Thursday 14th of December 2017

Links, Democracy, The Net and This Site

Links, Democracy, The Net and This Site

This article began as a note about what sort of links Your Democracy might feature, if any. It is still this, and may be the basis of a links page, but it also became an article about the nature and outlook of this site. As the ancient folk saying has it, "You are what you Link."

There's a whole layer of society in evolution with the web, and that layer is, like any institutional development, distinctively political. We are part of that development, as was Webdiary and Not Happy John!, and as are thousands of Websites around the world. For society as a whole it is new territory. Even for geeks who've been on the case since the World Wide Web was born in the 90s, pioneering is the culture.

As citizens most of us are pioneers of a very untechnical nature, figuring out alongside our technical colleagues what works best for us and our democracy. The thing is, as decades pass by, a permanent working internet cyberstructure will, I believe, come into a sort of maturation. It will, like other technologies, emerge from its pioneering phase. Uniquely with this technology, we have an unprecedented opportunity as citizens to make it what we want. And what we want here, in short, is for the internet to serve democracy.

This site is not here to reinvent wheels or claim territory. The political internet may be in its infancy, but it is already enormous and showing incredible application. There are fantastic websites dedicated to democracy, or facilitating democracy, and thousands more that we might just say are practicing democracy by informing, discussing, debating and lobbying. This is the drive to link other sites at all, and to seek multiple linking between complimentary sites.


There are plenty of anti-Howard sites, like www.105reasons.org and www.defeathoward.com, and these belong firmly in the democratic tradition of dissent. But these are explicitly partisan, some of them backed by established political forces. A number of these sites are now dormant or gone altogether, including John Valder's campaign site. Frankly, as has been said before, the current site is trying to be bigger than merely anti-Howard. In terms of Margo's book, we are still 'Not Happy John!' but have moved to the far more important subtitle, "Defending Our Democracy."

As Not Happy John! we were also partisan for the 2004 election, and were inevitably lumped with the Left wing sites by critics. At the same time, NHJ! was a book by someone who had, "voted for John Winston Howard in 1996" (the first line of the book), and was concerned specifically with those issues which had many Liberals disillusioned with Howard's government, the so called 'doctor's wives,' who included Liberal luminaries like John Valder and who caused major swings against the Government in safe Liberal seats even whilst the Government increased its vote overall.

The heart of what was happening, in my opinion, was not merely 'Left' at all, but was a fertile engagement between people with values on every side of politics. It is this heart which we most dearly wish to preserve and build upon with this website.

So, for example, there are many, many issue based sites, like Truth Overboard, Citizens Against Selling Telstra, The Australian Republican Movement, and Greenpeace Australia. They are about democracy in the sense that they are forums for information-sharing and debate between citizens, and they may be more-or-less democratic by criteria of goals, decision-making or freedom-of-speech. But, in short, they are the practice rather than the substance of democracy.

On the other hand, Friends of the ABC is one site is very clearly concerned with an issue of democracy itself (ie media independence and diversity). From the standpoint of protecting Australia's democratic institutions, which is the criteria I'm trying to follow, it should be directly accessible from our site.

The proliferation of such organisations may even be a measure of the health of our democracy, and they will no doubt be innumerably linked through the articles and comments people submit. But it does not seem our place to feature a massive list, which would no doubt grow indefinitely as people submit more links. We would also, in the spirit of this site, be obliged to provide links to lobby-sites for different sides of debates. Very democratic and equitable. Not really practical. Not really what we're getting at. By all means disagree with me about this.

Similarly political parties are institutions in our democracy, and their sites may indeed be relevant to us for information and engagement. At least the list is practical. In alphabetical order: The Australian Democrats, the Australian Greens, the Australian Labor Party, Australian Progressive Alliance, the Citizen's Electoral Council, The Family First Party, the Liberal Part of Australia, the National Party, the Non-Custodial Parent's Party, One Nation and Socialist Alliance. This list is from Anthony Green's Election Links Page.

Incidentally, quite a number have sent emails and messages to the effect that we need to develop a new kind of political party. To those who are thinking this is the way to go, look closely at powerup. That is not to say people aren't welcome to discuss such options here. But we're not going to do that here, and Powerup does have electioneering as a central part of its raison d'etre, so it would be sensible for those interested to look.

But underlying political parties and lobby groups is a broader system of institutions which allows them to exist and flourish, and it is this actual machinery of democratic society which really interests me, and is closer to the territory into which I'm keen to steer this site.



I'm concerned here with websites that actually add a layer to our democratic institutional fabric; sites which facilitate - rather than merely engage in - democratic political behaviour.

Obviously this includes media and journalism, and this is much closer to our territory. I see the media as an institution of democratic society as much as is the Parliament or the Courts, as the first assumption of democratic theory is knowledge of events and issues among the people. The internet has challenged the print-media monopolies. Margo posted Rupert Murdoch's fascinating observations of this front on Webdiary as The role of newspapers in this digital age, by Rupert Murdoch. Fascinating stuff.

Interesting also that the internet should emerge as a threat to media hegemony on the eve of the latter becoming complete in our country. My real hope is that in the same way, just as Australia'a parliamentary opposition is gasping its final breaths of effectiveness, we citizens can find ways to be an effective democratic opposition to fill the breach.

We hope to expand and deepen the world of journalism in two ways. Firstly we want to bring it into the fabric of society, encouraging quality and pride as well as broad participation in amateur citizen journalism and editing. Secondly, we want to shine the torch of media upon power in a more reliable, systematic way.

The second must be discussed fully elsewhere, but in short the plan is to develop a network of volunteer journalists in each electorate in the country to 'mark' their sitting representative, regardless of their party-base, and keep an account of their public role - their spending, travel, their public comments, their votes and parliamentary speaches, their participation in committees etcetera. This is where we move into the realm of pioneering permanent democratic infrastructure, and for my own part it's what is most exciting.

At the top of my list of current media sites would be high quality, independent sites like Crikey.com and Webdiary.

For those who want a completely open-slather independent media site, where there is virtually no moderation or editing, it has been done. Indimedia is worth a look, and perhaps we should promote it, but I think it has its failings, and for me some of its failings inform the philosophy of this site.

Michael Albert, one of the founders and major promoters of Indimedia was in Brisbane in 2002, and he spoke to the local indimedia crowd about their efforts. In trying to give them good advice about having a sleek, formatted and edited front page up front (something I'd like here eventually anyway) he made an interesting admission. He said that when he surfed the web for information, news or comment - as he does as an existence - he realised he never went to indimedia. Because it is just so clogged with junk that it's time-consuming, and sometimes distressing, to find the good stuff. Thus his advice to the local crew, which was fine, but to me his admission spoke to a deeper problem, which perhaps an ideology of utter-press-freedom blinded him from seeing.

One of the things in the balance for a media site is its appeal to the casual reader and searcher for information. For these people, a bit of editing, formatting and moderation is highly appreciated, even if they don't realise it. The odds on them continuing to read, rather than blithely clicking over to another page, are hugely increased. That is a goal of this site - to find a healthy, constructive balance between content quality and editorial freedom.

There are also an infinite world of discussion boards, blogs and newsportals. Some of my favourites are Vibewire, Antony Loewenstein, and Troy Rollo's Your Voice, but there are millions and no doubt thousands that may be worthy of attention. The blogosphere is and should be diverse, diffuse and richly networked. Everyone's list of ten favourite blogs will look very different, yet their mutual links mesh them.

The brilliant thing about blogs is they can emerge at whatever level of social engagement that a task requires. Gheri Malop has developed COGGWatch to watch the Council of Geelong, for example. My real AHAH! experience about the potential of blogging was not this however, and neither was it Webdiary (though it should have been - I watched it grow without knowing what a "blog" was). It occurred when I was looking for alternative, less filtered views on Iraq, and Antony Loewenstein directed me to Iraq Blog Count, a compilation of blogs from Iraq, by Iraqis, American soldiers and others. But if we were to make a list of these sorts of sites, which in fairness to the spirit of this site would have enormous variations in partisanship, it would be as ponderous as it would be incoherent. Once again, this is just my opinion.

For that matter we should include the ABC and SBS. Especially as it's under threat of being absorbed into the state-sanctioned Murdoch/Packer duopoly, instant access to Fairfax - The Herald, The Age and the Financial Review - would be handy as well.


Moving away from media, there are sites, as there could be non-government organisations, which coherently and effectively embed themselves into the current institutions of democracy. These are the ones which really excite me. This is the territory of developing the polity as a whole as an organised oppositional force in politics.

I refer to initiatives like The Dome of Conscience, where politicians and candidates of all sides are invited to make their position public on all manner of controversial issues. Unfortunately it has failed to attract the Right wing (or indeed the centre) of politics, but the conception and engineering of the site is clearly directed at the whole of the polity, for the use of the whole. Personally I think we should promote it, by incidentally challenging politicians along the way to make their view on various issues public on The Dome, and by promoting public awareness of the same.

Another with excellent potential, and which I think we should actively promote, is www.newcopia.com. It is like a blog of Parliamentary Research Notes and Bills Digests with facility for comments. I do not know what the moderation policy is, but I like the concept a lot, and I think it is the sort of facility Australian citizens should become familiar with utilising. I reckon a lot more would if they knew it was there.

We need to develop the software, the organisational infrastructure and technique, and at the same time the culture and etiquette of these online systems of civic activity. We need to find ways for freedom of expression to work with accountability and courtesy. We need to find ways for directionality and purpose to emerge from the chaos of open dialogue on an innumerability of issues and concerns. We need to find ways for there to be equity and access without sacrificing constitutional integrity to the whims of organised saboteurs or usurpers.

What many of us suspect is that this growing community of people networked from their homes can play a concrete role as a constructive oppositional force in Australian politics, not just from issue to issue but as a permanent operative layer of Australia's democratic system.


The Australian National University has for the past five years been conducting a Democratic Audit of our great country, and it provides us with an excellent, up-to-date resource about where we stand as a democracy. It is such excellent work and so immediately relevant to Your Democracy that if we neglect it we will have proven that there is no practical connection between the academy and society at all. That would be a mistake in my view.

There are government websites with public information which is extremely useful to a politically conscious and active citizen. Good starting points are the Who's Who of Parliament House and the Australian Electoral Commission. When it comes to information about actual elections, candidates and numbers however, the Poll Bludger and the ABC's Anthony Green are both better than anything the AEC provides.

Generally speaking this information has always been available and it has been a point of pride in our democracy that it was so. But what has not yet occurred is the full practical and general realisation that access to this information is but a bookmarked click away, rather than a trip to town for an afternoon in a government archive. This realisation, in my mind, could be a practical furtherance of democracy by the net.

So we may acknowledge that not everybody can find time or motivation for active citizenship. It takes time and energy, can be very draining at times, and it is a very busy world. But it is our job to demonstrate that it needn't take as much time as it ever has in history, there are many degrees of engagement with the political process and it is appropriate if anything for a citizen to engage most with those issues which concern, effect or interest her or him.

Because in the end we want Australians in their tens of thousands not to be attracted necessarily to our site, but to be attracted to an effective functional infrastructure which they can use to be effective citizens. It helps them be effective citizens because it abets effective access to the information they need, provides a capacity to be heard and, most importantly, an ability to effectively engage with their community about the management of that community. If we can help that process, we will. It's our task.

How much easier would it have to be for some to participate in democracy? 10% easier? 50%? What if it took just 20% of the effort, partly because people could focus on the issues that effected, concerned and interested them, and partly because information and the institutions themselves were so much more accessible? Can't we make democracy more feasible than ever?

America and the World

You will have noticed that I've pretty much stuck to Australian sites. The board from which this site springs is Federal Australia. But a modern movement for democracy simply must be international, so there is no avoiding international sites and indeed a challenge ahead will be uniting efforts for democracy around the world to support the United Nations and the rule (and democratisation) of International Law, as well as just to support and inform one another.

For me, as a universal philosophical touchstone, I wish to link The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proudly on its own. I think it is one of the greatest statements of universal aspiration ever penned, and frankly don't see why we shouldn't aspire to it.

Amnesty International is a key source of international information, and there are hundreds more. Many of the most useful ones are specialised and even politically anethmatic. For example, for very frank discussions about horrific developments in military technology, who is buying and using them, and even frank reports about how effective they are in action, I sometimes have a look at Jane's. Once again, the choice for this site is to choose a handfull of very key sites to link directly or to compile a large and ever-growing, member-fed list. Specifically about democracy the most intriguing international link I've found so far is IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance).

American sites are innumerable. My favourite American actvist site is still www.moveon.org. www.zmag.org is further Left (and I am a Chomskiphile myself) and significantly, although an American site, has made real efforts to internationalise its content - Webdiarist Antony Loewenstein edits the Australasia section. www.misleader.org is an excellent anti-Bush site I check out from time to time, but god knows how many others there are. Through reviewing George Lakoff's book Don't think of an Elephant, I discovered The Rockridge Institute, a high-profile liberal thinktank, which looks extremely interesting, especially for those interested in Framing the Debate.

Thanks to Jozef for the direction to Personal Democracy, which seems to have very parallel goals to this site, and is well worth a look to see what sort of things are possible.

For events in our nearest neighbour Indonesia - well for human rights issues anyway, which is why I go there - I go to Tapol. We are the most uninformed country in the world about the Indonesian government. Some may argue Howard is no fascist, but he buddies up to the real thing.

Good information and media links to all of the countries with which Australia engages make sense. Not only don't I claim this perusal of websites is exhaustive in any way, but I feel my ignorance increasingly revealed as I go. Anyone? What's the best information site in English for, say, Japan?



Finally then, as an exercise I've gleaned ten links which for me best identify where this site is trying to be politically and functionally. I am very interested in people's views about what's out there on the Web and our relationship to it. In particular I'm looking forward to being told what I missed, even within the criteria I've tried to outline. But the criteria itself is very much open to debate here as well. When we do develop a links page for the site - and unless it's shouted down I think we will in some form - it will be a collaboration. There are net-savy people here, and we can collate our experience

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/

Democratic Audit of Australia
democratic.audit.anu.edu.au

Margo Kingston’s Webdiary
webdiary.smh.com.au

Crikey – the best independent Australian media on line
crikey.com.au

The Australian Electoral Commission – enrol to vote and understand your electorate.
www.aec.gov.au

Parliament of Australia Who’s Who – know your representative, and be in touch with them, often.
www.aph.gov.au/whoswho

Friends of the ABC – Our ABC, and a crucial feature of our democratic society
www.fabc.org.au

Anthony Green – accurate, easy to comprehend information on candidates, electorates and the vote
www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2004/guide

The Dome of Conscience – politicians and candidates from all sides make their positions known on the controversial issues
www.domevote.com

Newcopia - a commenting system for Australian Federal Parliamentary Bills
www.newcopia.com/

Links

How about listing ten only, and as a new/notable one comes into view, put it at the top of the list, so that one is knocked off the bottom.

Most surfers keep their own favourites, in the browser or on a self-maintained page.

A site like this should be able to host rapid responses that arise during the day, or the hour. We should vigorously explore the utterances of politicians and other leaders. It's fair to assume they sprout carefully tailored messages. We should be on the hunt for words and phrases that disclose biases, like "freedom and democracy". We have no reason to assume that the words of a leader who has lied or deceived can be trusted. Those who support them, either actively or by looking the other way when the lies spill out, should be treated with disdain.

I get chastised by my family for my uncharitable attitude toward these wrong-doers, but that's my stance until they recant in public. Tony Blair and John Howard may have chosen their words carefully, but their intention was to mislead their masters, the public, over the invasion of Iraq. J.Howard will do the same over the death penalty.

The commercial media should be held to account for their choices of material. For instance, why did Fairfax print bespoke pieces from G.Henderson (Time unravels Whitlam's liberation theology) and T.Lapkin (Soldiers, not pacifists, gave us freedom) on the same day, in The Age (26/4)? A good antidote for those two doses of bile is The war story of an ordinary man on the 7.30 Report for April 25th, a very moving personal account of one Vietnam veteran's journey of despair and recovery.

Dynamic turnover is good, otherwise staleness is a risk. Body and Soul is a great site. The owner did a huge dummy-spit after Bush got back, but came back. Natural breaks in service, like that, and illness, force compulsive posters to reassess priorities. Ahem!

I don't know if that was relevant.

Thanks

Thanks TG, you demonstate your point well by example. Indeed the nature of things is such that a fixed set of links would not be the most functional approach.

I noticed on the Brisbane Social Forum site they have a user-moderated system of developing a links system by user contributions. They've just started but I'll be interested to watch it develop.

So how about a library of links, contributed and moderated by users? It would need organisation and maintenance, and maybe someone could voulunteer to be the site librarian. At the same time, the front page could feature about ten links, chosen either by the points granted by users or, if an issue is launched upon us, by administrators.

This might be a good way to test the software whereby users give contributions points toward moderation. Sorry David and Nigel (the tech people who will inevitably be figuring out how to do this stuff): I'm thinking aloud.

This question of links first came up for me when I was helping on the Not Happy John! site, and people would email saying that their site had linked us and could we please link theirs. It seemed reasonable at the time, especially in the context of the election campaign, but that site belongs to Penguin, so we couldn't do much about it.

Now we can link what we want - and I use the plural pronoun purposely. How do we want to do this?

Also TG, thanks for the link to Body and Soul. Despite what you said, it looks worth keeping an eye on.

More Parliamentary Links

Hamish: "effective functional infrastructure which they can use to be effective citizens."

Then parliament house schedules and hansard at least should be in the links list.

My own state's house (WA) is here.

Hope this helps. Sorry if the formatting is awry - the java box is very weird.

Hamish: I fixed it I hope. You're not the first to have problems. Please continue this sort of feedback, but be more specific if possible.

Latest from Body And Soul

From Body and Soul latest -

The post I wrote a few days ago on the new pope's wartime choices has kicked off a pretty long comment thread. Long comment threads are usually not a good thing. Beyond fifty comments or so -- and sometimes far fewer than that -- they often end up being nothing but people sniping at each other.

The whole thread is very pertinent to this topic, here, on democratic rights and obligations.

Another thing about B&S - a site that signs itself with Billie Holliday ('Strange Fruit') has got me. As would a site that pictured Paul Kelly's 'Little Things', or Roberts' 'The Breakaway'. Yeah, I know - copyright.

Still, it's little things that give away the leaning. I can't imagine any of our mob of right-wing suckholes putting the rights of the downtrodden and marginalised at the top of their priority lists.

Linking

Greetings Hamish, your 10 Commandments (or Amendments) are a great starting point to linking dangerously ;-D

As you indicated, there is no need to reinvent the wheel as there are a number of sites in US that have proved a good examples to observe and adopt to local conditions such as Personal Democracy, MoveOn or DeepBlog.

'Without free speech no search for truth is possible... no discovery of truth is useful.... Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race.'
- Charles Bradlaugh - (English reformer - 1890)

Recently I came across a movement which encourages bloggers to provide more detailed coverage of a particular geographical area in addition to subject specialisation or investigation. At the moment, an attempt is being made to identify the key Australian bloggers who tend to provide a thoughtful coverage of any particular capital city here (or even a suburb) with an interesting legal or economic angle:
http://deepblog.com/db2.html

I also could not agree more that Newcopia is like the dream come true - (thanks to parliamentary librarians like Catherine Gilbert who created the RSS links in the first instance)

Newcopia started to cover news as well:
http://www.newcopia.com/section/news

I understand that the political scientists behind websites like the Memeorandum are trying to figure out the best ways to aggregate mainstream with internet forums and bloggers. Even though the websites have US bias it is fascinating to watch them as their vision is rather remarkable. An attempt is being made to actually create a battleground of ideas with arguments for and against on different subjects or interest. However, in addition to cons and pros arguments, suggestions for improvements or policy options would be part of the discussion - i.e. cost and benefit analysis ... For some bloggers it is Disney kind of fun to do the impossible.

'The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.'
- Arthur C. Clarke, Technology and the Future.

Jozef

Thanks for the Links

Jozef, I still wasn't certain whether your opening line was a criticism or a compliment until I saw your own site. It's very impressive. In fact I'm candidly inclined to abandon the task of a links page and replace the project with a link to your site.

Thanks for the links. Although American, I agree with you that they have pioneered a lot of territory. Happy to have you around with your experience on the net.

Australian Links

Cheers Hamish, I second your initiative as it is great to see a solid selection of blogs with a strong Australian content. I doubt that too many people could make a better suggestion for the top ten. In fact, I hope that sites like this one will encourage more local content just as the Personal Democracy has done in the US. May the top ten grow far and wide and include every electorate ... so that is the room for further amendments and additions.

BTW, Just something on a lighter side of life: Word Associations - The wicked allure of lit blogs - Blogging The Written Word

Jozef