I attended the first Presidential Debate between the two major party candidates held at Veranda restaurant in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 as a facilitator for the Interactivity Foundation. We managed to fit approximately thirty participants in a comfortable setting, and the group was composed of predominately young professionals that had concerns about the candidates’ plans for the future course of the country. My invitees were mostly colleagues from law school that were excited to dialogue and network with other professionals. The restaurant was a wonderful venue; however, the noise from other parties was a little loud to fully engage our entire group of participants. From what I could discern from the group that skewed mostly Democrat, was that they did not know what Governor Romney planned to do because his platform seemed nebulous on key economic issues and harrowing with respect to social issues such as the much-maligned trans-vaginal ultrasound proposal. Moreover, Governor Romney’s recently reported comments disregarding 47% of the population that does not pay income taxes did not sit well with the group despite none of them considering themselves within that population of the citizenry. I think the format devised was excellent with the group beginning a generalized discussion of the possibilities and then breaking into smaller groups to do more in depth discussion.
The discussion project at issue was the United States’ Democratic Promise, and this was a perfect introduction to the Interactivity Method and a perfect prelude to the debate. The project’s emphasis on macro level ideas about the democratic process helped to open a dialogue amongst the participants that focused on economic concerns, which was the subject of the night’s debate. I got a sense that all participants—most of whom were first time participants—familiarized themselves with the process by engaging the lead facilitator in a back and forth conversation about their concerns with respect to the economy. In the larger group setting, we were not wedded to the possibilities in a constricting way; rather, discussion of the possibilities emanated from the general conversation.
When we separated into smaller groups of our own invitees, I tried to raise possibilities in order to foment a more focused discussion on how the participants felt about them. I found the possibility of Democracy as a Conversation to be a natural segue into the smaller group setting, and so my smaller group began to discuss their concepts of democracy. One participant cynically raised the point that moneyed interests are dominating the conversation at this point with PACs doing the lion share of political advertising. He also noted that these same PACs can say whatever they wish and cloak the candidates with plausible deniability because the law prohibits coordination between PACs and campaign. I suggested that the new mediums of Facebook and Twitter can engender conversation and instantaneous dialog that could drown out the political ads on television. We all agreed that social networking is becoming the new public square on a much larger scale and those conversations, disagreements and facts can be disseminated quickly to the citizenry. Once the debate began, I noticed an amazing phenomenon: a good number of participants were either reading tweets or tweeting themselves about the debate performances. Forbes magazine ran an article on the debate being the most tweeted political event in history—albeit a short six years since tweeting was possible. http://tinyurl.com/9s42koe. In essence I was witnessing the possibility of E-Democracy in action: the embrace of emerging technology strengthening the democratic process. It made me realize that social networking is the proverbial wave of the future, and with it we may engage more citizens including the youth in the political process.