Pete Ashdown – Open source politics
Being the first politician to to use a wiki to develop his campaign platform for the 2006 US Senate election in Utah, Pete Ashdown makes the case for open source politics. He claims that “apathy and cynicism of the citizen sources from the overwhelming feeling of not being able to make a difference. ‘I am not heard, so why try?’ This is the mantra of the disconnected citizen.”
An interview to Pavlos Hatzopoulos for Re-public
Pavlos Hatzopoulos: What is wrong with traditional party politics? Can the extended use of collaborative technologies reverse this situation?
Pete Ashdown: Your own Aristotle stated that, “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” Although I do not believe in the majority crushing the rights of the minority, this statement has rarely been true.
Party politics is currently centered around money and who can raise the most. In spite of most politicians rejection of the claim, it is obvious most that the power goes to where the money is, and the voice of the rich is overheard above everyone else.
Collaborative technologies have the power to level this. The Internet is blind to wealth, ability, race, creed, gender, and background. A good idea presented through collaborative technologies will rise to the top and be implemented, regardless of the source. That is good for all including the minority.
P.H.: Would you consider your wiki senatorial campaign as a new way of making politics?
P.A.: It was the first use of a wiki for open policy discussion by a candidate anywhere. However, I was less interested in being “first” rather than simply opening my campaign to anyone who wanted to participate. Many were stunned to have that kind of access to a candidate. That is unfortunate, for who are our elected officials, but servants of the people? To have no access to them is to write them a blank check to do whatever they wish. As much as I hoped other candidates to follow my lead, I have seen none on a national scale do so. There have been some elected officials employing wikis for policy discussion, but nothing officially sanctioned. I am certain that this will continue to evolve and receive acceptance, for democracy requires advice and consent of the people. If they have these technologies in every other avenue of their lives, government will have to adopt them to keep up.
P.H.: Is the lack of citizens’ participation the problem, or the hierarchical framework through which this is usually channelled?
P.A.: Apathy and cynicism of the citizen sources from the overwhelming feeling of not being able to make a difference. “I am not heard, so why try?” This is the mantra of the disconnected citizen. By demonstrating they have a voice and using their input in decision making makes better leaders and more active citizens. The current hierarchy is absolutely at fault, but it is a descendant of governments run by aristocracies.
P.H.: To what extent did your campaign become decentralized and/or horizontal because of its emphasis on collaborative methods?
P.A.: The hierarchy of a traditional campaign was still present in my race for the U.S. Senate. However, I would rate the value of the horizontal contributions from non-staffers as greater than what I received from staff and advisors. Most likely due to Aristotle’s idea, in that there were more of them instead of a hand-full inside the office. The gems of my platform came straight off submissions to my wiki.
P.H.: Would you elaborate on the concept of the “open source” political platform?
P.A.: In a traditional authorship, whether it be books, or software, you have a monolithic closed structure. You can petition Microsoft or your favorite author for a change in a future release, but in essence, the decision rests on the individual or company who controls the property. This is much like current democratic governments in that citizens are left to petition our representatives, but in the end our voices are secondary to the lobbyists who see them every day. Our consideration is minor in comparison to big donors.
With “Open Source”, anyone with a good contribution can be part of the process. With software, anyone with ability can write patches or add features. Wikipedia is demonstrating the collection and vetting of knowledge through the same “Open Source” techniques.
“Open Source” politics allows anyone with expertise or a good idea to contribute. Rhetoric and bias will stick out like a sort thumb on an emotionless “Wiki” page and lacking a cohesive defense, will sink to the bottom while the good workable ideas rise to the top. Solutions to problems are not partisan, they simply work. The cloistered party politics of the past will give way to open collaboration from people of all backgrounds working towards the common goal of a better life for all.
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