Ronda Hauben on 5 Dec 2000 14:54:13 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] 1st Anniversary Conference in Finland on citizen participation

[To nettime moderators: I sent this earlier in a slightly different 
version but noticed that I had the wrong dates listed for last 
year's conference. Since I haven't gotten any indication the 
earlier version I sent has been sent out yet, I am sending 
this corrected version - Ronda]

The so-called Democratic and Republican Party squabbles 
that have been dominating US election news leave out the real 
issues of the recent Presidential electorial campaign.

The real issue that is underlying the crisis in the American
government right now is that the current party processes and practices
leave out the American people. A government needs connections
with its citizens to be able to function and both the Democracy
and Republican parties have increasingly seen the corporations 
as their citizens, not the American people. That is the basis of the 
current constitutional crisis in the US, rather than whether some candidate
got their votes counted or not counted.  Most of the American people 
didn't vote for either of these two candidates and for good reason.
Democracy is not the result of voting for candidates chosen
by a process that leaves most of the citizens out. And that leaves
them out after the election as well.

December 3, 4 and 5, 2000 happen to be an anniversary of an important 
event that broke through this narrow framing of issues of what democracy 

It is the anniversary of a European Union conference in Tampere, Finland
last year (December 3, 4, 5, 1999) on the subject of how can citizens
have more of a voice in the decisions made by governments. This
conference was called Citizen Agenda 2000 NGO Forum and the program is online 
at  It was a conference held by the NGO's
of the European Union. There was also, most importantly, a seminar
about potential of the Internet to make increased citizenship participation
in government decisions possible.  This seminar (Civic Participation, 
Virtual Democracy and the Net) is described in

The speakers at the seminar presented a varied set of experiences
of research in trying to determine the potential of the Internet.
Included in the seminar was the talk I gave "Is the Internet a 
Laboratory for Democracy? The vision of the Netizens versus the 
E-commerce Agenda.

A number of interesting problems were raised at the seminar including 
the need for all citizens to have access to the Internet if it is to 
make it possible for citizens to have more say in the decisions of 
government. And the problem was identified of government representatives 
who claim that because they are elected they don't have to listen to citizens 
and their concerns, but can choose to listen to whomever they wish 
(i.e. corporate interests).

An important point raised during the seminar was that it is critical
for citizens to make a record of their efforts to participate in
government processes and decisions, and to document the fact that
their input is not being considered as a means to change the situation.

In the talk I gave I spoke about the issue of the US government privatizing
first the backbone to the US portion of the Internet, and now
trying to privatize the public essential functions of the Internet's 
infrastructure.  And that it is crucial that citizens know of these 
activities and continue the challenge that is being raised about them.
There needs to be an international means of protecting these essential
functions. A proposal toward such a goal was submitted to the US
Department of Commerce but thus far has not been taken seriously by 
the US government..  The proposal is online at

The conference in Finland followed directly after the protests in
Seattle and some of the NGO's had sent representatives to the protests
and then to the conference. The conference was in an important way
a clear statement of what the protests in Seattle and Washington and 
Prague and at the Democratic and Republican Conventions in the US
have been about. 

The vision of the socio-technical pioneers who began the research
which has resulted in the Internet was of a network that would make
it possible for citizens to participate in the decisions of its 
development. (See Part II of "Netizens: On the History and Impact
of Usenet and the Internet"

The concept of citizen and of netizen are important concepts for our
times and the conference in Finland one year ago has helped to rekindle
the vision of the pioneers of the Internet for increased human-to-human
communication and of increased citizen participation in the decisions
governing their lives which can be facilitated by the developing computer 


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