D-Day and Edward Snowden – Democracy, Freedom and Banishment

Today this happened:

  • I watched Edward Snowden speak on stage at the Personal Democracy Forum 2014 conference (via Google+)
  • I saw the standing ovation he received (twice) but could not see – if you are my Facebook friend you will see the video I made of his last seven brilliant minutes
  • I heard him pause the applause time and time again to add *just one more thing*
  • I had to look up from my phone this evening (google maps helping me navigate new bits of NYC) to wait for a New York fire truck reverse back into the station, as it did (and the firemen got out and took their clothes off) I saw this

IMG_8794 IMG_8795

  • I read this http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27700479 and remembered being on Omaha beach with my O/H last week, and seeing the beaches, wheat fields, cafes and farms involved in that heroic Allied determination to right injustice
  • I saw Parliamentary people photographed during the Queen’s speech with whom I had spoken at length about digital democracy
  • I also saw many people, working, living, sharing, eating, drinking, dating – first dating even! (I overheard a very awkward drawn out convo about where to have a drink before supper – but to be fair it is a challenge in New York to make such decisions)

But today was not an unusual day really. I go to conferences or speak at them fairly regularly, in cities across the world. My bag is democracy – so I get to hear a lot about it. But today I felt like New York had shown me something new.

Agreed it was just the host city for the Personal Democracy Forum conference, but that (amazing though the speakers were) was not it.

There is passion and healing, and a determination that is in so many ways similar to the French Resistance during the second world war. But not against the terrorism attacks it has faced and potentially still faces; to be honest they just say: “Life goes on” and flaunt their breathtaking buildings…

IMG_8797 IMG_8722No, this is a city hosting a conference that is about resisting surveillance, surveillance undertaken in the name of security and protection and only the most pretendy asleep person could ever really believe (I forgot to tell you the thing I learned today from John Perry Barlow, one time lyricist for the Grateful Dead, today interviewing Snowden)

There is passion about freedom of speech in America that is possibly unrivalled anywhere else in the world, granted; but with that passion there is responsibility, and what I heard today many times over, was that this is important, even if you think you do not have any worries yourself about someone reading your emails or metadata – you have a responsibility to everyone else you interact with. That is the deal-maker here.

Edward Snowden is banished from the Obama-dom of the US, and with typical aplomb, people are funding his gargantuan legal fees with their $10s and $20s, and auctioning his lanyard to raise funds for when he is attending in person on stage (God help the dude), standing to cheer him on …

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 00.37.05{Douglas Rushkoff is also a flipping legend, by the way}

… this man who sat at his desk and just could not morally carry on knowing what he knew and facing his fellow citizens day after day. His response to the crowd-funding announced today? Not everyone can afford to give money, so please help each other, finish the conversation he started, take the time to look up the Reset the Net campaign – encrypt encrypt encrypt

It is not for us. It is for those we know and have yet to meet, the next generations and to take away the temptation from future governments.

This brings me back to the present day, with my own role as a Commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy.

The last meeting I had was with those people in Parliament paraded out for the Queen’s Speech. They too were passionate, and they too had concerns – albeit in a very British way, the common cry was something along the lines of: It cannot be a democracy if we give all of the data we could gather on every citizen to an MP. Because if we do so, when they are next campaigning, they will take that information and target *say* Cynthia at number 23 who likes cycling and sheep with a special leaflet, covered in sheep, about cycle lanes. That is not democracy, that way the same person or party gets elected time after time, and this is unfair and terrifying.

It may well be that our elected representatives need to know what we really give a toss about, and that we are able to engage in game-changing Parliamentary decisions about those things without having to flick out of Facebook; but if this is done by data, by digital information mining, it cannot be undone.

Democracy is hard. Democracy in a digital and socially digital world is harder.

I want a conference in the UK, like PDF – that relentlessly addresses these challenges. Not just highlighting them, not just giving them air and sunshine, how do we actually do this? It is going to change, what are we going to do? Every single year, putting our democratic toes to the flames. Our Democracy-Day…

Democracy is my passion. Banishment is archaic. Freedom has a price.

The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is important (UK people) and we have this year to set good things in motion, here is how to engage (please do join in, everyone around the world).

Hashtag Democracy

Last week I was standing by for a call from the Speaker of the House of Commons, my life has its colour I tell you, he was calling me at 10:15. By 10:30 he had invited me to join his Commission on Digital Democracy… and my life was complete. Without boring you to death about why, there is one thing that drives me, that empassions me, that will keep me talking to dawn – and that is the implication of the digital revolution on democracy. In. Every. Possible. Way. Imaginable.

Here is what the Commission is going to do:

The objective of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is to consider, report and make recommendations on how parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom can embrace the opportunities afforded by the digital world to become more effective in:

  • representing the people
  • making laws
  • scrutinising the work and performance of government
  • encouraging citizens to engage with democracy
  • facilitating dialogue amongst citizens

In addition, the Commission aims to consider the implications for Parliament if it is to become more relevant to the increasingly diverse population it seeks to serve.

Here is a picture of Grape my kitten sitting on the Commission papers this morning, after ripping them out of the printer – for those not gripped by my story

photo 1(1)Today was the first meeting of the Commission I attended, (they are happening monthly) and I will write more things as they make sense in my head, but I wanted to share the process with you – also give you the heads up on how to get involved and when.

NOW March 2014: Evidence Gathering – Legislation (Making laws in a digital age) I have written this up in a separate post

April: Evidence Gathering – Scrutiny

May: Evidence Gathering – Representation

June: Evidence Gathering – Engaging the public

July: Evidence Gathering – Encouraging dialogue

(Find out how to share your views with the Commission on any of the above things, or all of them if you fancy, over here)

Then the analysis, no doubt “heated debate” and so on until we are at a point to publish a report in January 2015 that will contain recommendations. It may have been said in the past that these Commissions can just be a circle jerk, or words to that effect, but I can assure you with my hand on my heart that every single person on that Commission is passionate, brave and absolutely committed to ripping into the issues, laying out the entrails, sculpting a vision of a future and then recommending where the stepping-stones are placed to get there.

You may think my Damien Hurst style metaphor too gory, but you need the stomach of a lion to hear some of the blockers that, frankly, would make anyone a little bit sick in their mouth. We are an old Nation. The stuff we do, we do still because we have always done it that way, because of the Magna Carta, because of the way the House of Commons and the House of Lords was originally set up… because of a million things. This is not a bad thing, it just cannot be discarded. You can’t just turn it off and on again, much though many have been tempted over the years.

That’s OK, it is a challenge – we can do this, all of us, I reckon…

Kitten time again? OK…

This is her right now

photo 3(1)But yes, please do share thoughts. Today was revolutionary for me, and I live and breathe this stuff, I talk about this in my spare time for goodness sake. It is my topic of choice at 3am when I have had way too much fun – I know, I am a barrel of laughs. But yet, in one session of two hours I learned so much, heard even *more* things that are affected by this digital renaissance and I do feel a little bit sick, I must admit, I do need to armour my stomach… but my goodness me, what an absolutely blinding opportunity.

I cannot tell you how 100% happy I am to be on this Commission, but also 100% scared, daunted and challenged – as are each and every one of those people in the room, not just the Commissioners and the Speaker, the students, the researchers. But it needs everyone to join in. Whatever you have been riffing in those long car journeys with your sister (may just be me, sorry Ruth), or in the pub, or at school or work send it in digitaldemocracy@parliament.uk or pop onto the forum, although it seems a bit dusty in there – it needs some lively debate. I know there are plans to bring our digital carthorse into Facebook,  so maybe you will only get around to it when we career by, but if we do, grab your soapbox and vent your digital democracy spleen.

I have written about the first evidence session on Legislation here, and the second on Scrutiny here.

This is how happy I am (taken earlier today) #notaselfie

photo 2(1)

This was taken by John Pullinger, a legend of a man and DG of Information Services in the House of Commons <- if you ever meet him, shake his hand and thank him for being tirelessly brilliant.