24 Hour Virus of Democracy
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i heard democracy day was coming.
right in the middle of black history month. what a coincidence. we do always need to be reminded. first of all, there are no caps here. why? get over it.
i suppose some folks think that democracy is all about getting elected officials to listen to what ordinary and extraordinary folks have to say when they have been reflective and come forward with a fine idea. and so far, from what i have read in the context of this event, i see that folks are being expository. me, i'm going to try and be conversational because i believe democracy begins with people listening to each other.
i must say that i have had a hard time getting up the energy for this cyber-event. and even though i was one of the privileged of the priveleged that heard about this bit of activism before the general privileged got word..
i was busy.
- among other things
- i was just getting into a juicy debate over culture wars in my regular course of being democratic. unfortunately, since this debate takes place in a private forum at the well, none of you can see what great points are being made. it's just one of those age old problems about sharing information that technology has replicated. small conversations are sometimes best just small conversations.
- the second thing
- was that i was engaged in planning for a virtual assembly. but it is an assembly modeled after and supplemental to a real life gathering of concerned citizens. it probably won't make cyber history, but then again that's not the point. if i am successful in that venture, i suppose you will hear about it, but not in this expository mode. btw. it's not baked yet, but there are already some folks who understand the gravity of the situation.
- i was in the process of creating a black history calendar - dressed up in techno-finery in collaboration with a man who has been doing it for five years. after being approached by many important people, we decided it wasn't so crucial that we release it during black history month after all. we are trying for some heretofore unseen functionality, so we blew off the deadlines.
in other words, just like with being black in black history month, i was absorbed with practicing democracy rather than writing about idealized froms. but i decided to get in under the deadline for the 24 hour democracy virus. why? because i want a lot of people to visit my website. why? because it is fundamentally aimed at the guts of democracy - thinking, speaking out and organizing & because it's easier than visiting my neighborhoods. why visit my neighborhoods? because that's where the people are, and democracy begins with listening to each other.
i was cynical.
other than being busy, i have also been cynical. i recall the last time i was privileged to be invited to speak-out at a speak-out. it was this rally thing in san francisco. actually i was just generally invited. at the moment, i'm no particular celebrity voice (because i'm busy!) and my speaking out generally goes on in lower case. i was dissatisfied with the results (we got an indecent proposal) and i felt even more marginalized as i stood up on a park bench in my business suit surrounded by the glitz of multimedia gulch than i did in my anti-gulf war protests. it's no fun being right and unknown. it's even worse when it's pitifully obvious. plus our side lost. but of course, aluta continua.
i also remember this gnarly thing that a cool cat named malamud invited me to. congress was going to go online and listen to us. that time i had prepared a nice rant about direct representation . but then there was some complication involving sprint and the whole thing collapsed. so i've decided that e-rants to congress in general are a waste of bits, besides i'd rather talk to you.
now i'm here.
i have decided not to try and impress you with my ability to quote sages. most of them don't hang out in usenet ghettoes, so they are not accustomed to being told that they are a bunch of whining monkeys. which leads to my first soundbite:
nobody has any authority to change the character of discussion unless they are present in that discussion at all times.
doesn't sound very impressive does it? i guess i can't figure out a simple way to express the common thread i see as a problem in our democracy, which actually has little to do with the materiality of cyberspace, but more with the difficulty involved in understanding what motivates people to get involved in politics in the first place.
i have concentrated over the past few years in trying to understand how it is that conversations become law. how is it that some conversations get the credibility to become a guiding principle (or at least a strong meme) such that people are drawn to it and begin to think along the lines of that conversation?
well, i hardly have room to explain what i have found. but, i have concluded that in order to rectify a great number of our society's ills:
- we must take the opportunity as a nation to hear ourselves think, rather than listening to well-crafted journalistic and principled-sounding abstracts.
- people who are interested in the guts of democracy need to talk a whole lot more.
- those who seek to lead should see themselves as facilitators of democratic processes and nothing more.
i started something years ago.
In my view the editorial style and physical limitations of what we call newspapers force researchers into particular ways of seeing things that lack the authenticity of the voice of people, African Americans, especially. The very manner in which newspapers and televised journalistic reports are assembled are biased to profess the false objectivity of journalists who themselves have become a very powerful class of Americans. This bias for me has become unendurable and I find it most annoying to parse through a multiplicity of papers to get at the truth. Having done so, the truth I arrive at seems much the product of oppositional cross-examination of institutions with much to hide. Yet often there are odd spots of writing I happen upon which ring with the flavor of authentic experience. It is this type of information that gives me the confidence that the world is indeed populated by human beings who can understand and explain it and do so out of genuine curiosity and love.
B intends to be full of authentic works of genuine intent centering at this point on African American contemporary experience. Much of the flavor of African American culture is lost and or destroyed by the positioning of journalistic efforts presenting a 'positive' or 'revolutionary' or even 'educational' stances. In addition to what I have already mentioned about 'objectivity' in the day to day chronicling of the experiences of us in the world, these tropes deaden the experience of reading into unidimensionality. B by its orientation and physical nature will seek to overcome such unidimensionality. By extension this loss of 'native intellect' and 'flavor' masks the strenuous efforts of journalists and editors to be disinterested. Yet it is precisely the interest which provokes people into being interested and that is what B seeks to capture at the source. Contributions to B are fairly free as B seeks to be what everyone who contributes wants. In Certainly this multimedia project will have it's own bias, but since I have stated it clearly (I hope) above, we can start cleanly.
One more note before I get into whatever comes next here. B is experimental. B seeks to be an extended editorial page which is constructed such that it becomes gradually intellectually liberating for its participants. Thus in some ways B can be seen as a club and all as equal members as they contribute. As editor I seek to structure B according to my own evolving sense of liberation pedagogy following the theory and works of Paulo Friere, bell hooks and Cornel West. These three intellectuals currently most convey formally to my knowledge the spirit of what I am personally attempting to meliorate through the many facets of B. nuff said.
but i failed.
i took this idea to usenet. and over time, the arena became so poison that i realized i would never get to the point at which the meat of my concept could present itself. the authentic flavor became the everyday battles for black folks to try and discuss issues of concern to them in the midst of a racist flame war. i got 2 issues and folded.
cyberspace itself presents problems. in fact it can impede freedom. but it also can provide opportunity, because as stanley crouch said, you never know where nobility is coming from. there are nuggets of nobility in cyberspace, and i thought i could reveal some.
so i started a website.
finally, i started the cool zone, and became a one man show. others have picked up where b started, and as time goes on more of this authentic flavor will surface, netside and outside.
but in the cool zone in particular i picked up a couple of themes which center around that large process of bringing authentic questions people have about themselves and how they relate to their communities and to their country. i've tried to bring focus to the elements, flavor, bastions, peoples and parables in that mix. these are the fundamentals of citizenship and the guts of democracy and they reflect struggles that go on from generation to generation.
i see the establishment of this refinement as part of an historical imperative for my generation. it is not necessarily about some clear, well-abstracted principles. it doesn't fit nicely anywhere. it just is what it is. and so i point you to it in this moment of visibility. that's what our democracy is all about. me talking to you. me listening to you.