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Slashdot in Politics? 422

Michael "Codetalker" Obersnel asks: "I was wondering if anyone out there had any ideas on how to turn all that passionate talk on Slashdot (how I love it) into a political force that people will pay attention to. Like a lobby group or something similar. It seems that people tolerate the DMCA and spam enough to complain about it but not really do anything about. I think we could change that with some organization and a cohesive front. I'm not suggesting that Slashdot itself be responsible, only that the community take part. Like a micro-payment system to hire lawyers for topics we are interested in or some sort of petitioning system. I know I'd pay a buck to overturn the DMCA, free Dimitri, outlaw spam, protest license problems, protect the GPL etc."
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Slashdot in Politics?

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  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:46AM (#2346285) Journal
    It's called the Electronic Frontier Foundation [eff.org].
    • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:52AM (#2346323)
      The EFF is not a lobbying group, it is a fund set up to help people whose freedoms are attacked unjustly. What we need is someone with the knowledge, experience, and leadership capabilities to start up a PAC (Political Action Committee.) that can lobby politicians for us.

      This is the sort of thing that some of those loudmouthed leaders of the open-source community should really be doing, instead of running around trying to demonize Microsoft and other software companies, making the entire movement look like a bunch of cheap wackos.
      • The EFF is not a lobbying group, it is a fund set up to help people whose freedoms are attacked unjustly.

        Perhaps this is not an EFF focus, but EFF should consider adding this type of lobbying to their list of activities, at least with regards to stupid laws like the DMCA and such. Since they are the ones busy trying to defend people who have been violated by these laws, they are probably also the ones with the most knowledge to lobby on them. Why invent a new group?

        • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:15AM (#2346481)
          Because that isn't what the EFF wants to do. Lobbying groups operate under very different laws and tax codes than nonprofit groups funding legal help do. If the EFF were to start lobbying, it would drastically change the entire organization.

          Lobbying groups also tend to be considered somewhat less credible than politically motivated nonprofits like the EFF. Right now the EFF just helps out the accused and points out some bad laws. Because they are a group of people who could probably be making more money with less hassle doing something else, they get a lot of trust and respect from many people. If the EFF were to start taking donations to lobby politicians, they would be just another group of washington scum getting paid to help politicians buy elections by sucking up to the right people. The EFF would then become the NRA of geek politics, they would get a lot of support, shuffle around a lot of money, but in the long run they would earn quite a bit of disdain from outsiders.
          • Are they allowed to take credit-card donations from foreigners? If so, I'm in.
          • Democracy in action (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gad_zuki! ( 70830 )
            If the EFF were to start taking donations to lobby politicians, they would be just another group of washington scum getting paid to help politicians buy elections by sucking up to the right people.

            So its okay for you political opposite to be lobbying but not for you? That's pretty self-defeatist. If you want to play in Washington you have to play by their rules. Last time I checked donations to politicians were legal and its the most effective way to be heard.

            If you don't like the system, you should just say so and stay out of politics. If you want to make a change start a lobby.
        • The EFF is a non-profit organization. As such, they are prohibited by law from any lobbying activities.
          • The EFF is a non-profit organization. As such, they are prohibited by law from any lobbying activities.

            This is an oversimplification and not true [njnonprofits.org]. The bottom line is that they can with some restrictions - it also depends on whether or not they receive federal funding. Since the EFF does not, they are not restricted very much. That said, I don't think the EFF should be lobbying because that is not their purpose. I believe, as others have called for, we do need a separate organization for this purpose.

      • They don't take any case. They only take cases, which will get the most press, therefore showing their cause.

        ACLU isn't as bad, but actually has a no-computer policy now, they're handing all that over to the EFF.

        GNU is only for license copyleft issues, which is a mute point - as it seems that every company who violates GPL quickly turns the other cheek.

        I agree with the author, we should form a union, PAC (Political Action Committee), something so that we can be more organized and be clearly heard, but make it easy enough for people like me, and I'm sure for many of the other thousands of people who feel the same way but don't want to write a letter to there congressman or protest on a weekend.

        What I don't want to support is any anti-Microsoft legislation, frankly I've been against the whole crusade against them, a lot of people think that slashdot is full of 'rabid linux zealots' if slashdot does form some type of political group - please leave that linux stuff behind.

        • Heard on NPR this morning, in an interview with a policeofficer (likely in new york, but I stepped out of the room):

          "To hell with the ACLU, people's safety is at stake."

          The reporter went on to point out what a few weeks ago would have been fodder for multi-million dollar lawsuits is today conscidered routine. The risk is of course that our enforcement bodies are required to work under different standards, without being told when the standards change.
    • Supporting the EFF is a good thing. However, there is a need for true grassroots lobbying efforts for the causes we're always fighting for -- sending money to the EFF may help them pay lawyers to fight the DMCA and other atrocities, but taking the time to let your congressperson know how you felt might have helped to keep the DMCA from being passed in the first place.

      The EFF is important, but there seems to be a void on the grassroots lobbying side...
      • The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a slightly different view than many people at /.

        After all, many people reading here work at Microsoft [Joke!]

        But seriously, the viewpoint is different. And so, while they are closely allied, they are not they same.

        But setting up a system for political action would be difficult to administer.

        There is definitely a need for a slash based political site as a start.

        But I wonder about running such a foundation with a slash based democracy of sorts to determine policy and direction.

        Some things would never get settled.

    • And how many such organizations do some industries support, both overtly and silently?

      If one lobbyist is good, then two must be better. Right? Hey, it works for the tobacco companies...

    • Perhaps Slashdot should create a permenant slashbox for this organization so everyone knows where to go to donate to fight things like the DMCA.
    • The EFF [eff.org] makes a wonderful contribution with respect to the legal issues of interest to the technically inclined (read: Geek) comunity, and it's admirable how they spech most of their resources in these pursuits, but honestly, they should take a page from the playbook of the NRA [mynra.com] with respect to fund raising if they want to compete with the powerful political action committees that live inside the Washington beltway.

      There are also other organizations which deserve your support (financial or otherwise), such as the Center for Democracy & Technology [cdt.org] and the Federation of American Scientists [fas.org] which has a number of projects that would be of interest to the /. community.

    • Yup, the EFF is great. Everyone at Poliglut is a member.

      I started poliglut to help keep people up to speed on politics. The thing is, there's more to politics than what's covered on slashdot. So poliglut covers a much wider range.

      The sad truth, IMHO, is that the tech community seems to be so extremely libertarian that they have almost no hope of being heard. It's just to far out of band for the typical pol.

      Anyway, stop by poliglut if you're into politics. We talk this stuff every day.
  • by Deven ( 13090 ) <deven@ties.org> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:46AM (#2346289) Homepage
    If all the people who take the time to complain on here would just take the time to phone and/or write their congressperson, it would probably make a big difference. The other side is organized; why aren't we?
    • While what you say is probably true, there's a differance between sending 1,000 individual letters vs. sending 1 letter with a 1,000 signatures. The chances of getting the 1 letter read are much greater than having the 1,000 individual letters read.
      • Everything I've heard about grassroots it that actually a letter received from an individual has more impact then 1 letter with a thousands signatures. One takes more effort then the other. Also even though every letter isn't read by your member of congress, it is read by a staffer, maybe only cursory, but it is read.

        So it would be nice if more of us, in the USA, would write out a personal letter to our Congressman and Senators when legislation that is contrary to our beliefs come before them. Not a form letter, but one written by you. Keep it short, to the point and very clear how you want them to vote.

        • Good call. Just keep the letter coherent, the terminology clear, and the reasoning in the forefront:

          Dear Representative Smith:
          As a [programmer/sysadmin/whatever] and one of your voting constituents, I must voice my strong opposition to Bill X. Bill X is bad because Y. Y is bad because Z. Z will corrupt children's minds and make them burn flags, have bad breath, and be unkind to puppies.

          J. Geek

          And don't forget to make it look clean and professional - no crumpled or brightly colored sheet of paper, no scribbly handwriting, no bizarre fonts.

      • With the recent legislation making digital signatures the legal equivalent of personal signatures, this is surprisingly doable. Assuming that you can convince Slashdot readers to install crypto software, and that crypto isn't soon to be outlawed that is.

        I wonder though if Slashdot would still be as effective as it is if it were not for the effective anonymity of the site. Although AC posts have declined, the difficulty of associating a handle with a real name essentially allows people to spout half formed thoughts that these same people on further reflection would be unwilling to sign their names to.

    • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:38AM (#2346606) Journal
      The other side is organized; why aren't we?

      Because the "other side" has money and is getting paid to do what they do. Here there is only enough incentive to bitch and moan, not to actually do anything. So what the submitter is proposing is a way to contribute to a fund to lobby (bribe) congressman into doing our bidding.
    • If all the people who take the time to complain on here would just take the time to phone and/or write their congressperson, it would probably make a big difference. The other side is organized; why aren't we?

      The problem is that we don't know how to write with pens and papers, and congresspersons don't know how to use email.

      Big gap here...
    • by wurp ( 51446 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @11:09AM (#2346828) Homepage
      You can send a fax to all of your congressmen even easier than you can send an email via aclu.org. If you go to
      at the bottom of the page you will see an option to fax your congressmen. It will figure out who they are based on your physical address and fax them whatever content you enter into their web form.

      Here's what I sent to my congressmen:

      A second attack on the freedoms of Americans is happening right now, and you're on the front lines. Please help defend my freedom.

      I know that times like these compel one to try to do something about it, to fight for our freedoms and security. I can only assume that this urge
      is what is driving the current push for laws that ostensibly increase our national security, but in fact restrict our freedoms without measurable increase in security.

      You are doing more than your fair share to fight for the American way if you resist the urge to pass oppressive laws in a time of crisis. Please don't let national law be driven by current events. The strength of our nation lies in the freedom it grants its citizens, not the power of the government to control those citizens.

      That said, I would like to list some laws which I believe are currently under consideration, and which I feel gravely impact the freedoms on which America is founded. I strongly urge you to vote AGAINST the following legislation:

      1) The Mobilization Against Terrorism Act a.k.a. Anti-Terrorism Act proposed by Attorney General Ashcroft. If I understand this bill correctly, it would for example treat computerized graffiti (defacing a governmental web page) as an act of terrorism punishable by life in prison. While defacing government property is obviously a crime, there are already laws on the books with reasonable punishments for these crimes. This bill also appears to violate our ex post facto protections granted by Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.

      2) Amendment S.A. 1562 of H.R. 2500, the Combating Terrorism Act, sections 816, 832, 833 and 834. This bill appears to grant broad rights to government agencies regarding computerized wire taps. There are already mechanisms for obtaining the right to a wire tap (warrants). I feel this act is an abridgement of our fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

      3) The draft Public Safety and Cyber Security Enhancement Act (PSCSEA). Restrictions on cryptography can only hurt legitimate uses, never criminal or terroristic uses. Cryptographic algorithms are well known and software providing strong encryption is easily obtainable, regardless of US law. If its use is criminalized, will that stop criminals from using it? Also, encrypted communications can NOT be identified if the communicating parties use commonly known methods of steganography. The kind of messages that terrorists would send back and forth could easily be hidden undetectably in any public internet forum, video stream, photograph, sound or other file. Criminalizing encryption will only restrict law abiding citizens from protecting personal and financial information.

      4) The draft legislation titled "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act" (SSSCA). This law grants unprecented rights to intellectual property holders (including virtually eliminating Fair Use rights, first sale doctrine, and public domain rights). At the same time, it increases the cost of all computer systems and eliminates an entire computing industry founded on openness and freedom. (There is publicly available software which allows one to operate a computer while legally paying no license fees. This software and any like it would be untenable since anyone could alter the program to disable the copy protections required under the SSSCA. This software (Linux) is an incredible boon to students, non-profit organizations, and low income users everywhere.)

      I am a computer software developer. Intellectual property is my livelihood. Please follow the guidelines given by the founding fathers in our Constitution with respect to IP. The limited monopoly on intellectual property is a sacrifice we make to satisfy the real goal.

      From the US Constitution: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." The goal of intellectual property rights is to promote the progress of science and useful arts, not to guarantee income in perpetuity.

      How you vote affects how I vote. Please help protect the freedom of American citizens.

      Here is a list of articles further enumerating the concerns about current legislation: http://www.securityfocus.com/news/257
      http://www.politechbot.com/docs/hollings.090701. ht ml
      http://www.eff.org/alerts/20010921_eff_wiretap_a le rt.html


      Bobby Martin, CEO NavTools Inc.
  • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:48AM (#2346295) Homepage
    we do what we do because we are lazy. if an e-mail won't cut it, well they just won't listen :-)
    • When the time came to write my anti-weakened-crypto letter, not only did I get it onto one page of dead tree, but I hand-delivered it to the local congressional offices downtown. Especially with all the WTC disruption, I had no idea how fast or slow mail delivery would be had I mailed the directly to DC. There's some sort of diplomatic-pouch type thing from the local offices.
  • We could call it the Elementary Freedom Fight or something like that, and even get a website such as http://www.eff.org [eff.org]. Oh, wait. That's already taken ...
  • Wow... (Score:3, Funny)

    by andy@petdance.com ( 114827 ) <andy@petdance.com> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:52AM (#2346320) Homepage
    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of lobbyists!
    • It's a shame that a Beowulf cluster of Slashdot lobbyists would typically be found running Quake instead of using all that power for something useful.
  • by CptnHarlock ( 136449 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:55AM (#2346341) Homepage
    ... is by allowing the EFF [eff.org] to have free banners on the site. If lets say every 50th banner is a free banner for the EFF then /. and Andover would really put their money where their mouth is. I mean there's anyway a decline in banner sells worldwide, that gap could easily be filled with "goodwill" banners... How'bout that Taco & Co?
  • Technocrat.net (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alessio ( 39749 )
    I believe that was the idea (or one of the ideas) behind Bruce Perens' Technocrat.net. Unfortunately, discussions between users never reached a critical mass to get out of cyberspace, and Bruce decided to shut the site down [kuro5hin.org].
  • There's the Consumer Project on Technology (CPT), which I'm still waiting for the results of the interview [slashdot.org] that were posted, unfortunately before the recent events. That is a lobbying group on many tech issues, and they appear to be pro-Slashdot-manta in several cases.
  • by mikosullivan ( 320993 ) <miko.idocs@com> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:55AM (#2346350)
    At OpenSourceLobby.org [opensourcelobby.org] we are working to educate the government about the value of open source. We are a grass roots movement: each member of OpenSourceLobby "owns" his or her congressional representative and is in charge of establishing a relationship with that legislator and educating him or her about open source. We are also writing up fact sheets and talking points to assist lobbyists and other open sourcies in making their case.

    We're just getting started, so it's a great time to join in.

    • No offense, but the DMCA, SSSCA, Anti Terrorist Act of 2001, Dmitry, etc. are way more important then lobbying for Open Source. I don't care what software the government uses, I just care about what laws are taking our freedoms away.
      • I'd like to respond to that with two points:
        • It's all important. We need to build a better world in many different ways, including the abovementioned issues, and including the furtherance of open source. No fewer than three volunteers of OpenSourceLobby personally witnessed the tragic events of Sep 11, and they're still on board with our efforts.

        • Open source is one of the ways of addressing those issues. Open source software strongly promotes a more free world.
  • Something that I'd like to see on this site:

    Links to congressional websites where you could email your representatives/governors/senators/president when an issue comes up that needs grassroots support. I know I've sent emails and written letters to the government after reading some posts here, but it generally takes a while to find where you need to go. Someone generally posts a link, but why not have it after the description of the issue?

    Just a thought.
  • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:57AM (#2346359)
    Congresspeople and other politicans pay attention to three things: (1) manually typed, manually signed letters from registered voters with reasonable arguments and tone (2) contributions of $$$ (the more the better, but any amount gets attention) (3) contributions of manhours.

    I suggested when the Dimitri issue broke that if 100,000 slashdotters typed out a letter to their Congressional representatives (quick - who is the house member from your district?) and mailed it in, then Congress would begin to pay attention to the debate.

    The typical response was "I don't know where a manual typewriter exists {hint - your public library} and if I can't e-mail my letter I won't bother. And send in $50??? You have to be joking!".

    So exactly why would you expect any politician to take anything said here seriously?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The letters all have to be sent to the same politician. If you scattershot 100K letters to their individual representatives (Senate and House), it wouldn't do that much good.

      Even if they did receive a large # of letters, chances are that a staff assistant or legislative correspondent would draft some sort of stock letter to be sent in response (if you remembered to ask for a response, because you won't automatically get one). Then they would ask an LA to come up with a position on the issue, so that the rep. can defend his or her position in public.

      If you really want something done, find out what your rep's appearance schedule will be when they're back home. Show up and ask questions. Call your local media outlet, and suggest they do a story on the issue.
      • "The letters all have to be sent to the same politician. If you scattershot 100K letters to their individual representatives (Senate and House), it wouldn't do that much good."

        Good point, but if you are writing on a specific issue, you want to send the letter to your representatives (Senate and House) and to the member sponsering the bill (Hollings in the case of Son of DMCA). That way your representatives know where you stand, and the sponsor gets the full picture.


    • (quick - who is the house member from your district?)

      But that's just the point -- people generally don't know these things off the top of their head. And even if you did, can you recite the postal address by heart? That's much less likely.

      Perhaps one of the things that we need is an accessible list of reps (both Senate and House) and the mailing addresses -- for each state. Combine that with the sample letters that EFF provides, and suddenly you have something that just needs to be printed, signed and stamped. Put it all in one place and you have one stop shopping for letters to Congress.

      Then all we have to do is get people away from their monitors long enough to go buy a stamp...

      • 'quick - who is the house member from your district?'

        "But that's just the point -- people generally don't know these things off the top of their head. And even if you did, can you recite the postal address by heart? That's much less likely"

        Quick - what is your doctor's name? Your dentist's? Your spouse?

        Yet in the long run, your congressional representative can help you/hurt you far more than your doctor. So perhaps it might be good to keep track of those things?

    • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

      Well, isn't the purpose of a PAC to make it so that people don't have to exert as much effort? ;-) Just throw money at the PAC and the PAC does the activism. I think that's what the submitter wants, he just doesn't think the PAC that he wants, exists yet.

    • by cascadefx ( 174894 ) <morlockhq@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @11:14AM (#2346873) Journal
      Congresspeople and other politicans pay attention to three things: (1) manually typed, manually signed letters from registered voters with reasonable arguments and tone

      If you don't have a manual typwriter, bring out that old impact printer that is gathering dust in your closet. A simple Perl script could change the letters you send enough to make them seem less formulaic.

      Then send them to all of your:

      1. Representatives in Washington
      2. state Reps
      3. local Reps
      4. heads of the Political Parties at the national and state level
      5. governors
      6. state attorney generals
      7. attorney general of the United States
      8. president
      9. vice president
      10. speaker of the house
      11. Heads of pertinent committees
      12. Heads of pertinent agencies
      13. Editors of influential Magazines and Newspapers

        Then you just have to sign them by hand OR get a plotter to do it.

        I think we are framing the idea of "lazy" wrong. Sure computer people are lazy. They hate expending effort that will just have to be done over and over again. It is better to spend a couple of days hacking together a solution that could be applied when needed instead of taking the few minutes it will take to solve the problem once.

        Doesn't Larry Wall say that the three great virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience and hubris? Well, let's put that crap to work.

        If you don't have an impact printer, fake it by choosing a crappy fixed width font like IMPACT or something. Sure, it is not the same, but it does tend to throw people used to recieving nicely formatted text. Also throw in some spelling errors and leave out some words (then go back and correct them with whiteout... though this goes against the virtues

        If you start to analyze the problem, you could probably figure out what makes a personal letter sound personal and a form letter sound like a form letter. Capitalize on that! Keep a couple of flat files with appropriate phrases in them for a particular subject. Combine them in interesting ways with a program and only include a couple of new sentences here and there of original content (which should be put into files for later use).

        I think this could work. Anybody have any concrete ideas or recipes?

    • Our group has put a bit of work behind a lecture series [underwhelm.org] we hope will bring intellectual property to the public debate... but we just don't have the money to advertise it sufficiently.

      If only there were a clearinghouse, where technodonors could read about and choose to support the technoactivists they like... I hoped Slashdot would help us reach supporters to help fund our efforts, it seems like the most likely candidate at this stage in the game. Alas, they won't post stories about "local" events.

    • by hotseat ( 102621 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @11:32AM (#2347015)
      Congresspeople and other politicans pay attention to three things: (1) manually typed, manually signed letters from registered voters with reasonable arguments and tone (2) contributions of $$$ (the more the better, but any amount gets attention) (3) contributions of manhours.

      Disclaimer: I just answer these letters, I don't actually make policy...

      We don't care if letters are posted, faxed, emailed or if people ring in. In either case we'll read 'em, log 'em and you'll get a letter back (love the franking privilege). You don't have to manually type it, though we prefer people who make an effort to write their own letters rather than paying a company to fax us on any issue the company feels is important (that's just evil).

      If you don't want to write by hand, there's a web form at www.house.gov/writerep/ [house.gov] to work out zip->representative and send an email. If your rep doesn't like email, WriteRep will tell you.

      Be careful with cash, as well - it's not legal to receive campaign contributions on federal property so sending $50 to Washington offices is a bit icky.

      Basically, as a constituent you'll get decent treatment, and there's probably nothing you can put in your letter to make it get in front of your representatives themselves. If the staffer thinks it's an important enough issue (or if the volume is high enough) then action will be taken.


  • Bad Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FatRatBastard ( 7583 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:58AM (#2346365) Homepage
    I think its a bad idea... at least to have it associated with Slashdot. If someone was to create something seperate then fine. But I cherish the independence of /.

    Yeah, I know some will complain that it really isn't independent, that the same types of stories are posted, and there's an anti-MS slant, but I think Taco and the boys (girls?) do a much better job than most folks give them credit for. Plus, the real value of /. isn't the postings, but the replys.

    Something would just sit wrong with me knowing that /. had gone from a really cool community (that anyone can participate in) to something with "official positions".

    Just my .0215 Euros.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:58AM (#2346368)
    Stop, take a breath, and look out the window. This is a special interest group you're in. It's called special interest because most people don't care about this stuff. Linux vs. Windows vs. FreeBSD? Region protected DVDs? Gigaherz laptops? GPL? None of this stuff is important. Enjoy it all, but remember to live.

    I've seen what happens when a geek becomes a political activist, and it's called "Richard Stallman". Keep your priorities straight.

    • None of this stuff is important.

      You are correct, none of the stuff you mentioned is important. And that is not what most people are really concerned about here. They're more interested in things like: privacy, unconstitutional laws (DMCA), illegal monopolies, and above all, freedom.

      I've seen what happens when a geek becomes a political activist, and it's called "Richard Stallman".

      Richard Stallman is not a political activist, he's a free software activist. BIG DIFFERENCE.

      Nice try, though.
  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @09:58AM (#2346373) Homepage
    ...but for what? On these boards, people range from libertarians to conservatives to social democrats to socialists, with a generous sprinkle of anarchists, nihilists, new-age followers and so on ad infinitum. A political movement would become an excercise in flamage withing ten seconds of platform discussion.

    A non-political, issue-focused lobbying group, on the other hand, could be workable. On the other hand, EFF fills that role quite well already.

  • I think it could help if we actually agreed on some of the topics. :)

    There have been many times when, on a lark, I've posted completely contradictory comments, only to have both modded up as "insightful" and both having numerous replies (sometimes from the same people) telling me how much they agree.

    For every Microsoft basher, there's a Microsoft fan.

    For every "Free Dmitri" user, there's one who thinks that he ought to be in jail.

    For every anti-capitalist, there's a capitalist.

    I don't know that it's necessary a good idea to start hiring lawyers to represent a mob of people who all disagree with each other.

    On the other hand, maybe that's the best thing we could do.

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:03AM (#2346398)
    Now that sounds like trolling, but I mean this as honest criticism. To quote Nathan Torkington from a presentation he gave at a Perl conference: "Passion doesn't convince. Passion makes you look like an idiot or an asshole."

    The problem with most Slashdot discussion is that it comes from people with tremendous lack of experience. Language battles and API wars are fought by college students defending and regurgitating what they learned last semester or what they read in John Carmack's .plan file or a Larry Wall speech. Realistically, especially in politics, you cannot force everything into a black or white extreme. A middle ground, like "I use Perl sometimes, and I also use Python, Lisp, and TCL" is more reasoned.

    On Slashdot, you find people who not only stick to the extremes, but they stick to the extremes for extreme ideological reasons. A typical example is someone arguing the superiority of Linux over Windows XP without ever having used the latter. Because the former is Open Source, so it goes, it must be better. You won't get far outside of geek circles with these kind of hard-liner views. A geek in politics is like Jerry Falwell running for president.
  • Thinking of collecting donations for this currently nonexistent PAC: All we need is the mouse-click equivalent of a 900 number; say, an Amazon one-click donation link, or the equivalent. Then we get the URL posted in a lead article on /. and the /. effect produces an instant lobbying fund, the money supporting efforts against strategies like this so we can prevent anyone else doing the same thing.

    Laws and sausages are made much the same, but sausages are better with mustard.
  • by CrazyBrett ( 233858 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:04AM (#2346403)
    ... is that I'm lazy and a procrastinator. I've been meaning to call/write my congressperson and senators for a week now, but I keep putting it off or forgetting it. To get me to do something, it needs to be easy, and it needs to be something I can't back out of once I start. Given that, I have a suggestion:

    Remember when Microsoft sent out letters to people and told them to sign and send them to their representatives? Well, trying to force that on people was obviously silly, but the general idea was good. If I had a letter in my hand that said exactly what I wanted to express, and all I had to do was sign it and drop it in the mail, I'd have no reason to procrastinate.

    Suppose we form a web site where good writers can put together coherent, intelligent letters on various issues. Concerned citizens can go to the site, browse the letters for one they like, and download it in a printer-friendly form. On the same site, they can also look up the address and fax numbers of their representatives, so all they have to do is sign it and mail it in.

    Yes, I know the EFF has some of these features. However, it would be useful if the community could contribute sample letters, and if the process was even easier than it is now. Remember, the target audience is me, the lazy, disorganized procrastinator.

  • If we could implement some kind of karma system for letters to congressmen, all the passion that goes into hour-long rants here could instead go to something useful.
    • some kind of karma system for letters to congressmen

      I think every time there is an EFF alert it should be a story here. If that alert calls for letters and (gasp) phone calls to Congress, then people should post their letters or a summary of their call. They should do this AFTER they have sent the letter or made the call.

      We also need to make a "tech report card" and try to establish, using open source techniques, someone to monitor the decisions and responses of Congressmen. We need to translate our views into something we can articulate to voters and campaign contributors and volunteers. We need to do that in a partisan agnostic way, too.
  • by dackroyd ( 468778 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:04AM (#2346408) Homepage
    In the UK a group of people have formed the Campaing for Digital Rights (CDR ;), and our web site can be found at http://uk.eurorights.org/ [eurorights.org]

    At the moment we are campainging for three things: Consumer Digital Rights,with regard to use-restricted cd's, to free Dmitry Sklyarov and to prevent dumb laws like the EUCD (Europes version of the DMCA) from being passed.

    We have held a couple of protests outside the US embassy, to ask for Dmitry to be released, the first of which had a ten minute report on NewsNight, the BBC news review program.

    On October the 6th we are going to start our leafletting campaign to raise awareness of the new brain-damaged cd's being released. A copy of the leaflet can be downloaded from http://uazu.net/cd/index.html [uazu.net]

    Any people looking to take part in the campaign, should join the (now incorrectly named) Free Dmitry UK mailing list, which can be found at http://mailman.xenoclast.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listi nfo/free-sklyarov-uk [xenoclast.org]

  • Laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scott1853 ( 194884 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:08AM (#2346426)
    It would be nice if politicians listened to us, but they just see us as minority group of finatics.

    There's still a good chunk of people out there that believe in some mystical entity controlling our lives without any proof of such thoughts. Yet these are the same people that say "that's impossible" when they see what science is capable of. Like it or not, these people have more political influence than we do. They have more power because they are unified, with leadership and there's a lot of history behind them.

    There's a lot of programmers here, and I'm sure they're all used to trying to see the big picture and chart all the variables. This is one of those BIG projects in mapping all the variables and figuring out their relationship. The major points are: there's little history in computer technology right now; t's still new and strange to a majority of people; pogrammers work long hours, and the pay is decreasing, leaving less time for political movements; and there is no single "leader" that represents us, which is very important towards political advancement. You can't expect politicians to summarize the demands of many individuals, all with different points of view. They're more likely to listen to an individual with well thought ideas and the backing of a large community.

    What we have been proposing on /. is that the advancement of laws be stopped. We don't have any alternatives, we just want these laws to go away. You want to make a difference and be listened to? Propose your own laws that include regulations we can live with. You want to get the RIAA off everbodies back, weaken their economical standing or find a middle ground everybody will be happy with. From what I see, nobody is doing this. We're basically starting our own little war with every other industry including our own, and yet we're still not unified in our efforts of opposition. Last I checked, a group of separated individuals don't win wars against unified groups.
    • Re:Laziness (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gokubi ( 413425 )
      Howard Zinn [geocities.com] describes the American system as a prison. There are the wardens who have all the control over the rules in the prison and keep all the prisoners locked up. There are the prisoners who have no say about their conditions and get what the warden gives them. And then there are the guards. The guards are hired by the wardens to keep the prisoners in line. They are the ones who keep the system of incarceration running, even if they don't get the benefits the wardens get.

      In America, we are the wardens. I am talking about the comfortable white collar "middle-class" of which most people who read slashdot are members. Things are kept comfortable for us so we won't decide that the prison system is unfair.

      Because things are so good for the middle-class, the middle-class doesn't get political. We don't propose legislation, we complain about changes to the system that has kept us so fat and happy.

      Slashdotters probably think of themselves as rebels for hating the DMCA, heck, some probably even think they are the prisoners in the analogy laid out above. But it's all sound and fury--we want our Audis and Playstations and that's more important to us than the rights (or lives) of the prisoners.
      • Good points. However, I disagree on us being the "wardens". In the case of technological legislation, we are in fact the prisoners. These are not affecting the lower-class citizens, because they are not the ones that will be affected by these laws. It is the middle-class, average slashdotter that will be hurt by these laws. The laws are aimed at restricting what we do for a living which in many cases is what we do for fun.

        It is true that most of us are happy with our lives, I don't have a $40,000 car but I'm happy with where my life is headed right now. But I also see what could be in store for me in the next decade. Government mandated coding specifications, governmental review of source code used in non-critical applications, special licensing to write software or use a compiler. There are a lot of things the government could try to take control of for the sake of attempts at controlling a "greater evil". By the time we get to this point, if there is no political influence coming from the technology sector, then it will be too late to respond in a civilized political manner.
  • It seems that there's at least a small amount of libertarian streak in the slashdot crowd. Some think that making more laws is not necessarily the way to go. For those people, education is the best way to improve the lives of others. Let them know of the alternatives and give them arguments for which might be best, don't force them to choose your alternative.

    And lucky you: education can be done easily, by you, today. Spend some time thinking about how you can present your viewpoint, sift the wheat from the chaf, and when your topic of interest pops up during conversation, try to explain your viewpoint in the most consise and clear way possible.

    • It seems that there's at least a small amount of libertarian streak in the slashdot crowd. Some think that making more laws is not necessarily the way to go.

      Aye, but unless courts throw bad laws out, the only way of getting rid of bad laws is to pass bills that repeal 'em. Thus, the need for legislative lobbying.

  • You just slashdotted congress!!!
  • Simple system: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nagora ( 177841 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:10AM (#2346442)
    Open a fund, we give in money as and if we feel like it. The fund page has a (serious) /. poll on it of thing that people have nominated for funding and a "none of the above" option. Funding is paid out on a monthly basis in proportion to the votes at that point.

    Only people with karma over 10 or who have paid money into the fund can vote (once per month) on allocation in order to stop skiddies and others manipulating the distribution too much.

    The karma thing is basically saying "Anyone who is probably not a troll". Karma whores could be put off by charging 1 or more karma for voting.

    Just a thought, off the top of me 'ead, pull it up the flag pole and see if the budgie bite.


    • moderators - please mod nagora's post up!
  • Organizations (Score:2, Interesting)

    by orn ( 34773 )
    I'd like to see Slashdot start a slashbox for each of the following organizations. The data for the slashbox can be taken directly from their home pages - they each have news headlines that a bit of PERL could pull out very easily. In addition, I'd like to see a section before the headlines labeled "top issues" that can be written by the organization themselves. It would be a space for a link to the issues they think most important.

    CDT [cdt.org]

    ALCU [aclu.org]

    EFF [eff.org]

    These organizations stand for many of the things talked about on Slashdot. Those that feel strongly about any of the issues supported by one of these organizations should join that organization!

  • How about the FAS? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jtseng ( 4054 )
    I dunno exactly how effective they are but people might want to write to the Federation of American Scientists [fas.org]. I personally don't consider the EFF a PAC and I doubt the people here in /. are about to start one. The FAS is probably the closest PAC we've got that will influence the pols in our favor. Quoting from their site:

    The Federation of American Scientists conducts analysis and advocacy on science, technology and public policy, including national security, nuclear weapons, arms sales, biological hazards, secrecy, education technology, information technology, energy and the environment... FAS combines the scholarly resources of its scientists with a knowledge of practical politics. As a non-profit organization licensed to lobby in the public interest, FAS is uniquely qualified to bring the scientific perspective to the legislative arena through direct lobbying, membership and grassroots work, and expert testimony at Congressional hearings.

  • by Compulawyer ( 318018 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:20AM (#2346506)
    As we know, there is no shortage of opinions on Slashdot. I can tell you that although sometimes very effective, Political Action Committees (PACs) have a LOT of drawbacks. First, there is the neverending myriad of laws and regulations controlling fundraising, political contributions, etc. Second is staffing. Third is financing.

    My feeling is that although PACs command some attention, sincere letters from constituents weigh far more heavily.

    My humble suggestion is to create a place on Slashdot where members can readily find the names/addresses/email adresses/phone numbers of the Representatives and Senators in Congreess who vote on these issues. Of course, key members on the right committees (like Technology) should be prominently displayed.

    A well-categorized list of these elected officials with the ability to fire off an email while surfing (a/k/a a mailto: link) would promote discourse directly with those to whom we have given the decision-making ability.

  • Maybe setting up a /. Presskit for each article would help...
    Some details, in my opinon a Presskit should be published when a thread is closed. It should consist of the article itself, an overview of the links used in it, and all Informative/Interesting/etc. comments with a threshhold greater than 3.
    It could be called the "Voice of the /. Community" or such..
    I'm sure that some newspapers would be interested in publishing comments approved by the mass moderation system...
    We don't need lawyers if we have the public.
    Just my 0.02 EUR
  • Money to stop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:28AM (#2346547) Homepage
    "I know I'd pay a buck to overturn the DMCA, free Dimitri, outlaw spam, protest license problems, protect the GPL etc."

    I'd actually pay a buck to turn down some of the political meandering that goes on around here. It takes away from the News for Nerds and gives to the News for Activists. I've turned off every topic I think has to do with annoying political activistism (Your Rights Online, Censorship, any article that CmdrTaco posts) and this makes it way into the Slashdot.org topic.

  • ... is that we're a bunch of normal citizens with no hidden agenda or corporate interests... The lobbyists who actually sway the lawmakers decisions are the ones who are funded by huge companies, like big tobacco for example. We did well with the DMCA protests earlier, and that's about all we can do, organize and voice our opinions when the right opportunity comes up. Unless someone here is a multi-trillionare who wants to start lobbying in Washington, we're really not going to sway the Lawmaker's opinions.
    • by wurp ( 51446 )
      Um, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What will sway the lawmaker's opinions is votes dangled in front of them. The only reasons big money can sway lawmakers is either they are (illegally) getting kick backs from the corp or they believe the campaign dollars will help them get re-elected.

      They will pay attention, if you make it clear to them that there are an appreciable number of voters who pay attention to how they vote on these issues and who will boot them out if they screw up.

      The last thing we need is defeatist nay-saying. Action can make a difference. Excuses for inaction can only be detrimental.
  • Effective Lobbying (Score:2, Informative)

    by jgman ( 136006 )
    The most effective way to lobby is to make one on one contact with your Representative or Senator. It is actually much easier to meet with your Representative than most people think. If you are travelling to DC, simply call their office and set up a meeting. Explain that you want to discuss Tech Policy. Even if the elected official is unable to meet with you, most offices will set up a meeting with a staffer who specializes in certain issue areas. This staffer is typically called a Legislative Assistant. Be aware that this staffer may have only a rudimentary knowledge of how technology works. They are policy geeks after all, not tech geeks.

    If you are not travelling to DC, find out where your Representatives nearest State/District office is located. Contact the staffer at that location and arrange to set up a meeting with the staffer. During the meeting explain that you would like to meet with your Representative the next time they are in the area.

    If you are overly shy, write an old fashioned snail mail to your Representative's DC office. Elected officials typically have a policy of responding to all letters. Believe it or not, those officials who do not respond, typically do not get reelected.

    DO NOT USE E-MAIL! E-MAIL is the worst way to communicate your concerns. As has been posted on /. in the past, Congress is deluged with tens of thousands of e-mails every month.
  • is to put morons like John Katz in the faces of our duly elected representatives.

    "Mr. Katz, I understand your group has some objections to this bill outlawing Linux?"

    "Senator, the zeitgeist of the age we inhabit is literally filled with the pathos-ridden desiderata of a people whose very conception of reality is marked by a lingering sense of technophobic alienation . . . "

    "Sergeant-at-Arms! Sergeant-at-Arms! Get this pretentious lackwit out of here before he makes my ears bleed! God, where does he -get- this stuff? If this is what Linux does to America's youth, then by God we ought to lock up that Torvalds fellow (that's a foreign name, innnit?) and throw away the key. Where's Ashcroft, we need -more- legislation to erase this horror from the Earth - for the sake of the
    children . . . "
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:48AM (#2346669) Homepage Journal
    There are a number of reasons that geeks, nerds and Slashdotatians will never be a political force:
    • Talk is cheap. Lobbying isn't. Actually being politically-involved (eg: running for some position) might even require effort as well. (As much as I love Slashdot, as a whole, the readership needs debugging.)
    • Originality x Stability = Constant. The most stable social and political systems are stagnant systems. Partly, this is because people change slowly, but also because "tried & trusted" is often more reliable, over the long haul.
    • Individual Freedom x Group Freedom = Constant. The best description I've seen of this is given in the sci-fi novel "Citizen of the Galaxy". The practical upshot, though, is that freedom will always be a compromise between the individual and the society they are a member of. The more creative a person is, the more individual freedom they're going to need, to express that creativity. The price you pay for that is a minimal society. Which is why you tend to see creative people living in isolation, or very close to it. No other system will work. Such a social order, though, whilst essential to the creative mind is a disaster for any civilization. Society would simply disintegrate into tribalism, if you tried. That isn't going to be popular with most people, who depend on society to function. And such views will ALWAYS be marginalized, as a result. Until "libertarians" realise this, they can never be significant in politics.
    • Geeks are loners, not celebrities. It takes a certain kind of person to perform for an audience, and geeks ain't it. Performers are often accused of being not very bright. There's probably some truth to that. Entertainment is largely mindless, and anyone who stopped to think about what they were doing would go utterly insane. Having the skill to not think is therefore essential. And something geeks just don't have. Almost by definition, someone capable of being, and desiring to be, utterly focussed on very narrow ranges of thought is not going to be the type who can even contemplate shutting their mind off for hours on end in order to please a crowd.

    If anyone here wants to prove me wrong, go for it! Slashdot has more readers than most States have regular voters. From a platform like that, it should be almost trivial to become at least a US Senator at the Federal level, or an Independent MP in the UK.

    I'm sure that people will be happy to pick apart my arguments, but if those same people aren't willing to be living proof of their counter-arguments, then what kind of counter is it?

  • http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/officials/
  • Here is one thing you can do, go to
    http://www.aclu.org/action/liberty107.html [aclu.org]
    and enter your zip code. You have a choice of email, fax, or letter to your state reps regarding the recent issues with our rights being trampled on.


    As a result of what happened in NY, DC, and PA, Congress has begin passing all
    sorts of crazy legislation. Most of these bills are being labeled as
    "Anti-terrorism" bills, when in actuality, they are mostly anti-American.

    Included in their changes are:
    - Allowing for wiretaps to be without a search warrants. This includes
    listening in on your phone conversations and scanning your email he use of
    certain words. For example, it will be legal to begin reading your email and
    monitoring your website usage if attention was brought to you because you
    used suspicious words in your communication. If your thinking "Isn't that
    un-Constitutional?", your right, it WAS.

    - Requiring giving the encryption keys to any encryption scheme to be
    given to the government. Basically, your privacy would non-existent to any
    non-ethical person in the government that wanted to use them. In short,
    there would be NO (legal) WAY to communicate via email or internet that the
    government couldn't monitor. Law abiding Americans would the only people
    they could monitor, while those breaking the law would continue to use their
    own encryption schemes, meaning that we would only monitor those NOT
    breaking the law. Sound like fun?

    - "Hacking" a computer would now to an "Act of Terrorism." Meaning that changing a website without permission could be punished with life in a federal prison. I'm not going to defend hacking a computer, but I think that
    fits under the cruel and usual punishment scenario. Once we give the
    government power to punish people to this extent, how long until we begin
    executing people for misdemeanors?

    The list goes on and on, and it scares me. I urge everyone to visit the
    site: http://www.aclu.org/action/liberty107.html. Go to the bottom, enter
    your zip code, and hit go. This will bring you to a page that will allow you
    to fax your congressmen while only spending about 10 seconds. It will send a
    fax that is basically a generic letter the ACLU has drafted. For those not
    sure how to do anything about our world, this would be a simple way to
    finally do something.

    Congress will likely be voting on this bill within the next week, so time is
    of great importance. I sincerely hope many of you will spend the 30 seconds
    needed to do something that could effect our lives for years to come.
  • by victim ( 30647 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @10:56AM (#2346735)
    This should be affordable. I know of a group that wanted a self serving exemption to a politically inevitable law. They pooled resources, hired the right sort of lawyer, and $50k later they have their own little sentence enshrined in the US laws.

    I don't know what the readership of slashdot is these days, but surely it can produce 10,000 readers willing to pay $5 for a particular freedom.

    The trick is to for someone to become a credible focal point. Someone who will be trusted by the donors to make the best use of the funds.
  • A big part of lobbying is pro-actively developing alternatives and amendments to proposed legislature which address (or attempt to address) the concerns to be addressed. Too often slashdot people are "anti-legislation". This doesn't endear us to congress. What's important is that we participate by helping to make the legislation more palatable and measured.

    For instance, we could have definately weakened (in a good way) the DMCA if we had pushed for amendments to be put on the table. When there is an amendment congress people listen. What we do now is much like someone sitting on an open source mailing list yelling: "I don't like this." or "This would be cool." Yes, sometimes it works... but how often? When the person submits a patch... it's different. The primary coders listen. We need to get our fingers dirty (or hire people do get their fingers dirty). We need to sling legal code. It's easy to be critical if you don't dig into the code.

  • Our group, organized in response to the arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov, is trying to do this.

    We have organized a lecture series to take place over the coming months, but need help advertising it to the public.

    Speakers include Dan Burk of the University of Minnesota's Law School, John Logie of the University of Minnesota's Department of Rhetoric and Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security, author of Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World

    Read about our efforts at underwhelm.org [underwhelm.org].

  • Here is a list of issues that the readers of Slashdot believe to be of importance in America today:

    1) goatse.cx guy
    2) Cmd. Taco having gay sex
    3) First post woots
    4) Censorship via moderation
    5) sporks
    6) Destroying Microsoft
    7) Promoting Linux as the state religion

    I think this covers a good 70% of most threads, if you browse at the -1 level. If you ever feel bad about yourself, go read the first 30 posts of any thread at -1, you will instantly feel better!
  • I think the most effective technique would be to do what the NRA has been doing for a long time: send postcards. It's an easy thing to do on an individual basis, each person just needs to write a short statement on the back of a postcard and send it to the targeted congressman. Simple enough to do, but it takes enough time that the writer will be taken somewhat seriously.

    The key to this technique of course is volume. Individually a typed letter is more impressive than a postcard, but if you can guarantee 10,000 - 100,000 postcards arriving at a congressman's office... that carries a lot of weight.

    The ideal scenario is this: a person representing our concerns meets with a congressman, the congressman acts concerned but probably blows the representative off. The representative sits down at a computer and reports back using Slashdot or a mailing list, asking us to send out postcards on a given issue. The congressman's staff then spends the next several days sorting through several bags of mail coming in from all over the country but focusing on the same issue, giving the technical representative a good deal more credit.

    We still need a reliable representative to actually meet with members of congress though. I continue to be impressed with the EFF and think someone from that organization would be the best bet.

  • ...before they're declared illegal by the Office of Homeland Security.

    Why? Because when faced by a horde of armed geeks [tuxedo.org], negotiating with the moderates looks awfully good to The Powers That Be.

    Maj. Kong
  • "I was wondering if anyone out there had any ideas on how to turn all that passionate talk on Slashdot (how I love it) into a political force that people will pay attention to."

    Yeah, submit stories with all the usual /. trigger phrases and link to the website of the group who you are trying to pressure. After a days worth of the /. effect people tend to become much more willing to listen to your demands.

  • A few statistics (Score:4, Informative)

    by rjh3 ( 99390 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @12:11PM (#2347306)
    Consider the following:
    DMCA comments - 300 people wrote or emailed responses during the public comment period.
    HIPAA comments - 40,000 people wrote or emailed responses to the Health Privacy regulations during the public comment period.
    Home Schooling - Over 500,000 people (mostly opponents) wrote physical letters when government regulations of home schooling were proposed.

    These things matter. Your letters matter. Hardcopy physical mail matters most. This is how politicians judge their constituent opinions.

    Your congressman and senator has local office visiting times and DC visiting times. Have you ever visited? How about your state representatives? (I visited mine to make sure that if UCITA was brought up that she would know that at least one constituent was opposed.) They try to make these visits easy.

    Have you ever been to a political fund raiser? (it is very different and rather entertaining.) Have you ever donated money to the local politicians who support your views? They keep track of these things. A few afternoons or evenings, your name on their mailing list, and a few dollars makes quite a difference. You cannot buy their vote for this, but it makes your opinions an important part of their determination of the public opinions that matter to them. Are your positions worth that effort?

    If you care, get out and work with these people.
  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @12:13PM (#2347321) Homepage
    I don't think this idea makes sense because I don't think Slashdot has ever had a single coherent voice (and it would be duller if it did).

    It bothers me when the /. "community" is stereotyped as pro-Linux (I am, many are not), Anti-MS (I see plenty of Windows users here now), Libertarian (a lot of the libertarianism here, esp. wrt gun control, goes too far for my liking), anti-IP (there are plenty of dissenting voices on copyright)...

    No, Slashdot hosts heterogenous set of views. If you want to support a particular political agenda, get with a more singleminded organisation, one per issue. The EFF might be a good start, as might the FSF. Or the NRA if you're that way inclined.

    Other ways geeks might influence their national politics is through running services like Britain's faxyourmp.org.uk [faxyourmp.org.uk] -- the site was prompted by opposition to the RIP bill (privacy stuff) but now it addresses parliament's accountability, and public political apathy by making it easy for a constituent to contact their MP even if they don't know what constituency they live in or who their MP is (as is worryingly common).
  • by morganew ( 194299 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @03:09PM (#2348722)
    As the subject states, I am a lobbyist with a firm here in Washington D.C. (you can look me up at opensecrets.org); and while much of the discussion here has the roots of a good ideas, there are some inconsistencies I have seen that should be corrected:

    1. Creating an organization that can hire a lobbyist and Political Action Committee (PAC) are completely different things. A PAC is set up with the intent to pool and distribute campaign contributions to Members of Congress. Any organization can hire a lobbyist. There are some restrictions on using appropriated dollars to fund a lobbyist (commonly referred to as the Byrd rule) but otherwise, hiring a lobbyist is not a hard thing.

    2. Hiring a lobbyist is expensive/cheap. You can find younger lobbyists that have recently left the Hill and are hungry to work hard for a relative pittance... but they may lack the access you need to compete against other interests. Some firms limit their monthly retainers to a minimum of $20,000 a month, others take interesting clients for much less. The costs really depend on how broad the issues dealt with are, how toxic you will become to other potential clients, how many hours the effort will take, what are the expenses (copies, dinners, cabs are important for tiny retainers) associated with it and so on.

    3. Congress is already "bought" by big business. Patently not true, but I will say that the large telecommunications, software and entertainment industries have taken the time to express their concerns to Members of Congress, and to present information that suggests that, among other things, should their industry be harmed by the amorphous "open source" movement, there will be a loss of jobs in the respective congressperson's district.

    4. Congress has turned a deaf ear on electronic freedom. Also not true, Congress knows of the issues, but frankly the other side makes a much more compelling case. Additionally, I do not believe some of the organizations who do work for the policies most of you express concern about operate in a politically savy mode. I know I may be shooting myself in the foot here, but I personally came up with an effective method to combatting the cybernanny software in libraries, and suggested the idea to a head of one of the non-profs here in town. Unfortunately they were so overwhelmed with issues and underwhelmed with cash, nothing was done with it. Some organizations tend to show a "zealot" side, which is not always an effective way to advocate a position.

    Finally, why would an effective lobbyist work on behalf of the concepts expressed on slashdot? To get a lobbyist who knows the Members and staff of the Judiciary committee and the Commerce committee will require finding someone who probably already has connections with organizations that would oppose the "slashdot movement". Why would he make himself toxic and decrease his/her ability to put food on the table for his family for a movement that will cost him hours of time with a likely tiny reward?

    For a more complete discussion of Washington, check out my other post at Tech savvy but world dumb is the root of the issue [slashdot.org]

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.