Thursday, March 18, 2010

Catching Up: Reboot 2.0

Nation, I know that I'm near-hopelessly behind on the stack of "things to blog about" that are piling up on my desk... it would be easier to just do a few paragraphs about each issue and call it a day, but barely scratching the surface has never really been my style, if it could be helped.

Today's topic: Reboot Alberta 2.0, which was held in Kananaskis Country at the end of February.

I went into Reboot with a great deal of optimism: It was a rare opportunity to meet with more than a handful of civic-minded people who almost all shared the same basic progressive values as I did - in Party-level politics, all too often the meetings are more about gaining and holding onto power than on bringing out the best in ourselves to improve the quality of governance for all. At least among those parties with a chance to actually win. It was ALSO a VERY rare opportunity to go into a political event and not be, at 31, the youngest person in the room.

Having not attended to first Reboot due to geographical, scheduling, and fiscal restrictions, I wasn't EXACTLY sure what to expect from the "non-conference" format. The first night was fairly uneventful, as far as the formal program went: I found myself getting Twitter messages, asking where I was, and eventually I got the word out that the "happening place to be" was precisely where I was already sitting (cramming last-minute with print-outs of the "what is a progressive" blog posts), at Woody's Pub. It wasn't long before I was far from alone, and after talking politics, hockey, and all things in between with a great group that included, among others, bloggers DJ Kelly, MasterMaq, Bingofuel, and theRoundhouse, we wandered over to the opening night reception to rub elbows with the "old people" and catch the end to a VERY frightening men's hockey semifinal game. Upon the conclusion of the game, we ended up - yep, you guessed it - back at Woody's, albeit this time with some of the old-timers and late arrivals in tow. My role in the evening's discussions wrapped up at about 2 am, when I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and called it a night.

The next morning, the whole Reboot crew - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - spent the morning session discussing what it meant to truly "listen" to someone. My table threw a fly in the ointment by pointing out that often when people complain they're not being "listened to" by their elected leaders, what they MEAN is that they're not being OBEYED. This session has taken a lot of flack from some of the attendees in the weeks since, but I've got to say that I found it a worthwhile exercise. Maybe my perspective would be different if I had attended Reboot 1.0 - but I didn't, and it's not. One of the big challenges, not just for my party but for ALL political entities, is to give people a reason to stay engaged after they're taken the trouble to write, or come in to the office. Give them something that they can take home and say "that fella might not do what I said, but darn it, he was sure listening to what I had to say!". It's a small thing, but absolutely critical - and I'm glad we talked about it.

One of the inherent dangers in getting a big group of self-styled progressives in the same room is the often cataclysmic battle of egos that results from having a room full of people who are all absolutely convinced that they're the smartest and most visionary person there (this potential for b.s. power conflict is outweighed only by a room full of people convinced that they're the most pious and moral folks in attendance). I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that this was almost a total non-factor among the Reboot participants. There were plenty of differing opinions, backgrounds, egos and agendas - but overall, the group chemistry was pretty good. People from different partisan backgrounds, former rivals, and folks with very little in common outside of Reboot itself were generally friendly, helpful, and respectful. I think this is due more to the knowledge that we were all there working toward the same end - a more progressive future for this province of ours - than to any fealty to the (imaginary) Marquis of Queensbury rules of political discourse.

We returned from a lunch recess to split up into groups based on the four streams that came out of Reboot 1.0. Surprising no one, I went into the "reform through existing parties and structures" group, along with 2 current PC MLA's and a plethora of former (and future)candidates from across the spectrum. It was a good mix of people from virtually every federal and provincial party, and although we got off to a slow start - unsure what the goal of the session was - we eventually found our feet, and by the end of the 2 hour session we were talking about real, tangible changes that could be made within government and within existing parties to advance the "secret, hidden progressive agenda" of long-term planning, accountable governance and citizen engagement.

When we could hear ourselves, that is - the "form a new political party" group, which was essentially an unofficial "Alberta Party" convention, was a wee bit loud. Ironically, it was observed that the Alberta Party higher-ups, who had recently announced the Big Listen, were doing most of the talking - not their intent, but enough for an ironic curl of the lip.

After another recess, the group came together for a swanky buffet meal that tickled the tastebuds and wrecked absolute HAVOC on my diet. Once dinner had been served, we were "treated" to an abridged Dance of the Seven Veils by Ken Chapman (thankfully, not to its usual conclusion) and then given the results of the Progressive Values survey that had been held several weeks before. This was an eye-opener, as we were learning for the first time what it was that brought us all together - we had heard snippets from fellow participants around our table discussions, or during informal chats at Woody's, but nothing so formal as this presentation, which to sum up was "here's what most of you believe is important from your leaders".

After dinner, what seemed like the entire group headed over to Woody's for a night of fun (had by all) and dancing (by some - but definitely not by me). There was a LOT of great discussion had after dinner, and well into the wee hours of the morning. The organizers had presented us with a challenge - how do we go forward from here and engage our fellow citizens? - and my voice was raw and my ears ringing from the boisterous and scintillating conversations that were had, for hours, over the din.

Sunday morning led to the final session, where we determined actual measurable steps that could be taken by citizens, political parties and governments to show a commitment to the progressive values that had been laid out the night before. Our table spent a lot of time talking about the future, and when the time came for us to present our thoughts, the Enlightened Savage was pressed into service as our discussion group's voice, which led to my expression of a thought that had been buzzing in my head since Friday afternoon...

"If you ask a candidate what this province is going to look like in 20 years, what their vision is for the future, and they don't have an answer for you, then they're not worthy of your consent to be governed."

It turned out to be a pretty popular statement.

Overall, I found the Reboot experience to be VERY worthwhile. I made some new friends, made a LOT of contacts from across the political spectrum, got some great advice about my own aspirations from people who had been in my shoes before, and met a lot of the bloggers that I read on a daily basis (one participant seemed rather surprised that I was the Enlightened Savage - I think she was expecting someone taller, or was perhaps taken aback by my devastating, Ethan Hawke-esque looks). I feel that good progress was made in determining what a progressive Albertan voice sounds like, what a progressive Albertan values, and how a progressive Albertan should engage with her or his fellow citizens. What comes NEXT is ACTION.

All that said, though, in my conversations before the event and since, there have been some very real and valid criticisms of the format: By virtue of the fact that it's held in a real location, whether it be in the resort of Kananaskis or the decidedly UN-resort-like Red Deer (like Reboot 1.0 was), the bottom line is that some people who WANT to attend are going to be unable to GET there. Some people who want to attend, and live near enough to make the trip feasible, won't be able to afford to convention fee, or stay in the same hotel as other participants - this is especially true of students.

The possibility of holding events simultaneously in multiple locations and connecting remotely (like Wrestlemania 2) has been brought up, and I think it's worth considering. The format doesn't allow for a constant video feed to keep people in the loop while sitting at home, because it's not a "one speaker, 300 listeners" kind of conference - much of the discussion is held in smaller groups, where a stationary webcam would be useless. Participants would lose some element of their anonymity, in that their words on camera would be broadcast to the world, but - take it from someone who knows - there are worse things that losing your anonymity.

There is absolutely a critical social element to the event, which is something that doesn't translate well the those following along on Twitter. I recall my own frustration following Reboot 1.0 on Twitter, KNOWING that I was missing out on context and side discussions that made what I was reading actually coagulate into something usable. For this reason, I was a little more tolerant than some who would read the big "Tweet Board" at the front of the room when a non-participant would go off on a tangent over something that would get posted without context, completely missing the point. A few months ago, that would have been me. :)

For this reason, I think satellite events are the way to go, rather than trying to find a way for people to be fully involved from the comfort of their own homes - have a mini-event at the local p/s campus, or public library, where a moderator gets the same agenda as the "big conference", the same themes are explored, and all the satellite events dial in via webcam during the plenary sessions to share what their tables, in High Level or Medicine Hat or Drayton Valley, came up with.

This way, the participants in these satellite events will still have the benefit of the social component of the event. The costs will be SUBSTANTIALLY lower for participants who can't afford to attend the "big conference", as in many cases they'll be paying for coffee and a share of a $50 room rental.

Staying at the same hotel as the other participants isn't a huge deal, either - I didn't sleep on-site. I'd like to think I managed to have a lot of good discussions without sleeping in a room next to a fellow Reboot-er. Attendees of the big conference don't need to stay in the same hotel, provided it's not in a one-hotel place like Kananaskis Village (and even then, there was another hotel 15 minutes away that was $30 less per night than the hotel at the Village). Remember, the first Reboot was in Red Deer, where (as anyone who has driven through Gasoline Alley knows) there are rooms with cable tv and jacuzzis in the hotel for $59 per night.

Carpool discussions were being had in the forums section of the Reboot website in the days before the event.

So, there are ways to make this work - whether you're attending the big conference, or one of the proposed satellite conferences. I'd urge the organizers to get on the satellite idea, to make this extremely (IMHO) worthwhile experience accessible for all.

Case in point?

I LOVED my time at Reboot 2.0.

But unless the next one is in South-East Calgary, and registration is $20, I won't be able to make it.

Which would be a shame.

Because Reboot is a GREAT THING - even though I haven't yet been added to the blogroll, despite my February 20th "What is a Progressive?" blog post.

... and that's all I have to say about that.


Jeremy said...

I'll have to read what you write for now to understand Reboot #.#. For now I'm taking a break from all things politics.

Enjoyed your post. Perhaps one thing to keep in mind, is that all these events seem to always have people who are somehow engaged already. What's a way to branch out to people who aren't engaged? Even me...

If you can convince me that Reboot Alberta is something more worthwhile than nights trying to perfect Starcraft 2, you get a thumbs up.

Anonymous said...

You are now added to the blog roll on Reboot Alberta! Sorry for the accidental shut down, was not intended. The only thing is getting the spelling of your name right.

Email if you want your name posted instead of your Enlightened Savage name.

Great Post and apologies for the rich meal on Saturday night! ;)

Anonymous said...
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