The Participatory Inaugural
By Garance Franke-Ruta
In his latest YouTube release, Barack Obama today issued a low-key call to transform Inauguration Day from an elite Washington-based celebration of the transition of power in a democracy into a nationwide festival that individuals can participate in through new media technologies and hosting parties of their own, wherever they may be.
If it sounds a bit like the Obama campaign, writ large, well, that's because it is -- and, as such, it provides an early example of how the techniques of an unusually interactive campaign may be marshaled not only on behalf of a political agenda but on behalf of changing American civic culture in the years ahead.
"You don't have to brave the crowds and commotion in order to participate in this celebration, because we've made this Inauguration open and accessible to communities across our nation," Obama says in the video. "Just text the word 'open' to 56333 for news, transportation updates, and ways you can participate."
On Sunday, there will be "a free celebration at the Lincoln Memorial that's open to the public, Obama says, "And to allow Americans across the country to join us, HBO will broadcast the event for free that evening."
He continues, "Monday night, Michelle and Jill Biden are hosting a free Kids' Inaugural concert to honor the children of military families, which the Disney Channel will broadcast live on television and their radio network.
And, "On the evening of the Inauguration, Michelle and I will attend the first-ever Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, and we want you to be right there with us - wherever your neighborhood is," he says. "ABC will broadcast it on television, we'll webcast it on the Internet and post updates from the ballroom, and if you visit pic2009.org, you can even sign up to host your own neighborhood ball at home."
So far, few events are listed on the presidential inaugural site. But, as during the campaign, Obama won't be alone when it comes to using contemporary technology to prod people to exercise their right to free association.
MoveOn.org Civic Action has launched a similar initiative -- an "Inaugural Bash" page helping Obama-backers find inaugural events in their areas, which lists 3,128 planned gatherings so far.
Co-sponsors of that initiative include TrueMajority.org, AFSME, ColorofChange.org, Drinking Liberally, Credo Mobile, Young Democrats of America and Keystone Progress.
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