Friday, December 30, 2005

My civic library idea

A few months back I emailed this idea to the Olympia City Council. I haven't heard much feeback, other than they're thinking along these lines during their council retreat next month. I'm wondering if anyone out there has any feedback.

Civic Olympia Library Project

The purpose of this proposal is to outline why the Olympia Library Board should be reestablished to:

1. Build on the already existing “town hall” meetings to create
dialog within the city;
2. broaden our community's civic discourse;
3. and, establish the Olympia Library as a center of non-partisan
civic involvement.

Despite being the largest city in the Timberland Library system, Olympia does not have an active Library Board. Other similar-sized cities, (Lacey and Tumwater, for example) have active boards that act as intermediaries between their city councils' and the system-wide Timberland Library Board.

In addition to fulfilling the roll of ambassador between the city and library system, the Olympia Library Board should be established as a “working board” to plan and carry out regular town meetings and topic-based public forums.

The Olympia Library Board civic dialog effort would build on the success of city's existing and successful town meetings. These efforts can be expanded on through the library by hosting topic based discussions, public forums and lectures.

There has been recent discussion on how libraries, as welcoming institutions in the civic tapestry, can fill the void of civic dialog and engagement. American public libraries were originally established to provide for general education to help citizens become well-informed. The Olympia Library can start broadening civic dialog by hosting non-partisan, educational forums. The attached readings speak for themselves, but here are two examples of ongoing library-based civic projects:

Johnson County (KS) Library "Community Issues 101"

Lawrence (KS) Public Library Forums:

To Inform Democracy, by John N. Berry III, Editor-in-Chief
From "Library Journal," November 15, 2004

Can Libraries Save Democracy? by Michael Baldwin
From “Library Journal,” October 15, 2002

Good sign: Healthy online discussion on new state chair

Last year when Paul Berendt was running successfully for an umpteenth terms as state chair, there wasn't much talk about it online. Not that there wasn't anyone running against Paul, he had healthy competition. But there was a sense that given the lawsuit fight over the governor's race, it would be a bad idea to change horses in mid-stream, to borrow a bad cliche.

This year has been different, which is a really good thing. Democrats across Washington have used Paul's retirement as an opportunity to talk about not only who they want to see guiding the party, but where they want the party to go. I've been guilty myself of some personal axe-grinding on the topic of the party being almost totally absent in the building netroots arena. My concerns though, have been somewhat assuaged by the discussion going on right now in several places.

Washblog has been near the center of discussion, with former candidate for chair Greg Rodriguez posting several times on his candidacy and his withdrawl. While he pointed out that his taking his name out of the ring has nothing to do with blog comments, he has been active (along with several other active Dems) in public online forums. Interviews with Jean Brooks and Bill Harrington, also in the running for state chair, have been posted on DailyKos.

Having discussions in online and public places is good for the party and good for whoever ends up becoming chair next month. I feel more part of the process being able to discuss maturely in public who should lead us for the next few years. We are a more open party, more open to newcomers and folks that don't feel empowered if we stay on this course and keep things out in the open.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holy cow, we are lame (Chile is better than us)

While we're nominating a presidential candidate that can't learn from the internet experiment, all of Chile's presidential candidates took part in online dialog:
...the Digital Nation Foundation was born with the mission of developing a digital culture in Chile that joins the government, business world, civil sector, and education system together in order to promote greater information, communication, and development for everyone. And it is that foundation which today, has helped make Chile the first country in the world to have each of its presidential candidates blogging their platforms, promises, and news items on what has turned into a always-running, weblog-based, presidential debate open to whoever would like to participate.
Here is a badly translated post from one of the successful candidates, Michelle Bachelet, who is facing a run-off vote in January:
I have impelled from the beginning of my campaign spaces of citizen dialog in which all can be expressed to construct diverse, pluralista and democratic a proposal, and is for that reason that I have supported with pleasure the initiative of this forum-blog of the Foundation Digital Country, as complement to the one of my Web site, blogeando . Although I think that the direct bonding with people is irreplaceable, Internet finishes and the geographic distances with time.
The point is that good dialog can exist online. It can be good for the political process, it can drive civic engagement. But, there has to be buy-off from the current top of the pile so that folks at the bottom can be heard. I'm specifically thinking of the political parties right now, but this is a good criticism for state and local governments too. You can develop and moderate web products that engage people in politics and their communities.

I'm a citizen, that is what I do

David over at has a good point about the next Washington State Dems chair that gets started with this:

..I finally got a chance to confront a top Dem communications staffer, and used the opportunity to plead with them to find some money to spend on radio ads and direct mail to combat the GOP misinformation campaign. The response? The staffer turned towards the surrounding throng and incredulously asked, “Is he telling me how to do my job?”

Yes I was. I’m a blogger. That’s what we do.

I'd change it up just a bit: I'm a citizen, that is what I do.

He continues:

What I want from the new chair is the understanding that the party’s success depends at least as much on communications as it does on money and lawyers, and that the media doesn’t quite work the same way it used to. I want a chair who embraces innovation, and who is able to see beyond the next election towards the media and political landscape of a decade from now. I want a chair who will support the efforts by the current communications staff as they explore new media ventures.

But mostly, I want a party chair who is willing to at least listen to bloggers like me tell him how to do his job, without incredulously dismissing us out of hand.

Basically, listen to us, we're out here, we're smart, we want to help. I would change the word blogger in David's analysis to something more general. Something to reflect those folks that aren't now involved in politics. But he's going in the right direction. The next party chair needs to listen to people and give folks not already involved in the party open avenues to be engaged.

No PDX MLB illustrated

A little while back I got into a discussion down south on whether Major League Baseball should be allowed to come into the Portland market. My argument is two-fold. No, because it would split the Mariners' tv market and create two bad teams rather than one OK one. No, because no one it talking about expanding MLB to Mexico or Latin America, which is the next logical move for the sport.

Here are a couple of maps from the CommonCensus Map project that illustrate my first point.

This version of CommonCensus tracks your zip code and then your preference for sports teams. What we see with the baseball map is preference for the Mariners in the Puget Sound region, Yakima and the Tri-cities, the Inland Empire and Portland/Willamette Valley.

For the Sonics, that preference is cut-off at about the Clark County line, and the metro Portland area and the rest of Oregon prefer the Trailblazers.

In addition to that obvious observation, you also see smaller basketball blobs in eastern Washington than you see baseball blobs. The existence of a competitive team in a region seems to drives down the preference for either team. That said, preference for the Blazers seems more widespread and uniform in Oregon than support for the Mariners.

So, I'm still going to go with the "a baseball team in Oregon would hurt the Mariners" argument. Totally selfish, but I'm convinced that Portland is well served rooting for a team in Seattle.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Go outside KingCo for state chair

A comment I just posted at, but I think it should be repeated, just for kicks:
I don't have anything against Peltz or Rodriguez at all, but I was just thinking that it might be a good idea to look outside King County and maybe even the Puget Sound for a party chair.

Maybe someone like Tom Keefe, former Spokane County chair, former Bumblebee and spearhead of the recall West campaign, would make a good, outside of Seattle choice. I'm not advocating Keefe specifically, but I think it would have a leader of the state Democrats that could help us build the party statewide, not just between Federal Way and Shoreline.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Chambers Lake Association meeting notes

Notes from the Chambers Lake Association meeting on December 6. It took me awhile to get these up, but hey, they're just notes:

What is the smell north of Morse-Merriman and Boulevard? It's holding tanks for a “step system” type sewage system that holds septic effluent until it is pumped out. Those tanks breath.

13 folks where there.

The main purpose of the group, according to Keith Johnson, are habitat preservation (maybe restoration) and roads. More directly they are flooding, ground water contamination, surface water contamination and traffic.

Most folks live off of Wiggins Road, immediately around the lake(s), southeast side, which would make sense since that is where the developments are. What does 3,500 square feet translate into acres? Less than a tenth of an acre it turns out.

They're putting together a new members' handout so people can get up to speed, which is a good idea.

What is the Chambers Lake Diversion? The LOTT has planned for some infrastructure development in the the basin.

Lou attended the Neighborhoods Presidents' Coalition meeting. Whatever happened to those guys? I remember Jeff Jasich getting that together back in the 90s, seemed to be an important group in city-wide issues.

Should people that want to give public testimony to the Olympia city council clear their testimony with the group?

Get some GIS data on the basin. What sort of data is there in terms of habitat info for the Chambers Drainage?

How to we get Chambers Ditch changed to North Fork Chambers Creek?

Next meeting: Thursday, January 12, 6:30-8:30, Grace Community, Room J.

Less government engagement, less civic engagement

Our political leaders may aim to spread democracy abroad, but the lessening role of government in the lives of Americans - as manifested by recent cuts to the federal budget - does little to nurture the democratic process here at home. ...the budget emerging from Congress reduces spending on social and educational programs while extending tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

These budget cuts continue a quarter century of governance guided largely by the idea that, in Ronald Reagan's words, "Government is not the solution ... government is the problem." But an assessment of these decades reveals that as government's role in citizens' lives diminishes, so, too, does active civic engagement.
While I agree that trust in government is linked to civic engagement, I never thought of government engagement as being linked directly to greater civic engagement. I've thought that private industry, government and the civic sectors as being seperate spheres competing for attention. But, I can see how good government, not necessarily bigger government, can lead to more civic engagement.

Whether people believe that they trust each other enough to develop a government that serves the needs of everyone in society would have a lot to do with whether they want to engage in that society.

It's a good read overall

For these citizens, to whom government seems at best irrelevant, political participation makes little sense. In return, they are easily forgotten by political leaders paying attention to the needs of the affluent and organized.

Until liberals realize that government exists not only to extend rights and social services but also to foster active citizenship, and until conservatives learn that market institutions alone fail to engender that outcome, democracy at home will continue to diminish.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Olympian covers wifi

What are all these people doing downtown with laptops? Craziness:
“It creates a third place,” Olson said. “You've got your office and your home. Sometimes you need to get away from the distractions and escape.”

Wi-Fi hot spots aren't widely publicized — though Zhonka publishes a list online — but people have found a way to locate them. Banner said she looks for the distinctive “Zhonka” sticker in shop windows or looks for other laptop users. Word has spread through word of mouth for Caffe Vita, Fink said.

Two years ago, the city of Olympia studied the idea of a fiber optic network and Internet access, but officials aren't actively pursu-ing it now, said Subir Mukerjee, assistant city manager. A new technology known as Wi-Max is surfacing that would have an extended range at a lower cost. Because the technology is advancing so fast, the city is taking a wait-and-see stance, he said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wireless Libraries Yeah!

One half of my humble proposal came true on Monday when the Tumwater, Olympia and Lacey libraries all launched wireless networks:
Timberland Regional Library (TRL) is pleased to offer free wireless Internet access to patrons in 24 TRL libraries in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties. Service began Monday, December 12. Access is available during each library’s regular open hours.

Wireless networking in the library offers patrons numerous benefits:

It allows patrons to bring their own laptop computers to the library where they can access the Internet and the library’s research databases, catalog, and other TRL Web page resources.

Patrons do not need to wait for an available library Internet computer.

It allows the public more computer and Internet access in the library, while saving the library the cost of buying additional computers.

Patrons can use their wireless computers in most areas of the library; they are not restricted to the designated library computer areas.

There is no charge for the service and it is not necessary to schedule time in advance.
This also an important step in making libraries greater centers of civic culture here, that libraries become functional in a real way for citizens. Libraries shouldn't just become repositories for books and agencies established to aid in recreational reading. They should be active agents in encouraging civic dialogue.

I know my train of logic from wireless network all the way to civic libraries isn't all together obvious. But, having wireless in our libraries increases their viablilty as Third Places.

Wireless Internet Access - General Setup Information

Wireless Internet Access – Frequently Asked Questions

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

William Raspberry is looking for community

I think I'll write him an email:

"The Great Good Place" argues that third places build community, social capital and civic solidarity. Perhaps, but my immediate worry is that they won't be there for me when I need them.

I suppose a case could be made for the gym as a latter-day third place. Likewise, the beauty salon or the sports bar. But listen to Oldenburg:

"The lure of a third place depends only secondarily upon seating capacity, variety of beverages served ... or other features. What attracts the regular visitor to a third place is supplied not by management but by fellow customers. ... It is the regulars who give the place its character and who assure that on any given visit some of the gang will be there."

And that describes perfectly the newsroom of The Washington Post, except that it was — and is — a job site. I need a new third place.

Update: My email to him:
Third places are created, not just pursued

Mr. Raspberry:

I enjoyed reading your column this morning, but I'm afraid you skipped over a concept that is vital to the existence of third places. The idea of citizenship, that people are active participants in their communities, is vital to creating so-called third places. In a sense, third places are populated by citizens, not worker bees or consumers, but rather people engaged in their environment and who feel a sense common purpose. I've been reading recently about how some places, like libraries, are well suited to become such centers of civic culture.

I also wanted to say that I'm saddened that your leaving the Post. I began college at Delaware State University's print journalism program, and the dean there held you up as an example of what a journalist could be. Even though I didn't end up pursuing reporting, I continue to respect your work.

Thanks and good luck,

Monday, December 12, 2005

Talking about community (why I'm a Democrat basically)

I've been reading, thinking about community a lot lately. Its not talked about much, but the decline in what Robert Putnam called "social capital" is one of the most damaging cultural trends in the United States. Basically, neighbors don't trust each other, communities don't have the connections that bridge gaps between rich and poor.

Now, Democrats are looking this is the eye:

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has commissioned confidential polling and analysis that suggest candidates in 2006 and 2008 should frame their policies — and attacks on Republicans — around the context of community.

It seems to be the emerging message from a party that has been bereft of one.

...“When we work together, when rely on one another, when we care about one another, we remove the fear of sharing,” Vilsack said. “I believe the current administration and its polices is eroding the sense of community . This country’s two great things — the self-reliant individual supported by community — is what made the American dream … possible.”

...Equating the GOP agenda for Social Security, public-school vouchers and Medicare with “social Darwinism,” Obama said the key to the nation’s success is striking a balance between individual and collective responsibility .

“It has to do with individuals,” he said, “but it also has to do with community.”

It seems we already have a head start on talking to voters who retain a sense of community. After the election last year, a lot was made of the Republicans winning the "fastest growing communities." While these place where indeed growing very fast and yes, did go for Bush, there wasn't much discussion on whether it was because they were growing so fast they would probably end up voting for any Republican over any Democrat.

Eric at the Cascadia Scorecard points to a general relation between lack of social capital and voting for bush. But basically, fast growing and sprawling communities, because a good portion of the people living there just moved there, lack the community ties that older, more established communities have.

While we're reaching people that already have ties to their community, we need to reach out to places where community is not so strong. We need to talk about filling the need.

(On a side note, I've felt for a few years a sense of unfulfilled promise after 9/11, that we didn't do something as a nation that we should have. I've had a hard time putting my finger on it until I started reading about social capital, community, etc. We missed a chance to reinforce what a lot of people were feeling, that we really are all in this together. Not just winning "a war on terror," but everything. George W. Bush squandered a chance to call on Americans to have a greater responsibility for their communities.)

Why I am a Democrat

Talking about community.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Change already happening at

Earlier this morning I wrote (here and here) about how I hoped the WA Dems took this oppurtunity in leadership change to move down the social software road. Maybe a for Washington (well GrowOhio before Sherrod Brown started running for Senate). Looks like our guys are already moving that way (from

As part of the "50 State Strategy," the organizers from individual states hired by the DNC make the journey to D.C. for a series of training sessions. They normally come in groups of three or four--last month, it was Utah, Indiana, Alaska, and New Hampshire. The sessions are distributed over the course of two very long days, and include an opportunity for the Internet team (normally Josh or Joe) to head down and talk about using their own website, email, and blogs as an organizational tool.

The organizers from Washington arrived last night, and they asked to spend a bit of time talking with the Internet team, apart from the standard class, about the use of blogs--both internally on their own website, and externally on blogs both in their own state and nationally. Naturally, we agreed to spend the time with them.

Unfortunately, this kind of comes off like "tell me about these internets that the kids are talking about these days" or "we want it bloggy, but not too bloggy." But, at least we know that good old broadcast style is on the way out. I'm tired of being behind the Kansas Democrats and their fun civicspace based website.

Berendt gone, chance for change 2

Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics:
...the top down, "you're either with me or against me" skills of this last era are the wrong ones for what is coming now. Now we need a Party Chairman/Chairwoman who can rally the base for the grassroots and technologically savvy campaign we desperately need to stay blue and extend that blueness into the red and purple areas.

Paul was one of the first Democrats in this state to support Howard Dean, first as President then as DNC Chair. He sees and understands the future but he hasn't seemed to want to change the way he plays the game. So, even though he's been a Dean supporter, the state Party has not been in alignment with the changes the national Party is working through.
What I want the next chair to talk about: social software, community, and grassroots.

What is the Grange's next move?

Big political ideas, sometimes translated into initiatives, often bounce back and forth between Oregon and Washington. Next fall we'll like vote on a Washington edition of Oregon's gutting of their land use laws. But, both states might also vote to change how they vote in the first place, possibly changing both systems to nonpartisan statewide.

Oregon already has a One Ballot group that is making some serious headway in earned media. From the Eugene Register-Guard:

Every voter, regardless of party registration, would receive the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would move on to the general election in November. The only exception would be presidential primaries, in which voters technically choose delegates to national nominating conventions.

Increasing numbers of Oregon voters choose not to register as members of any political party. Among voters under the age of 25, a plurality are neither Democrats nor Republicans. These voters are excluded from participating in primary elections, except for nonpartisan races and ballot measures.

I'm not sure if this is a copy of our failed Top Two primary, or if its an actual nonpartisan system, but it shows that there is interest in Oregon to go down the road we're already on. One Ballot mirrors what the Washington State Grange, which sponsored the Top Two Primary system a year ago, is doing now in penning a totally nonpartisan election system initiative. After losing in court over the summer, the Grange seems to be going to the "nuclear option" by running an initiative declaring all elected offices nonpartisan.

The parties, at this point, would probably fight this new initiative harder than they fought I-872. I would argue that the Democratic Party not join such a fight, but let the Republicans take it alone. If the GOP wins, well the Democratic party leadership still gets what it wants. If they lose, then the Republican Party looks like the election closing jerks they already are.

Plus, it gives the Democratic Party a chance to change itself into an more open, grassroots party. This would be the kind of party that people who would be attracted to a nonpartisan election system would want to be part of. This sort of change is already happening.

In Thurston County we're holding a series of open public forums in the weeks before our county caucuses. The purpose of these forums is to engage people that aren't part of the Democratic Party already, but who would be interested in getting more involved. We're also considering using online forums to engage folks prior to the actual forums and to continue the conversation afterwards.

The ideas from the forums will be passed along to the caucuses in early March, which can vote to pass them along to the county convention.

Political participation has decreased regularly over time. Deeper participation like running for office and being involved in parties has decreased even more. What voters are telling the parties by passing I-872 is that they want to be involved in the process, but not by following parties.

We need to make a better effort to get people, who otherwise vote and engage politically, back involved in the parties. The onus is on us to become more open and offer more ways to engage.

Berendt gone, chance for change

Paul Berendt will resign, and I'll miss him. Mostly miss watching both the governor and state Democratic Party chair walk into mass after me, but for other reasons too.

I won't miss him picking a talk-show host over an already established candidate for Congress though.

What this does give us is a chance to open up the party a bit more. Not that I think Paul was against that, but changes in leadership do offer chances for change. The one thing I'd like to see is a change in purpose with our state website, or maybe a new stand alone website for state Democrats along the same lines as Grow Ohio (or at least what it used to be before Sherrod Brown started running for Senate).

A statewide grassroots community website for Democrats, liberals and progressives to come together, dialog, and organize. All paid for by the state Democratic Party.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What happened to community networks?

When I was at Evergreen, one of the best classes I was in was taught by Doug Schuler. It was about a concept called "Community Networks," which where efforts to expand social capital online using open and civic minded networking.

I've been reading about the concept of using libraries as "third places" in communities and how libraries can use their public education mandate to get into the business of pushing for civic dialogue, and I ran into a reference to the civic/community network movement. That led me to do a quick read-up on community networks, and I discovered that the steam pretty much died down on the movement around the late 1990s. If you take a look at the Seattle Community Network homepage, you will see a somewhat retro looking design.

What seems to have happened is that community networks rose early on in the internet world as BBSs, a free network than anyone could dial into. This was during the time when not every dial-up led to the internet, and providing a free network, accessible to anyone, was of great civic importance. But, when the walls between these networks broke down, access became more easily available and the internet world moved into HTML, the community networks followed. They built lists of civic organizations, gave free web space to worthy groups, and tried to be as open as possible.

But, they didn't become widespread enough to counter to increasingly commercial side of the internet. And now, in the case of the SCN at least, they seemed to have gotten stuck in that first generation of the HTML world. While social software has taken off, community networks have either died or not moved into this new world. Community is being built on the internet, but not in the directly local fashion intended by the community network movement.

In Doug's class is some of us tried to start a community network in Olympia. I can't remember what would have been so hard about that, but we never really got it off the ground. Now, the makings of a community network is starting to be built in Olympia. The most exciting part of the new Olympia Community Network is that it holds most important something that was lacking in those HTML community networks: dialogue.

It's ironic that because of the limitations of software in the 90s that one of the main ingredients in actual community (talking to people) couldn't happen easily in community networks. Anyway, at, the best thing is the back and forth between the folks there. More on that later.

With new, free software now available and a new interest in building community online in the progressive community, would now be a good time to revive the community network movement?

As a side note, Doug's class did inspire me to do, a community newsite that, for a few months at least, got me some college credit and taught me a lot about community, Olympia, building websites and tons of other stuff. You can still see the remnents of that site here.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chambers Lake Basin Neighborhood Association

I have a neighborhood association. I'm going to their meeting next Tuesday. More on that later.

I'm a BetterDonkey blogger (a good idea for Oly)

I'm blogging over at BetterDonkey here. This is going to be fun.

My first post is about Tacoma's idea to reform their taxing system, repealing much of their existing taxes including B&O, and insituting a wide ranging user fee system. While I don't mind Tacoma leading the way, I think this kind of system would work in a city with a lot of state government offices that don't pay a lot in city taxes.

Beat back Eyman, reform municipal funding

Why Tim Eyman has been able to run roughshod over Washington politics was that people have an inherent distrust in government. They don't see where there money goes, they don't trust that its being spent well. Eyman's I-900, he would say, would help reform government and give people more reason to trust that they taxes their contributing to the state coffers.

I-900, of course, doesn't actually help local governments who since the first Eyman initiative and I-601 (which predated Eyman), have seen decreased funding and decreased services.

The City of Tacoma is looking to lead the charge in changing how local governments are funded:

In a special budget meeting last night, the Tacoma city council agreed to explore a singular remedy for its projected revenue shortfalls. The idea... would connect key city services to a new tax at levels explicitly determined by the voters...

The scheme is basically a monthly city property tax dedicated to police, fire and library services -- the core of city government. Current B&O, utility and other taxes would be eliminated -- including the city's portion of the existing property tax. In Anderson's initial outline, the tax would extend to all property holders other than houses of worship, which would include private schools and universities, nonprofit hospitals, charities, and others. A base level would be set by a city-wide vote, and any subsequent increase would also go to a referendum.

The plan, though, needs more than just inovation on the local level. The legislature needs to clear a path in state law to allow Tacoma to overhaul their system. Once the legislature acts, and they should, it woud allow other local governments to follow suit.

While I'm not totally wild about not exempting anyone except for "places of worship" under the plan, it does do one very important thing: create transparency. From the News Tribune:

Anderson’s rationale for the fee concept – which he acknowledges is radical – is intriguing.

It would, for the first time, tell citizens exactly what public safety and libraries are costing them, he contends. Under the existing system of taxation, most citizens have very little idea where their property taxes go, since the dollars are divvied up among the state, city, school district and county government, plus special taxing districts like the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma.

City taxpayers thus have little basis for judging whether they’re getting a reasonable value for their money. A specific amount for a specific service – such as police protection – would bring that into focus, allowing citizens to make informed judgments about how their monthly assessments are being spent.

Eyman and other anti-tax zealots succeed because citizens don't trust government. More transparency in government is a good thing, creating more trust in government and creating a better case for better, more active, local government.