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Cybersalon Summary From Last Week – Politics 101, Web 2.0, and Democracy vs. Demagoguery

First mentioned at Cybersalon, a “round table” (round room) discussion that took place in Berkeley last weekend, was that Joan Blades of MoveOn and MomsRising couldn’t attend due to the Senate’s censure of MoveOn for the Petraeus-Betray Us ad. The group (40 or so people, mostly local) discussed whether MoveOn’s decision to run costly print advertising like this was worth it. Most said yes, since they made $500,000 in one day as a result. One person noted that Hillary Clinton, on the talk show circuit, said the reason the Republicans were coming out against the ad was to change the subject. Some said there were better ways to make their money and gave suggestions. Not that this crowd was biased at all. (Please note sarcasm.)

The discussion moved to whether or not the Internet is really making a difference in politics, and many talked about how it depends on its use. I agreed with the quote Sylvia Paull, Cybersalon organizer, said about Esther Dyson noting that technology itself is neutral and how it can be used for either. (I’m paraphrasing.) My example: blogs. You can use them as dictatorial mechanisms with strict content and message control, no comments or massive comment censorship, or you can leave them totally open. One woman said she thought that due to all of the frustration about the 2000 and 2004 elections, it was nice to have a place to vent online. I also pointed-out that voter data seems to have spiked in direct relation to greater use of the Internet in campaigns.

Then the discussion moved toward military censorship of soldiers. One person seemed irate that this would happen; another said that’s always happened. Either way, they made it sound as if soldiers’ email and outside communications access is so limited, they can barely say more to their families than they are alive vs. actually giving their real opinions about the war.

Then the talk came to how people can make a difference on a local level. The site, Kitchen Democracy was mentioned along with the San Leandro Citizens Network. Someone from Progressive Punch introduced himself. Also MapLight was there. Everyone concurred that a great way to GOTV is through neighborhood weekly “Margarita Fridays” where you get your neighbors on the block to come over, drink margaritas and talk about local issues. Sounds good to me.