Podcamp Pittsburgh was full of great sessions this year, but one that I enjoyed an enormous amount was Sunday morning, where dayvoe from 2 Political Junkies and Representative Mike Doyle talked about how Social Media has changed the way Washington works. This was not only interesting information for bloggers and podcasters, but is pertinent for anyone who cares about our legislative process in Washington.

If you don’t read David and Maria on a regular basis, you are really missing something, and David was the perfect person to moderate this session. On the one hand, I wanted to hear more about how constituents can use Social Media to influence government, but on the other hand, the discussion of how technology has changed in Washington was a more useful story. If we can understand the amount of communication and how it has grown over time, we can then, as activists make choices about how to best use Social Media. Knowing the background was crucial for moving forward with any meaningful use of social media to change government.

David started by asking Mike about what technology was like in 1995 when Doyle first went to Washington. How boring right? Surprisingly no. This set the stage for understand how Washington has evolved from a paper intensive communication system to what we have now.

A fact I wasn’t aware of which was very cool was that Ted Kennedy had the first website for any member of congress in 1995

So what does it mean when you, as a constituent sends off an email to your elected official compared to pre- 1990? Then, you would have sent a letter perhaps and been 1 in 23 million correspondences. Today, you are one email in 264 million emails.

So, often we think (at least I think) only about what we want our elected officials to do, and our contact to them is all about that end. But the other thing we all need to remember and utilize is that there are vast amounts of information available to every person now because of the internet and the growth of technology in the government. When we feel so disempowered and removed, the reality is that we can know so much about what is going on. for example, minters for committee meetings are there, including the way various members vote. Knowledge is power. If we utilize this information, and then employ social media in targeted ways, we can accomplish more than we have in the past.

I asked a question about how can social activists affect government action and I used last year’s Inclusive ENDA battle as an example. Most LGBT activists believe there were enough votes to pass an Inclusive ENDA, bit it never was brought for a vote. Doyle talked about the role of the caucus in the decisions made by the leadership. When some in the caucus are reluctant to cast votes and therefore the leadership seeks to find a middle ground that the whole caucus can support. This results in watered down bills (such as an ENDA that excludes Trans rights). As activists, we don’t think enough about this and we fail to target the caucus as a battlefield for real change.

Podcamp is full of great sessions that run the gamut from “how to” sessions to brainstorming sessions. A session like this was an awesome addition by allowing us to recognize how the system works. Great session.

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