Friday, December 31, 2010

Why I Do What I Do

This week I was fortunate to be reminded of a couple of online community efforts by way of an article on Raise the Hammer, 'Meeting to Re-Think Barton-Tiffany Land Use'.

North End Neighbours has this as part of its mission statement:

"The NEN mission is to advance the social, physical, and cultural interests of the residents of our community, through the identification and research of issues affecting our community, the education of residents and the promotion of their active involvement in the democratic process with civic and provincial governments, to ensure that the interests of our community are protected."

Rethink Barton Tiffany declares this:

"The West Harbour stadium debate played out in Council chambers and in meetings with the Ticats and Pan Am representatives, but what about the voice of Hamiltonians?
Hamiltonians need to have a say in the development of our city and it’s neighbourhoods."

Added into the mix were some great email and chat exchanges as well as a few 'testy' exchanges on Raise the Hammer...most of the energy for these posts coming as a result of the email and chat exchanges, feeling a little needful to examine and re-state my core beliefs as yammered-on about here.

Here's what rose to the surface:

-There is a longstanding 'Hamilton Can't Do' mindset, a malaise that impacts just about every exchange, each interlude had by those affected by this condition. Many are entirely unaware of their affliction. I'm hoping to have a very special guest columnist presenting his thoughts on this sometime soon.

-There is a strange dichotomy going on regarding how many people view elected officials in local governance. On the one hand, there's an innate (and growing) tendency to demonize Councillors, to automatically assume the worst. On the other hand, sizable amounts of energy are being generated towards discussion of local governance issues, almost pre-cursors to 'taking back the night', if you will. What strikes me as most fascinating is that people don't seem to be willing to (or maybe 'capable' of) make the leap to understanding that the next step is not to generate most articles, more editorials, more comments, more typed rage...but to actually change the relationship we have with our Councillors. Because they're the ones who are charged with making decisions, putting actions in motions, not us. They're our agents, they work for us...and yet there seems to be this fundamental disconnect going on where our own empowerment is concerned. (Yes, this is worthy of a slot on 'In Treatment'. Or a Dr. Phil feature.)

-Declaiming on message boards and in the Comments section at The Spec is fine and good, but to assume that Councillors sit and read these online offerings and are affected by some kind of force that's been created... Oi vey. The first misstep here is to assume that anyone in this time of shifting social networking/new media/Internet paradigms...has either the time or the inclination to both read and assign a high currency to this material. My belief is they don't. In fact, in a decidedly cynical moment, I opined privately that 'Politicians in the main do not value to the max what the public says...other than when polling is involved.' Within the current system we've constructed, politicians do 'listen' to their constituents, but as it stands now, they're more inclined to 'govern' according to their own consciences, their own convictions, their own sense of propriety.

The second misstep is a fascinating tendency of online commenters (within certain interest groups) to believe that because they're there commenting, because they've felt sufficiently impassioned to take the time to type out their feelings on a particular subject, that the process is afforded some element of seriousness or status...or potential impact. For the most part, they're entirely misguided.

I'm reluctant to bring the personal into the political, but this is relevant: some years back, when IRC held sway online, I entered into a choice selection of 'incidents' regarding potential 'partners'. One in particular spun my head, caught me up short, had me staring into the distance, straining to understand. This credo resulted:

'It ain't real until you kiss 'em.'

I am a wholehearted supporter of the the Internet as a means to increase dialogue, get people interacting regarding what's going on around generally elevate their participation in improving our communal Quality of Life.

But it is not a 'be-all and end-all'.

Just as the telephone didn't change the world in an of itself, the Internet, as much as it's become entrenched in our lives, as affixed as we are to it, is not a solution in and of itself.

We still need to be active.

We need, to paraphrase my credo, to 'make it real and kiss 'em.'

Because typing words by way of a keyboard, 'up-voting' and 'down-voting', stepping up onto the electronic soapbox and letting righteous-indignation hold sway, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how well-crafted shouldn't be seen as the epitome of the process. No matter how good -and conveniently so- it feels.

-Lastly, it's been made abundantly clear that Hamilton needs a new force in 'new-media community-building'. A new site, a new voice, a new arena for civic change.

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.