Using Technology of the Future to Preserve Ideals of the Past
One year ago, I wrote to you about a wonderful classroom I toured in La Crescenta, where students were learning (gasp!) how to make things with their hands – and their minds. The students were not only getting valuable, hands-on experience to prepare them for the jobs in tomorrow’s economy but they were also learning to build neat things like robots, and programming in advanced computer code. That experience left a lasting impression on me, and has continuously led me to question if using technology could lead to greater engagement by our students and the public in general.
I’ve advocated for using technology as a tool for citizen engagement in the past. In addition to traditional in-person town meetings like the one I held at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA last week, I’ve also hosted numerous online town hall meetings and online “Ask me Anything” sessions on platforms like Redit. I’ve also supported “hack-a-thons” and events at Jet Propulsion Laboratory to raise interest in STEM fields, and authored legislation to utilize cutting-edge technologies to conserve water and create new sources of electricity.
Despite these efforts, I’ve always believed that there is much greater potential in this technology than I could conceive of; that technology could be used for more than just gathering people’s opinions and ideas, but to actually empower them to be an active part of their government and the legislative process. As a student of history, I decided to look to the past for guidance on the future.
One of my favorite lines in a speech from the history of the United States is the final line of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he challenges all Americans to ensure “that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The growth of globalization and special interests can make it feel like the government no longer is “by the people and for the people.” But after my visit to the Clark and CV high schools robotics classrooms, I realized that modern technology could give Californians the opportunity to have a more hands-on, tactile experience with their government, thus increasing their engagement and ensuring that government remains in the hands of the people it is meant to serve.
As a result, earlier this year I issued a challenge to Californians across the state to help me draft the United States’ first-ever crowdsourced “Wikibill.” Using an interface similar to Wikipedia, anyone with access to the Internet could propose, draft and edit a bill, which I was committed to introducing once a consensus emerged.
The effort was designed to perfect other citizen-participation mechanisms like Petitions.WhiteHouse.Gov, where citizens can propose broad concepts, but there was no commitment by the government to act. Simultaneously, many reformers like me believe that California’s Ballot Initiative process is too powerful, because inflexible initiatives can tie the hands of elected officials in perpetuity. The Wiki process was the perfect balance because it allowed vast numbers of people to participate in their government from the comfort of their homes, but the ideas get vetted through the legislative process.
I’m proud to say that Californians rose to the challenge and drafted what would become AB 1520, which received overwhelming bipartisan support from the legislature.
Thank you for your support in making this experiment in democracy a big success and, as always, do not hesitate to contact me if you have future ideas for legislation or innovative ways to ensure the voices of the public are heard.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit www.asm.ca.gov/gatto.