New Era of Participatory Democracy?

Three out of five Americans now have access to the Internet, and millions of them now use their computers to participate in the political process. Seventy percent of voters had access to the Internet in November, 2000, according to a study by Dataquest. We may even be entering a new era of participatory democracy, where a “five-minute activist” can log on, catch up on the causes he or she believes in, offer an opinion or advice, volunteer, and make a financial pledge.

If political participation is defined as publishing an opinion, more Americans probably participated in politics in 2000 than ever before. Thousands of citizens built web pages to express their political views, and thousands if not millions more surfed political sites on the Net, discussed politics in online forums and through e-mail messages.

Statistical and anecdotal data from recent elections suggest the Internet increases users’ involvement in politics, their energy level and motivation, their opportunity for discourse, and their access to information.

Internet users are thinking globally, and the structures are now beginning to be built for them to act locally. After all, as Tip O’Neill said, “all politics is local.” If you want to make a real difference, you have to find people in the same political jurisdiction who share your goals and beliefs.

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