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Citizen Powered Government? A call for a “GRM”(?) solution.

January 18, 2012

Somewhere, and I can’t recall the place, I heard the term “citizen powered internet”.    It may have been “citizen powered broadband”.  Doc Searls often (correctly, such as here), brings light to why the terms matter — certain companies use the term broadband to mean internet, and vice-versa.  There is a distinction (a “place” versus “pipes”), but not one that I intend to cover here.

I’ve heard of citizen powered *energy* initiatives.  This is where a group of people band together to explore spreading the cost and risk of alternative energy initiatives across a small community.

Maybe it is “Community Powered Internet”, that I heard?  (The idea of initiatives where those who are un- and/or under- served with regard to internet access can leverage a community to distribute the costs of bringing high speed internet {aka ‘broadband’} to their neighbors and themselves..)  Of course, better for private entrepreneurs (WISPs and such) to see the potential to serve/service those who are still wandering in the high-speed desert, but without any interest (big corp or small entrepreneur) — you take whatever oasis you can find 😉

I wrote a little thing here on the whole SOPA (and without mentioning it, as many seem not to, PIPA) thing.  Seriously.   This is not in the past yet, so don’t assume “quick coverage” means that this particular fight is over.  However, it is one of many symptoms of what is a greater problem for the Citizens of the United States, and by aggregation, the world.  Doc has some good summaries here, and here.  And as SOPA seems to have lost its steam (and hopefuly PIPA behind it) … I was reading some Cory Doctorow.  Okay, specifically this Cory Doctorow.   I think he is right.  Except in a few minor ways.

  • The war isn’t coming, it’s here.  (SOPA isn’t end game, but it isn’t the first volley either.)
  • And it is not a war on general computing.  “General computing”  is one of many battlegrounds.


If you are reading this post on January 18, 2012 … many of the links will be sour.  Many places of research and such have underwent a SOPA ‘look into the dangerous future’ blackout.   I am pretty sure they are correct, though …


… and even if SOPA/PIPA are gone… guess what.  The bastard stepchild might slip by the radar.  These challenges are not likely to stop — things kind of have a way of being resuscitated until someone falls asleep at the wheel.

In draft, from somewhere around my first few weeks writing this blog, I have an unfinished post “On this land, I plant seeds that take root … (Part II)”.  It is the other shoe dropping of a discussion about the internet that I had linked to the concept of a mature garden.  One of the chief arguments I stated as “Make no mistake: Food is politics.”  (As an aside, I often wonder which subjects I should lend my ideas to, and sometimes feel a bit pretentious re-stating things stated well elsewhere… the unpublished state of the post is due to one of such crises of confidence I have, at times.)  The argument was about local.  It was about markets and their conversations .  It was about freedom.  And self reliance.  It was about techno solutions for techno problems, and true (literal) down to earth solutions to a feeling of groundlessness in The Cloud.  It was all of these things, and in addition: unwritten {essentially}.  It was shorter than this paragraph about it, but much more of a topic than I have time for here.

You see?  It can be crippling:  How pretentious is it to write about gardens, broadband, IP (Intellectual Property) and Patents , IP (Internet Protocol) blocking {SOPA}  — all on a technologist’s blog?

Apparently, not so much as I thought.  A friend writes about the New Zealand “Food Bill” being shopped around in his neck of the woods.  Essentially, corporations writing legislation because corporations have found that easier than legitimate competition.  I think it is  a well thought out piece.  His *fight* is local, as it should be.  That being said, we in the US should feel good that *we* don’t have that type of thing here, right?  Wrong.  Here’s one in the early stages (H.R. 307: Seed Availability and Competition Act of 2011), a re-hashing of   H.R. 2749: Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.  (Here’s the link that came up as I was searching for the specific bill I was looking for.)   And that is not all…   Monsanto spent a great deal of time genetically engineering crops, but not so much time figuring out the answer to a few thorny details:

  • Seed spreads by wind and water and fowl and  …
  • …some people do not believe in GMO .. and ..
  • …patents seem to stifle innovation …

..and so, they sue the farmers whose crops are actually **contaminated** by this franken-seed.   As I told my friend, when he shared his fight with me — “we’re way ahead of you” (to paraphrase: down this legislative road to hell.)

Let’s mash the preceding stuff back in with: Copyright.   As I was creating this blog, back in May 2011, I was reading some stuff about the Internet and the Cloud that I had not read during my semi-sabbatical from the Web (Lessig’s Code and Free Culture   and  about the technology, and its possible side-effects .. etc.. ).  The Internet was not a safe “wild west” for techies, geeks, innovators and outcasts– after all, the “wild west” had been tamed.   And that is a trite summary of the books by Lawrence Lessig that I have had an  opportunity to read.  The books were predictive, scary while reading “alongside” the current events …  I first heard of Lessig with regard to copyright.  The “content industry” reps (RIAA, MPAA, etc..) , and their shills, have been extending copyright law in the USA ad absurdium for years and years.   It was time for another challenge.  Eldred was that challenge.  From the jaws of defeat, Lessig spearheaded(created?) the Creative Commons license(s)…  to content what the GPL is to code.

Following the money, we can tell where varied initiatives such as the above come from.  And we can tell, from those drafting the legislation, where their true loyalties lie.  We know it is not with us.  And we feel that we are voiceless.

GRM : Citizen Powered Government

And, lest you think that this whole blog post was some sort of advanced bait-and-switch attempt to do a little blog-rolling and indulge in a self-blog-cross-reference love fest, we come to the spark that ignited this piece to begin with (…okay, one more tiny topic linkage, and then we are golden.)

From the guy that brought you “Markets are conversations”, and a whole bunch of other people whose hard work and dedication he will more than share the stage with, comes ProjectVRM (Doc is where I heard about it..)   You see, the business world developed a whole suite of knowledge, software and expertise surrounding the managing of clients(|customers) — CRM {Client Relationship Management}.  Taking a term and coining a new one is a pastime, I think, of Doc’s. —  Or recognizing a good re-coining {I think, and hopefully.} —  VRM is the idea of turning the relationship back to where we (call us clients, customers, cattle {don’t, actually.  that would just piss us off}) have tools to manage our relationships with vendors.

And so, to the point.  A re-re-coining in the “RM” paradigm:

GRM == Government(|Governance) Relationship Management.

And before you say — “but wait!  Dave, we have that– it’s called the United States Democracy!” — bear with me the final stretch.  (And since I have a Poli Sci degree, let me say, we are a republic..not a democracy.  Our government is “representative democracy” {at least in theory}).

The American Citizen lacks true agency with regard to the laws that are passed in his/her name.  Nominally, these laws represent our wishes.  Actually, these laws have been bought and paid for by interests that do not represent a majority.  The elections are often remarked as being a choice between the “lesser of two evils”.  That there are only two (in my opinion) is an evil unto itself — but take that out of the equation — That it is a choice between apathies **is the evil**.  The game is rigged, and the system allows politicians into it who play by the rules, and the roles, that have been etched in stone.  Even “Washington outsider” is a co-opted role that is meaningless lip-service weighed against pathetic returns.

The government, the elections and the representation is suspect.  We as a populace have, for the large part, distanced ourselves from the making of laws (the sausage factory), and distanced ourselves from ownership of our government.  Bring your favorite conspiracy theory, or just accept that the way history as played so far has brought us here, one thing is for sure:  The American government is a corporate shill.  And no.  Corporations AREN’T people.

In short, I think it is time for the United States of America to experiment with democracy– It is an idea whose time may have finally come.   And I think we need the tools to provide democratic agency to ourselves, and our neighbors.

I do not know what each of these tools would like in the final product, but I’d like to propose my own brain-child for consideration.

Maybe we’ll call it ‘referendi’.. the first of varied ways that we as a citizenry can manage our relationship to the government institution.

Referendi : First generation GRM software

Software to provide registered and eligible voters of a specific district / electoral classification some (or all) of the following capabilities:

  • Plain spoken summaries of pending legislation/initiatives
  • Forum for discussion
  • An up or down voting option

We live in a digital age.   Greek democracy required going to the political forum.  We can do better.

Take this software  (or some service like it) and tie it to a representative’s vote. 

That’s right… we’re looking for a candidate (or many ;)).. all they have to do is show up, make impassioned speeches that back the ideas of their constituents (no — not those guys — the ones who actually live in your district), and vote their majority.

I think it would have to happen semi-locally (House of Representatives, or even State House of Representatives) at first… but who knows… Either way, it could be clear where the actual constituents stand on a situation … perhaps more electoral intelligence than a fax to the Senator, and a step toward true representation.  (There is evidence that the Founders feared true democracy.  But we can do better)

Daily, the forces that currently own our representatives try to chip away at the freedoms and rights that we as citizens of the United States of America have fought for, and that we as citizens of this world have a right to.  Somehow, this tide needs to be turned.  And every battle–be it SOPA, Food Bills , PIPA or campaign finance [[26 mins later :: I forgot the war on internet radio …. just thought it deserved a nod –DSW]]— needs to be fought, no doubt.

But somehow, as we fight each incursion, we owe it to ourselves to evolve to a truly democratic society:  to see the bigger picture.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2012 5:10 am

    Dictatorships that exercise complete control over all aspects of life are called?

    A legislature consisting two branches is called?

    The power of the courts to decide the constitutionality of laws is called?

    Who was called the father of the Bill of Rights?

    • January 19, 2012 10:26 am

      Okay, so I got two of these comments with identical text .. one made it through the spam filter, one didn’t …

      Not sure if this is a serious statement, supporting followup, or a question of my Poli Sci credentials ;), or an auto-replier of some sort…but I’ll bite:

      In know that we are heading toward totalitarianism, one “good intention” at a time. Our bicameral legislature is crippled by the fact that it is bought and paid for by certain corporate interests that may not have America’s best interests at heart. In issues such as copyright protection ad nausea … the courts have closed down constitutional challenges with their judicial review.. they are not the end all for protection of the constitution, and some initiatives for amendments to the constitution {even if they seem to be against the founders’ original promise} are immune (the constitution cannot be unconstitutional ;)).

      I think James Madison (or even the highly influential George Mason) would certainly be concerned with where we have traveled.


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