Oregonians and their political leaders have some large, looming conversations on education, health care and taxation. An Internet "uncaucus" could be the answer.
It figures groups in Iowa, which is synonymous with presidential caucus politics, would be the creators of the uncaucus. The Des Moines Register, Reddit and Dwolla have scheduled the Iowa Internet Uncaucus 2012 this Saturday and expect to draw thousands of Iowans in person and online.
The nonpartisan event will feature 15 speakers who each will have five minutes to present an issue of relevance to Iowans. After the talks, in-person and online attendees will have a chance to engage on those issues. The goal, sponsors say, is to "crowdsource a platform for raising awareness on issues that matter most in the Iowa community."
"The Iowa Internet Caucus wasn't meant to draft legislation or advance delegates," explains Jordan Lampe, who works for Dwolla, which offers an online service to transfer money. "It was created to inform our representatives, inspire civil discourse and key in our neighbors on the issues that matter most to us as Iowans."
In the back of the organizers' minds is creation of a new format that can engage a wide swath of citizens in a discussion of public issues. Lampe told Mashable reporter Alex Fitzpatrick, "We're laying the foundation, a pre-packaged structure for somebody that's motivated to go out and create something new. There is no reason why Minnesota or Ohio couldn't have an Internet caucus."
The event is a bit like Technology Unleashed on Public Policy. The speeches will be streaming live and there will be themed video chat rooms, Google hangouts, online voting systems and document sharing on Google Docs and Dropbox. The event also has its own Twitter account (@IowaUncaucus) and hashtag (#uncaucus2012).
Online access and editing tools are part of the organizers' goals of openness and transparency in public discussion. "It's very similar to how the Internet works," explains community organizer Ben Anderson. "I think that's the way it's going to be in the future."
The virtual town hall could be the answer to Oregon's enduring question of engaging a large number of citizens in conversations about tax reform, education quality and health care access and cost control. State political leaders have yearned for a reliable tool to reach and interact with citizens on meaty issues that demand more attention than a 30-second TV ad, such as a revenue system that is fair and can adequately pay for schools and other public services.
The Iowa Internet Uncaucus 2012 event is not connected with any elected officials or political parties. It is associated with something called "A Better Iowa," an effort backed by the Des Moines Register to stimulate a broad dialogue on "the greatest public service issues confronting Iowa."
"Consider [the Uncaucus] as a digital gathering of community conversations where your ideas, opinions and solutions will be shared, studied and even debated," explains the A Better Iowa website. "Bring your brain. Share your ideas. Add your voice."
Chilly weather in Des Moines thinned the expected crowd, but not the vigor of soapbox speeches, which ran the gamut from encouraging greater voter participation in local elections to water conservation. The winning pitch came from Carl Blake, a hog farmer who called for action to preserve family farming, including more local USDA-certified hog-processing plants.