This May I finished my politics degree at university. I was often awake until dawn, writing essays about politicians and civil society. Now, ‘I’m a Councillor’ has me chasing the same politicians and contacting grassroots bloggers, looking for volunteer politicians abroad to talk to young people in the UK, and all those high-falutin’ theories are making good. It’s exciting to play my part.
The international section of ‘I’m a Councillor’, with five representatives from countries around the world, ran for the first time in 2007. It was such a success that we’re recruiting five more volunteers to answer questions this year. It’s great to get young Brits connected with real people from other countries.
The good news: David Bly, from the Minnesota house of Representatives, is on board again. David was very helpful last year, and we look forward to having him back. We think we’ve found someone in India, thanks to Kris Dev; and I’m waiting for confirmation from one councillor in Tartu, Estonia and one in Malmö, Sweden.
The bad news: Outside of Western Europe, it’s difficult to find anyone at the local or regional levels of government. I dig up the civic roots and the
media-conscious canopy, but it’s very hard to find people with links to local politics. I’ll show you what I mean…
That lodestar community of grassroots blogging, Global Voices Online, especially its super-helpful editor Solana Larsen,
has provided me with a host of contacts: Hans Blix, the Indian Minister
of Railways, a community of Paraguayan presidential candidates, and so
on. In Russia, you can get hold of famous activist Masha Gaidar and the great Evgenii Royzman on their blogs… but where have all the local politicians gone?
Another big problem has been what I consider the "cold call" factor.
I write brief and polite emails, and I try to email candidates in their
own languages, but my emails often go without acknowledgement or
answer. Can anyone suggest ways to sound less like a spam bot? Would it
be better to leave comments on blogs than to send emails?
The search continues. Watch this space! Huge thanks to Global
Voices Online, who are sending us contacts in Guatemala. We’re talking
to a mayor in South Africa – updates to come.
A personal note. I missed out on several months of my life, hunched
over a computer, making theories about civil society groups like
Royzman’s ‘City without Drugs’, citizen journalists like Portnoy Zheng,
and (in all modesty) e-Democracy tools like ‘I’m a Councillor, Get me
out of Here’. It’s exhilarating to get my hands dirty, helping out. At
once I feel like an office temp (all emails and dusty desks) and Dr.
Frankenstein. It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive!