Category Archives: Summer

#CPNC12: Progressives push for inspired action

On July 26th, I attended my second Campus Progress National Conference, the premier annual event for young progressives and activists, in Washington, DC

Campus Progress is the youth initiative of the Center for American Progress, a progressive left-wing think tank founded by John Podesta, a former Chief of Staff for President Clinton. The Center for American Progress is easily one of the most influential and well-run left-leaning political organizations in the country. Podesta also served as the head of President Obama’s transition team, so the Center maintains a uniquely close relationship with the current administration.

While the Center produces the excellent ThinkProgress blog and numerous data reports in good think-tank fashion, Campus Progress is working to create a movement for progressive action among youth. If there is one thing that conservatives do extremely well, it is building up their support among young people from early on. In contrast, the left is not particularly good at coordinating messaging between its leaders and supporters. Campus Progress and the Center ,however, are working hard to change this reality and create a far more cohesive movement.

Now in its eighth year, the National Conference serves as a counterpoint to CPAC, the major conservative youth conference. Poignantly, this year Campus Progress chose to hold their conference at the Marriot Wardman Park hotel, the same venue that CPAC uses for its event.

The plenary speaker highlights this year were U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka, John Podesta, undocumented activist journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, marriage equality activist and YouTube sensation Zach Wahls, Senator Dick Durbin, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Overall, there were more than 70 speakers total.

It is a testament to the Center’s quality (and funding) that they could get top names while keeping the event free. When Campus Progress first announced the speakers, my gut reaction felt that it was an inspiring line-up, but heavy on the number of politicians. After seeing many politicians speak in recent years, I am used to having low expectations for them. Typically, they give stump speeches, especially in an election year. Many of the speeches left me pleasantly surprised. Rep. Debbi Wasserman Schultz painted a compelling narrative of her journey as a young woman in politics, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis highlighted her story as a Latina following the American Dream, and Senator Dick Durbin provided what was arguably the most engaging interview I have ever heard a political figure give, even throwing in a positive mention of Lisa Murkowski.

Minority Leader Pelosi garnered the biggest reaction from the conference attendees, receiving a standing ovation from the enthralled crowd as she walked to the podium. Her speech highlighted the successes of the Democratic party and progressive movement within the last four years, but the emphasis was on thanking activists for making it happen. Pelosi made it clear that liberal success was impossible without youth constituent support.

One of the more enlightening and fiery speeches of the day came early on when Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, took the stage. The modern labor organizing movement in America is struggling, but Occupy and new discussions around economic inequality have provided unions with new talking points to reengage the American public. While Trumka evoked some of this language, especially in concluding his speech with an intense appeal to “take this country back for the 99%,” his concessions about organized labor’s failures were stunning. Trumka emphasized his awareness of unions being out of touch with today’s youth, leading to a weaker movement.

The conference did have its weaker moments: a panel on citizen journalism turned into a circular repetition of talking points, the audience only allowed to ask questions in the last 10 minutes of the hour-long discussion. Meanwhile, an earlier panel on progressive foreign policy revealed deep disagreements in the definition of American leadership and of what constitutes infringement on sovereignty. On a whole, the conference reaffirmed that although domestic political literacy is growing among young people, we still have much further to go in creating a globally aware electorate.

Campus Progress should be commended for running the event, but the takeaway from the greater conversation on progressivism is this: it is time for action. While it is fine to be fired up about leaders and the issues, if young progressives want to create change, they need to take the effort into their own hands. I do not say this from a position in the ivory tower of activism, as I too need to become more active. Political conferences are only useful if attendees use the tools and inspiration they provide: whether this is the case for #CPNC12 remains to be seen.

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Power outages and the basics of development

HQ during the outage

I’m sitting at Starbucks on a quest for electricity.

Now national news, a storm on Friday night did great damage to the DC area, destroying many trees, tearing apart some houses and, of course, downing power lines. PEPCO, the power utility company for the region, says that over 400,000 out of its approximately 700,000 customers are without electricity. That number is staggering: it represents single account holders rather than each individual affected, so it’s predicted that 1.5 million people are without power, perhaps more.

This weekend also happens to be one of the hottest DC has seen in some time, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees. The amount of humidity is equally taxing, as news stations report that it feels like 110 outside. They are not kidding. On Twitter, some are using the hashtag #DCApocalypse to describe what’s going on. As of today, PEPCO expects most customers to have power by July 6 at 11 pm, almost a week after the outages began.

I could go on to complain about how miserable not having AC is right now (which, according to Gawker, would make me weak…) or into a diatribe about how this is a sign of our overdependence on electronic devices (I just waited 2 hours scoping out an outlet…), but I’ll leave those for another time.

Instead, I want to highlight a lesson from this power outage about the realities of development.

We all know electricity is important. Whether it is keeping life support equipment running at a hospital or refrigerating food, one cannot overstate the importance of having a functioning power grid. Sure, people like me clamoring to Starbucks for our iDevices is petty, but just watching the overall breakdown during a power outage shows how far a loss of electricity takes us back. It is not that a society cannot function without electricity: human beings did okay without it for a long time. However, when a country does go through development, the reliance shifts to an expected presence of the basics.

No matter how developed a country says it is, infrastructure always matters. Without solid food, water, and power systems, there cannot be societal progression or success.

Nothing about this is groundbreaking or innovative. I know it’s a very standard point, but it is one worth remembering. Organizations, agencies, and development professionals spend far too much time on highly technical or micro development issues when they need to spend more time working on the basics.

Our first goal should always be to sustainably serve local communities with the things that they need. Development often devolves into dictating to communities instead of empowering them for the long-term.

Sweltering as it is, I’m thankful of this reminder to what we should work towards. In a commercialized and globalizing world, our first step must be getting everyone the basics. Without them, we’re stuck.

Changing the global conversation through “social”

#RioplusSocial: A new way to engage.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to discuss the concept of sustainable development. At that time, many people around the world did not know the conference was even happening. At that first summit, delegates from 172 governments discussed development challenges. What came out of that conference was a call to action; motivation for future sustainable development. The most poignant moment came when Severn Suzuki, a 12 year-old environmental activist, gave a speech on the future from a youth perspective. As one might expect, the young woman’s speech completely captivated the delegates.

This week, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development meets once again in a meeting dubbed “Rio+20.” During the summit, countless ideas will be discussed in regards to sustainable development, from the green economy to population dynamics. However, one thing about the two conferences remain the same: the attendees are experts, government leaders, and NGOs.

Where does the Severn Suzuki come from this time around?

One thing that’s certainly changed between the 1992 conference and today, perhaps even within the last five years, is the dominance of social media in our daily lives. From revolutions to breaking news, social media postings on Twitter, Facebook, and Weibo break down barriers and connect individuals in a number of meaningful ways. Social media isn’t perfect, but it certainly demonstrates acts as a new method for people separated by distance, culture, and creed to share thoughts and ideas. Moreover, social media produces a way for those concepts to be turned into action.

Enter Rio+Social

Conceived by a number of private partners including the United Nations Foundation and Mashable, Rio+Social is a day-long event being held on June 19 in Rio. This event brings together a number of development professionals, business leaders, creative thinkers, and thought leaders to present and share ideas on the role of social media in tackling important global issues. What makes the event unique, however, is that it is inherently being driven by social media. Using twitter and facebook, anyone can submit questions and influence the conversation.

This is a democratization of the Rio+20 conference and a chance for people around the world to get involved on a meaningful level. It will be a conversation starter, a point to begin thinking about issues that surround the future we want for our planet.

Events like Rio+Social are changing the ways that global governance occur: no longer will the world accept few making decisions for the many. Through social media conversations, people from Washington to Beijing to Des Moines to Rio can share their thoughts on important global issues.

Social media is still a young communication method, but nevertheless a vital one. Considering the huge number of people who have facebook or twitter accounts, one can only begin to imagine the possibilities for social media platforms within the global space. While Facebook and Twitter may not be the end all be all when it comes to “social,” the role they play in our everyday lives demonstrates just how social media is here to stay.

Rio+Social, in some ways, is a guinea pig for the future of “social” in international issues. Call me an idealist, but I’m confident that it will be a model to look towards in the future for tackling the world’s biggest problems. Facebook and Twitter don’t just have to be about posting the latest picture from a party: they can be tools for good. The conference tomorrow may not provide concrete solutions, but it will give us a new lens.

As most of us aren’t in Rio de Janeiro, you can follow the livestream of the entire event on June 19 by visiting rioplussocial.com starting as soon as you wake up. 

More importantly, you should join the conversation by tweeting about the #FutureWeWant by using the hashtag #RioplusSocial as you watch the event. I’ll be tweeting right along with you from my new twitter handle, @JonFRice. 

Summer 2012 etc.

The muggy weather. The daily riding of the Metro. No going to class.

It has to be summer in the DMV!

As you might have expected, I’m back on the East Coast and well into the swing of things for the summer. I’ve started interning full-time with doing communications with a non-profit that supports the United Nations, which has been a great experience so far! Outside of work, I am reading some great books (The Net Delusion, Everything is Illuminated), trying different restaurants (ShopHouse East Asian Kitchen, Agora), and attempting to balance my time between productive and unproductive things.

A note:

One thing I’ve noticed about political engagement while home is this: it’s very much an either/or situation. Now, there is a large group of Americans who are not politically engaged whatsoever, which could be considered within an either/or paradigm. However, within those who are politically adept, there remains a polarity: people know American politics or International Relations, but rarely do they know both (beyond where they obviously overlap). Even this summer, working within the international development community, I find myself slipping in coverage of the election.

To produce the next generation’s political leaders, we need balanced students who are aware and passionate about both domestic and international issues. While it’s fine to have a preference with the study of government, both subfields are key to understanding of our place within the global system.

Beyond my rant, a personal update:

Today, I deactivated my @j_ricecakes twitter username. If you’re already following me, you don’t have to do anything. If you’re not or you want to DM/MT me, the new one is @JonFRice.

Tweet away and happy summer!

A Sign of the Print Apocalypse

Brian Stelter explains it all

On Sunday, May 13, just a few hours after touching down at Washington Dulles International Airport, I fought the jetlag and headed to the Newseum to see New York Time’s media reporter Brian Stelter. In the world of print journalism, Stelter is, as one source put it, the “embodiment of the confluence between new media and old.” In his college years at Towson University, he started a blog called “TVNewser” that quickly became the standard for finding out the inner-workings of the news business.

The Times, impressed by a Stelter’s work, hired him directly out of college. Now at 26, he is still arguably one of the most active users of social media among mainstream reporting today. From Twitter to Tumblr to Instagram, Stelter often creates and consumes content, even posting drafts of news stories for feedback on the social web. Most recently, he was featured in the documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” where he starred along with veteran reporter David Carr. In the film, one gets a sense of just how connected Stelter is, surrounded at his desk by a television, laptop, landline telephone, and cell phone, all of which are active.

A healthy chunk of the talk reflected upon the new emergence of digital publication and media assumption. In recent years, sales of print newspapers have decreased rapidly leading to lost ad revenue. Stelter himself does not subscribe to the print edition of the Times, only buying the Sunday print edition at a newsstand each week. Inevitably, this has led to transitions within the industry itself, specifically within the paper’s leadership. Up until recently, Bill Keller was the Executive Editor. Keller was a print man through and through; it was what he knew and what he did well. Old-school journalism, if you will.

Today, the executive editor of the New York Times, and first female head editor, is Jill Abramson. What Stelter told the audience about next made me realize the sea change that is currently occurring within journalism.

Jill Abramson does not go to A1 meetings.

For a little more context: A1 is the front page of the paper, and the A1 editorial meeting is where they decide what stories will be featured on the front page. According to Stelter, Abramson no longer attends.

Where, you might ask, does she spend her time then? The web edition meeting. Abramson is actively involved in deciding what goes on the front of the web page.

To me, this is a clear sign of the direction where news and media are going. If the Executive Editor of the Times, the Old Gray Lady itself, is more focused on web than print, the fate for tactile newspapers is sealed. Stelter predicts that print editions will become somewhat of a luxury product and I tend to agree with him. Coming from a family that still subscribes to print editions of the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Washington Post, and the New York Times, my parents feel a lot of connection to these products, as do I. That said, with advents in technology such as Apple’s Retina display, reading on a device is becoming more appealing than ever.

Brian Stelter is a great example of a journalist who gets it: he knows what is coming, but also seems ready to adapt. I hope that we can all do the same.

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