Egypt

egypt_protest_350Toronto If there was ever a more dramatic case study of the political impact of protest on or off the grid of internet, telecommunications, and social networking, the world saw it on the streets of Egypt yesterday. It was as if there were a perfect laboratory experiment on what would happen if the only avenues for protest were “old school” removing the variable of communications.

The Times’ Matt Richel had a fascinating quote in the paper on the country’s success in shutting down the grid:

The shutdown may actually be creating more unrest, said Prof. Mohammed el-Nawawy of the communications department at Queens University of Charlotte. Professor el-Nawawy, a native of Egypt who has been studying its blogging culture, said he had been talking by land line to activists in the country who told him that people who might have otherwise expressed their frustration on blogs or Facebook were heading outside instead.

“The government has made a big mistake taking away the option at people’s fingertips,” he said. “They’re taking their frustration to the streets.” “

In a flip over of the old Yellow Pages / Bell ad, when your fingers can’t do the walking, then your feet has best be stepping. Clearly there were hundreds of thousands in the streets of Cairo turning the megacity into an urban war zone for streets and bridges.

The other amazing observation in the Richel article is the paradox that Egypt’s relatively liberal and open policy concerning telecommunications and the internet ironically made it more possible to achieve this kind of shutdown of the grid, precisely because the countries did not expect it. They were unprepared and did not build in back doors and workarounds in the event of suppression of service. Many less trusting systems in other countries where the worst is more often expected have created patchwork systems.

In a final note for those who rightly should be keeping score at home, props to the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which once again is at the forefront of monitoring these intersections of politics and technology and was invaluable in monitoring traffic here in Egypt like they were earlier in looking at Google’s experience in China and Russian bot attacks. These folks are good and worth following, and I mean that literally since I track them on Twitter.

But in the meantime keep your running shoes handy and in good repair. The streets are on fire and we need to keep our feet in shape so the dogs can keep barking.

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Qualifying Parties via Internet

digital-signingNew Orleans In a piece about the feinting being done by billionaire NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Matt Bai in the New York Times correctly pointed out that not only money but “ballot access” was a huge impediment to alternative political parties and candidacies.  A throwaway comment though got me thinking when he mentioned that qualifying such efforts would be easier in the internet age because “…signature-gathering…is far easier to organize now, through online communities….”  Bai is simply talking theoretically about organizing efficiencies here, but what hit me like a brick was whether or not it was legal now – or would soon be legal – to actually qualify such petitions through direct internet signature gathering, which would be a revolutionary breakthrough.

I don’t fully know the answer about what might be possible now, though my friends at Google pretty quickly revved up their search engines and allowed me to piece together enough in a sideways fashion to determine that internet petition gathering is already legal in California in seems and at least Utah for a certainty.  I don’t normally associate Utah with progressive breakthroughs, so I would not be surprised to hear that other states (I would almost bet on Washington and Oregon for examples) have also joined the 21st century and allowed internet signature gathering to legally qualify candidates and parties.

I have sent a couple of emails out to colleagues who are mega-domes in this area since surely they would already know where this can be legally done, and when I hear, I will definitely share the news.  Whether just these two or another dozen, more interestingly it seems inevitable that within a couple of years or at most a decade, one could qualify alternative parties successfully on a state by state basis via the internet at a fraction off the cost thereby making alternative parties accessible in a way that has not been allowable since the 1890’s when the two-party stranglehold became embedded in law in one state legislature after another.

Visionary thinkers in political strategy and tactics, particularly among progressives, would do well to start tilling these vineyards.  This could be big and a total game changer!  This is a political forward pass in a landscape dominated by three yards, a cloud of dust, and a rock pile of money:  parties, programs, and candidates get ready to step up.

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