for the conference is "wemedia," so if you are interested in others who are blogging it or in seeing pictures, use that tag in Technorati or Flickr.

Back in a week, M

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Vote for the Demosphere Manifesto

I just came across a really cool site called, which is dedicated to supporting reasoned and thoughtful argument. To this end they post proposal of interesting ideas (manifestos) and then allow people to vote for them. If the manifesto receives a certain amount of votes, it will be posted permanently on the ChangeThis site for others to find and use.

I submitted a proposal for the Demosphere Manifesto, which is now available on the ChangeThis site. (The demophere is a global digital democracy network. It is a digital ecosystem of blogs, websites, and digital citizens who want to empower local democracy movements around the world.)

The proposal needs 300 votes by May 25th. To vote for the proposal, click here and then click the "Yes, write this manifesto button"


categories: the demosphere_

technorati tags: , , , in the Atlantic Review

The folks over at the Atlantic Review (recently voted Germany's best blog) were nice enough to post an article about the project. Take a look if you are interested in how developed or if you just want to see my smiling mug. You can also read about other impressive projects by former Fulbrighters.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"Deliberation Day" - Why not on the Web?

In the NYT Sunday Magazine today, I read about an idea called "Deliberation Day." Coined by Profs. James Fishkin of Stanford and Bruce Ackerman of Yale, Deliberation Day seeks to recreate - for a single day - the original direct democracy of the ancient Greeks. According to Fishkin and Ackerman, Deliberation Day would be a national holiday held a few weeks before election day in which voters in groups as large as 500 would congregate and, through concensus, "hash out issues together."

Sounds interesting in theory, though in reality it would probably be a chaotic and minimally-productive headache (that's democracy for you.) Nevertheless, it would remind the participants and anyone who learned of the event, of what democratic decision-making really is. For better or worse, the representative democracy that in practiced in the US and Europe is a bastardization of the original participative concept of democracy. We should always be asking ourselves, is our system really democratic? Do we even want it to be democratic? How can we strike a better balance between populism and pragmatism?

I think it would also be interesting to see Deliberation Days appear on the internet, people from different countries trying to reach concensus on a topic. (The number of participants would have to be smaller than 500, of course.) Why not have citizens from Israel and Palestine meet regularly online with the explicit goal of developing a workable solution to the crisis between their respective nations. It's a crazy idea, but nothing else has worked, so why not try digital direct democracy?

categories: uncategorized

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Iraqi Citizen Journalists

Those who read this blog know that I am a strong supporter of citizen journalism. I believe that, especially in the developing world, citizens can often provide more honest accounts than the state-contolled (and often self-censoring) mainstream media. However, it is with a mixture of satisfaction and regret that I write about citizen journalism in Iraq. This is in part because their burden is too great, in part because the tragic story they are telling is made even more unbearable by the fact that it is being told be citizens, not by a well-coiffed TV anchor who can give the false impression of the calm that comes with distance.

Why is the burden on Iraqi citizen journalists so great? The extremely dangerous situation in many parts of Iraq has limited the mobility of many professional journalists, who are not able to thoroughly cover events as they occur. The responsibility for telling these stories falls to Iraqis, particularly bloggers. I am speaking not only the exquisite and well-known sites like Iraq the Model, who have consciously and successfully taken on the role of alternative news source, but also of individual bloggers how are caught up by news even when they are not seeeking it.

I am thinking specifically of Zeyad of Healing Iraq. Last Sunday he went to visit his aunt in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. Subsequently, the neighborhood was attacked by armed groups in police uniforms from the Interior Ministry, possible accompanied by militiamen. The area was sealed off (by whom?) so Zeyad was unable to leave. Power was cut off for 48 hours. When the power returned, Zeyad went online and wrote a blog post. "I'm on dial up now so I have to sign off," he wrote. "I probably won't be able to post again until tomorrow night. Hopefully the situation would have calmed down by then; it's extremely tense at the moment."

On Thursday he was still unable to leave his aunt's home, but instead of sitting around and let the tension overtake him, he decided to write about what was going on around him. He recounts, with astounding detail, the Adhamiya battle. His account is almost too immediate. You can hear the "inferno of machine gun fire," "the familiar buzz of an American unmanned surveillance plane in the air," "American helicopters... circling the area." On Tuesday, things calmed down a bit.

"People were seen on the streets at 5 pm and bakeries and supermarkets opened for a couple of hours. We went out for supplies; bread, petrol, cigarettes and Pepsi. There was no electric power since Monday morning. We heard from friends and relatives that life was going on 'normally' in other parts of the capital; the obligatory car bomb or roadside bomb, politicians still bickering, corpses still turning up at random locations, people still being kidnapped and assassinated, you know, the usual everyday stuff."

On Wednesday, things calmed down enough that Zeyad went out to take photos of the roadblocks and the eerily calm streets under an surprisingly blue sky. He even used Google Earth to make detailed maps of the fighting (see photo above). He also recorded the comments of residents.

"They were all Iranians."

"The attack Monday was punishment for Adhamiya because they opposed Ja'fari's nomination as PM."

"The National Guards are such treacherous bastards. They turned against Adhamiya."

Another citizen journalist, Konfused Kid, also covered the Adhamiya battle. At one point, he called a classmate who said that in the rest of the city everything else was normal. "His talk seemed very alien to me at the moment," writes the Kid, "as if speaking from another planet, I found normalcy irrelevant, he tried to talk me up about the graduation party but I almost wanted to slam the phone in his face, where the fuck are we and where are you? it was weird because normally I didn't give a damn.

This is citizen journalism at its best: the telling personal detail, the big picture, the photo evidence. Citizen journalism gives us the opportunity to know much more about what is happening in the world. But do we want to know that much? Can we (and I speak here for the comfortable West) bear to truly understand what it is like to live in a war zone, to hear each machine gun round as if it was rattling our own windows, to almost taste the bread, cigarettes and Pepsi that they consumed? Will we be paralyzed by shock and grief? Will we simply tune out and ignore what is too painful to acknowledge? Or will we react, realize that the people suffering are not so different from ourselves and that maybe this implies a bit of responsibility on our part for what happens to them?

categories: citizen journalism_, the "developing world"_, general democracy blogging_

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Democracy Blogging: Zimbabwe

Curt Hopkins of the Committee to Protect Bloggers (along with tech blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick and Brian Schartz, creator of the AIDS blogging pilot project, Blogswana) has recently annouced the the re-unveiling of Enough is Enough, the "new Zimbabwean democracy super-blog". (Although the first sparce posts date from this past November, the blogs seems to be re-committing itself to its mission.) The blog, which is edited by ZimPundit, is devoted to news and analysis of the country of Zimbabwe, with a special focus on bringing about democracy in that country.

Once the “breadbasket of Africa,” in recent decades, under the increasingly tyrannical rule of Robert Mugabe (see creepy photo), Zimbabwe has become a wasteland. However, in Zimbabwe, activists, including many bloggers, are attempting to reverse that trend.

Zimpundit will write regular postings for the site, which also contains automated feeds of news, blog posts, photos and multimedia files. Enough is Enough is designed to act as a blog aggregator, an information exchange for concerned Zimbabweans within the country, and a “bridge blog” to carry the news in that country (now completely devoid of an independent press) to the outside world.

Enough is Enough is a translation of the Ndebele phrase, “Sokwanele” and the Shona equivalent, Zvakwana. These are also the names of two cooperating pro-democracy groups in the country. ( ( (They are not officially related to this project.)

categories: general democracy blogging_

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Add your Signature to the Demosphere Manifesto

In March, I first introduced the Demosphere Manifesto, a proposal to create an international digital democracy network. Here is a brief summary:

The demosphere would be a digital ecosystem of blogs, websites, and digital citizens who want to empower local democracy movements around the world. The demosphere would connect digital citizens to local movements through tech-savvy "bridge activists" in different countries. Bridge activists would link the knowledge and political experience available on the internet to local activists working on the ground. Using the internet, bridge activists in different countries could connect and learn from one another. These peer-to-peer networks would facilitate a cross-pollination of democracy-building strategies and techniques from country to country. Greater knowledge leads to more productive action which speeds the pace of democratization around the world.

I and my co-author, Paramendra Bhagat, wanted the manifesto itself to be democratic, so we put it on a wiki so people could edit it and make changes. Now it is even more participative. You can "sign" the manifesto digitally on the website (in French or English). Come by, take a read, and then add your signature to show your support. This could be the start of something big.

categories: the demosphere_, demologue.com_

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Podcasting in Morocco

Yesterday was the first official meeting to launch youth podcasting in Morocco. The goal is to introduce young Moroccans to a new form of self-expression and to give them a site on which to post their podcasts. Although the project was orginally launched by a group of Americans living in Morocco, the goal is to turn the project over to Moroccan control as soon as possible.

The meeting consisted mostly of a discussion of how young people use the internet in Morocco. Although most of the attendees didn't have computers in their homes, which is normal in a developing country, when asked if they used cyber cafes on a weekly basis, almost every hand shot up. This provides anecdotal evidence for the hypothesis that youth access to the internet in developing countries is higher than low computer-ownership figures would indicate. It was also decided that the first podcast will be about how to make a podcast, which seems like a good idea.

In addition to the content, there were several elements of how the meeting was carried out that I was very proud of. First of all, the meeting was in Darija (Moroccan dialectal Arabic) not the English or French that dominate most meetings between Moroccans and foreigners. This inconvenienced the Americans in favor of the comfort of Moroccan participants as if to say to the Moroccans, "this isn't our project it's yours and the podcasts will be created on your terms and in your language." In addition, the Americans partnered with a local NGO, Amal Sale, to recruit participants, stressing the importance of partnership between Moroccan and American activists. We have another meeting scheduled for next week. More news then.

categories: morocco_, the "developing world"_, cool tools_, citizen journalism_

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Friday, April 14, 2006's first press coverage

If you have read the banner at the top of this page, you know that this is the official blog of, a site dedicated to promoting digital democracy in the developing world. Today, Demologue received its first MSM (mainstream media) press coverage. It was featured on a review of blogs on the French radio station Europe1. If you understand French, you can listen to the broadcast here. Here's a nice (translated) quote:

Yes, we call them "democracy" blogs. They are created by internet users in countries that are not quite democracies. These bloggers know each other through the internet and create their network to publish and support democratic ideas. is a digital democracy site. One finds there a directory of bloggers working for the advancement of democracy in their countries. They are either declared members of the opposition or clandestine dissidents. They are from the four corners of the earth and on all continents....

I guess I could complain that this report is inaccurate because democracy bloggers are not actually connected to one another and there in not yet a network of democracy bloggers (hence the creation the Demosphere Manifesto). Nevertheless, I can't complain too much. We bloggers may criticize the MSM, but all we really want is to be loved.

categories: demologue.com_, the demosphere_

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

World's First Digital Org Now Has a Constitution

I know I keep calling Hamro Nepal the world's first digital organization. If it isn't, let me know which organization was, but until I hear otherwise, they're going in my history book. They now have a constition and officers, which is great. Their constitution is clear and short, exactly what a constitution should be (unlike the catastrophic mess the EU created). It has been difficult for Hamro Nepal to set up a chapter in Nepal itself because of the unrest in that country. Hamro may very well be creating itself on the ground in the fall-out from a revolution, which are less than ideal circumstances for starting anything. Unfortunately, we cannot choose the time we are born into, only what we do with the time we are given (hat-tip Gandalf).

categories: digital organizations_

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Flash Mobsters Use Live Journal to Organize in Belarus

According to the all-high gurus of the blogosphere (Global Voices, who else?) Belarussian internet users are using Live Journal to organize flash mobs in Minsk to protest the arrest of democracy activists after the recent (unfree and unfair) presidential election.

However, flash mobbing is not without its detractors. To wit, while some see the small paper boats dispersed during a recent flash mob as evocative symbols of protest, others see them as litter. Said one Live Journal commenter, rather than calling the events flash mobbing, better to call them “Let’s make the city even dirtier.” Read the entire excellent post, by GV Eastern Europe editor Veronica Khokhlova, here.

categories: redefining democratization_, cool tools_

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Social Networking for Social Justice?

My friend Paramendra from Democracy for Nepal has a great idea - using social networking sites to build social movements and mobilize activists. In fact, it's not really his idea. According to Boing-Boing, 15,000 teenagers who attended the immigrant rights protest in Los Angeles last month organized a school walk-out (to attend the protest) through Currently, social networking is not very popular in developing countries (I think) but in a few years, who knows?

categories: the "developing world"_,

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Democracy Blog: Digital Political Activism in Morocco

(This blog post was orginally posted in Arabic on the blog Bla Fransya and was translated into English by me. Any errors or awkwardness are completely my fault. Hat-tip to Global Voices for introducing me to this post)

Has the Time Arrived for Moroccan Political Blogs?

Arabic blogs have been developing in Morocco for some time, so that I am now quite optimistic about their future and I anticipate (God willing) that they will experience a leap in quality due to the coming elections, as happened in other nations (from America to Iran and Egypt). Here are some reasons why:

1st: Arabic is the language of political discourse in Morocco and is especially popular (thank God).

2nd: Telecommunication technology (web sites and blogs and even text messaging) became an effective & economic means of communication with the audience and as a means of mobilizing activists wherever they happened to be.

3rd: The spread of internet use, especially among urban youth and the beginning of its entry into the home.

But the success of the political internet movement depends on the extent to which political parties and urban associations are conscious of the importance of this medium and the extent of their ability to attract activists knowledgeable about this technology.

The arrival of blog-savvy political parties appeared on the blog of M.S. Hjiouj where the activists of the Youth and Development Party presented the announcement of their new party.

categories: Morocco_, redefining democratization_, general democracy blogging_

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And my Response to Democracy in Action

Dear Jason,

I am so glad that Democracy in Action is thinking internationally. What form would you like future "dialogue" to take? Maybe you could just keep me in the loop as DiA discusses this topic. In addition, there is a group of aid workers, interested expats, and Moroccans that are investigating applications of digital democracy in developing contexts. I will mention DiA to them and see what they think.

Incidentally, I don't think it's necessary or even desirable to make your product completely free to developing world organizations. Even a small fee makes the consumer value the product more and makes the buyer of the software a client and not a recipient of aid or charity. I think the more equal the power dynamic between the purveyor and consumer of technology, the better.


categories: redefining democratization_, Morocco_, the "developing world"_

Democracy in Action's Response

Hi, Mary.

Thanks so much for writing, and for the important work that you're doing. That's a trenchant question. Internationalizing the model in a way that embraces the needs of organizations in all different parts of the world is very much on our agenda -- and for that matter, we think there's plenty for U.S. NGOs to learn from those working in the developing world. It's not the easiest of questions because we're also working on an earned-revenue model, but we're exploring some options for broadening that out.

At the moment, we'd certainly be willing to entertain situations like that on a case-by-case basis, but that doesn't form the sort of systematic solution you're talking about. We also offer a completely free scaled-down version of our platform that includes e-mailing for small lists and basic web site actions at [website still in development]

Your organization's mission looks fantastic. We'd certainly love to dialogue with you on how we might get from point A to point B.

Jason Zanon


Dear Democracy in Action,

Greetings. I recently came across your website and I think your organization is amazing. I agree whole-heartedly with your goal to "make online advocacy tools accessible to all nonprofits in order to strengthen civil society by enabling people to connect, communicate, take action, and organize in a manner that is consistent with the highest principles of democracy."

However, I wonder if the fees you are asking for your tools, reasonable though they are, may be prohibitively high for non-profits in the developing world. To take an example from the country in which I live, few NGO's in Morocco's vibrant civil society sector have annual budgets of over $500 dollars. Have you ever considered enlarging your graduated pay scale to include even lower prices for organizations in developing countries with extremely small budgets?

Very Best,

digital democracy for the developing world: (website) (blog)

categories: the "developing world"_, Morocco_, the digital divide_

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

New York Times Meta-News on Political Campaigns and the Internet

I can't really say that the New York Times' story "Internet Injects Sweeping Change Into U.S. Politics" is really news. Most of the article's content will not surprise anyone who regularly visits the blogosphere. However, it is meta-news. That is, the content of the story isn't news, but the fact that the story exists is. The MSM is finally realizing that the internet can be a "revolutionary" political tool. Well, duh!

Here are some choice bits from the article, in case NYT has removed it from free-access before you get a chance to look at it. I have, of course, inserted my own peanut-gallery comments.

Democrats and Republicans are sharply increasing their use of e-mail, interactive Web sites, candidate and party blogs, and text-messaging to raise money, organize get-out-the-vote efforts and assemble crowds for a rallies. The Internet, they said, appears to be far more efficient, and less costly, than the traditional tools of politics, notably door knocking and telephone banks.

I was a volunteer for Bill Bradley's presidential campaign back in 1999-2000 (a great man but not a great candidate). Anyway, going door-to-door is actually kind of fun because it's very grassroots and feels like "democracy in action." However, I do remember my toes freezing off while I was traipsing around New Hampshire before the primary. Phone-banking is another story. It is simply wretched. Cold-calling a long list of donors/rally attendees/perspective voters is monotonous and feels only a few steps away from telemarketing. So, I really hope these methods will soon be extinct.

Analysts say the campaign television advertisement, already diminishing in influence with the proliferation of cable stations, faces new challenges as campaigns experiment with technology that allows direct messaging to more specific audiences, and through unconventional means.

Political campaigns are finding new and more creative ways of advertisting themselves to us. Now we can all look forward to getting political campaign pop-ups on news sites.
This, unfortunately, sounds annoying. However, maybe I shouldn't be too pessimistic. The article says strategists are trying to use podcasts and social networking sites like Friendster to help people connect to information that is interesting to them, rather than just looking for more invasive ways to advertise.

The percentage of Americans who went online for election news jumped from 13 percent in the 2002 election cycle to 29 percent in 2004, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center after the last presidential election.

I wonder what it'll be in 2008. The article says that today 70% of Americans go online and that online election news searches more than doubled between 2002 and 2004. I wouldn't be at all surprised if 70% of Americans are getting campaign news online during the 2008 presidential elections, especially since the overall percentage of Americans online will have increased by then as well.

The article also mentions that candidates and ex- (or is it "pre-"?) candidates like John Edwards and John Kerry are blogging regularly. According to their aids, they write their posts themselves. Yeah, right. I interned in a congressional office, and the congressman didn't even sign his own greeting cards all the time, so I doubt that Edwards and Kerry are taking an hour out of their busy days to blog. Still, it's nice that they are trying to be hip and down with the kids.

categories: redefining democratization_, election blogging_

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