pop goes the world: communicating democracy

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 November 2012, Thursday

Communicating Democracy

As I write this, the exterior lighting of the Empire State Building in New York City turned a brilliant blue to signal the election victory of President Barack Hussein Obama.

The display on the Empire State Building was courtesy of CNN. Image here.

It was a unique form of communication – call it “architectural”. The usual definition of the term is to find meaning in physical buildings, in their bulk and their spaces, landscaping and lack thereof, and so on, applying hermeneutic approaches to a building as to a text.

But turning part of an entire building blue to announce an Obama win – red would have been used for Romney- and an iconic structure in one of America’s greatest cities at that, shows how technology + innovation = a good idea to further share information.

Using signals, in any case, is nothing new, from the smoke signals used by native Americans to the lighted Batsignal in popular culture; all are ways to communicate simple concepts over long distances.

This is an example of how certain channels enable the fast and efficient dissemination of Information, key to the zeitgeist aptly called the information age.

This US election provided many other instances that illustrated how pivotal the role of communication is to all human activity nowadays, especially with today’s technology that provides instantaneous feedback and real-time discussion online.

It was a concretization of the power of mass communication when placed in the hands of many, rather than few as formerly, when the only media outlets were the tri-media – television, radio, and print – which were in the hands of a few networks that performed agenda-setting to varying degrees.

With power now in the hands of the people to inform and persuade, came also the power to move to action, the classic “AKAP” theory come to life – awareness leads to knowledge to attitude change to practice.

More often than not, it is the jump to that last element where a snag usually occurs. People have been bombarded with anti-smoking information for decades, yet this has not made a dent in the number of smokers worldwide, which in Asia is in fact rising.

In the case of politics, though, with a concrete action easy to perform – go out and vote – the call to action is often heeded.

Within minutes of media reporting that he had won more than the required number of electoral votes, this email from President re-elect Obama was sent to his supporters:

“I’m about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first.

I want you to know that this wasn’t fate, and it wasn’t an accident. You made this happen.

“You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn’t easy, you pressed forward.

“I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started.

“But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place.

“Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests.

“There’s a lot more work to do.

“But for right now: Thank you.

Barack”

Michelle and Barack Obama in a victory hug. The image, captioned “Four more years,” is now the most posted photo on Facebook and most Tweeted ever.

The message here is: you found out what needed to be done, and you made it happen.

It can be the same in the Philippines. For instance, given information that there are such things as epal politicians and who they are (awareness and knowledge), the logical thing would be to have an attitude change or reinforcement (either you agree or not that such behavior is appropriate) leading to practice (in other words, action – vote for them or not).

Photo of this epal tarp from the Anti-Epal Page on Facebook.

The thing is, we Filipinos tend not to be discerning about what kind of information we use to make decisions on such important things as elections. Many of us are content with knowing whether or not the candidate can belt out a passable rendition of “My Way” or dance “Gangnam Style” on the campaign platform.

“Being showbiz” or rather being a good sport should not be our main criterion for electing public officials. Let us take a leaf from American democracy, the model of our own, and hinge the results of elections on things that matter – stands on issues and proposed solutions to challenges – with candidates communicating this to the people via debates and forums.

If this were what the public expected from its election procedure, there would be a change in the system.

Because if intellect, integrity, and a genuine desire to serve were to be what we require from our candidates, a lot of candidates would drop out of the running, and perhaps then we would finally have the leaders we need and deserve.

Epal tarps at a cemetery for Undas 2012. Image here.

But given the cultural dimension we operate in, is this likely to happen?

Pessimists will say, there is no hope for the Philippine political situation to improve. Is this true forever? Or can we at least try to make the AKAP journey to heed what we already know and practice what we believe is right?

As John F. Kennedy said in his 1960 inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.

“But let us begin.”  *** 

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