Vancouver Riots, Democracy and Gov 2.0

In my last post, I wrote about how Gov 2.0 has the potential to allow for a more authentic democracy where all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Connected, informed citizens will no longer tolerate secretive and paternalistic government. I still believe this. However, my faith was shaken somewhat yesterday by the riots, looting and mayhem we had in the streets of Vancouver.

Gov 2.0 presupposes trust, and trust is a two-way street between government and citizens. Unfortunately, events like the rioting that happened yesterday undermine democracy and support command-and-control advocates in government, justifying to some the expansion of a police state. It paints a picture of citizens that need to be taken care of, to be controlled.

Image from yfrog/Lisa Johnson

Yesterday evening after the hockey game in Vancouver we saw the opposite of wisdom of the crowds. We saw the stupidity of the masses. Sociologists tell us that riots are fuelled by factors such as alcohol consumption, frustration, hypermasculinity, large and dense crowds, in-game player violence, and mob mentality. People lose their inhibitions and sense of right and wrong.  A few instigators can be highly influential under the right circumstances. And that was what happened last night: a few instigators (some say organized) incited a riot that made a mess of downtown Vancouver.

On the other hand, Gov 2.0 empowers citizens. We are empowered by our voices, knowledge, connections, and ability to organize. Even in the wake of the riots instigated by a relatively few hoodlums, the people of Vancouver came together over social networks to share digital evidence of rioters to help press charges and to organize to help with the massive clean-up. Citizen’s started Facebook groups like “Post Riot Cleanup” (13,352 likes), “Vancouver Riot Pics” (75,333) and “Shame the Stanley Cup Rioters” (2,077).  Meanwhile, on Twitter people expressed their outrage at the situation … and #embarrassment. So many volunteers turned up to clean up today (12,000) that many had to be turned away. Self-organization of citizens in this way restores my faith in the potential for Gov 2.0, open government, and the people that make it happen.

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