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March 5, 2013 at 8:25 AM

Gavin Newsom: technology can strengthen citizenship, reinvent government

Update 4:55 p.m.: Here’s the video of Newsom’s Town Hall talk, courtesy of The Seattle Channel.

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Original post:

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn’t buy into the notion that politicians can solve all our problems. We must save ourselves, he says, and the only way to do so is to self-organize through active citizenship and to use technology to our advantage.

That’s a message I can get on board with.

In Seattle Monday night at Town Hall to promote his new book, “Citizenville,” the brash, progressive former mayor of San Francisco was blunt about his own role in establishment politics — “I’m part of the problem.” — and just as straightforward about his frustration with government’s tendency to act as an entrenched bureaucracy that operates in silos instead of according to citizens’ interests.

Since there’s no audio or video available from the talk, I suggest watching Newsom’s spiel in this C-Span interview. Or see his Feb. 28 interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” below, in which he discusses politics, the book, and his support for legalizing marijuana.


Drawing on his own experiences as mayor and statewide elected official, Newsom’s message is that government should be open and data should be widely available to the public, whether the information is on public works projects, crime statistics, or transit lines. When cities and states provide information, Newsom asserts, “People can use technology as a slingshot and tear down large institutions.”

Just as Apple did with iTunes, Newsom argues government should be the conduit or the cultivator of innovation, while the private sector should come up with the mobile applications to make that information understandable to the masses. The concept applies to government and business initiatives. (Yes, he specifically mentioned newspapers, too.)

Newsom’s brand of independent thinking is refreshing.Though he is a staunch Democrat and a supporter of labor movements, for example, he says he “fears more than anything else” the unions’ rigidity and strict adherence to standard operating procedures that often protect employee seniority over ability level.

“You’ve gotta be built to adapt,” he said. “I don’t want to see labor holding onto their piece of the pie. Fear takes over. People hold on to their patch.”

Here’s a couple other notable Newsom quotes from the talk, moderated by Toby Crittenden of Washington Bus:

— On the government’s information system: “We’re on the cutting edge of 1973”

— On changing government: “A lot of this is good rhetoric. It’s just hard to do.”

— On privacy: “Privacy is a new currency. You give it up to get something more.”

Comments | More in Video | Topics: citizenship, data, democracy


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