Today is an off-cycle election in our fair City of Palo Alto. Turnout is issue number one, issue number two is Measure A. This post starts a little local, but stay with me, it's global.
Off-cycle elections are the weak link in the chain gang we call civic participation. The electorate has been brought up in a broadcast world where we are told when to spend our attention. Never mind that Measure A has a branding problem, or the state of our public schools risks termination of Proposition 13 proportions. Or that when I went to school in Palo Alto that odd number meant cuts, closures and a sense that something in the world of our parents was broken (real estate costs today over the economy tomorrow, go figure -- Prop 13 is always relevant when discussing the California education system, as the shift from local property tax funding to state general funding is still felt today). It's almost cliche to say that a vote for education is an investment in the future, but the context of consumerist growth, surely we have to save something.
The most contrary analysis I can find, a 1999 Berkeley report, shifted the blame from Prop 13 and the Serrano court decision that required equality of spending across the diverse wealth of the state. Total State education spending has kept pace, but per-pupil spending has not relative to the nation. Instead of the tax revolt being the cause of per-pupil under investment, it figures sheer population growth is to blame. Regardless, the condition today is State funding has all but disappeared. With Measure A, there is an opportunity under a $200 per year Parcel tax to leverage local allowable revenues.
I'm fairly certain that a strong turnout would help pass the measure, an exercise in more local democracy when less local has failed us. Yes, this is a single issue, and more sweeping reform is needed, but when a wheel is in motion you need to ride it.
Sadly, I'm also certain the measure will fail by the most important measure.
Which brings me to the global point. The reason I am going to vote today is not because I am so seeped in the issue. A volunteer mom called today to circumvent mainstream attention to grab mine and tell me to get to the polls. A social network was activated with a reminder about what matters at the right time.
Over in a land where they call neighborhoods boroughs, Andrew is running for Advocate. The NYC Public Advocate is like the VP of New York, but with a charter not only for succession, but advocacy. In an amazing net enabled campaign, Andrew Rasiej is going to use the tools of our more emergent and personal democracy to enable citizens to be advocates. See a pothole, snap a picture with your camera phone to make transparent the plight of your city, and Andrew will make sure the guy inside sees it. Andrew is going for public funding if he can get there with only $100 per donor any American will do. As a funny aside to a serious issue, when I told my wife about it, she joked, "usually they are happy with $20!" If we back Andrew with our iTunes budget, he is halfway to all be advocates. See the video blog and you will know he is just the guy.
The office has only been held by two people in the history of the greatest city. The most recent one knows how to work the party, not just for fundraising, but the mechanisms of turnout when it is but a token.
On September 13th, 2005, a most off-election cycle, especially in the wake of history -- something is going to happen. Either mainstream attention will be elsewhere...well, actually, it's not an either/or...that's going to happen. Most people will be watching the reality of their TV. But someone is going to have donated what they can to help get the word out. Someone is going to blog the idea to death. Someone is going to grab their buddies and head to the polls. Someone is going to hack the great reminder that gets to half of the people who care and are connected. Smarter Mobs could revolt.
Let's face it, it's a sad fact that attention, be it scandal or otherwise, that drives us to the polls. But perhaps we should use that and our attention getting machines to this simple purpose when we are otherwise told to be off.
UPDATE: Measure A Passed