If you've missed what has been happening, or if you're looking for an overview and update of the Congressional Committees Project, you're in the right place. I'm going to lay out what happened this week, what we've accomplished already, what we're working on for now, and where we're going, and what we need from you.
This project can become participatory democracy at its finest, but only with participation, so check out what we are, and where we're going! There's a place for everyone...
By watching as individuals rather than as a community, we can acheive a much greater level of legislative awareness. As it looks now, this awareness is going to probably go far beyond a simple watchful eye being assigned to each committee in the Senate and House. It has the potential to become participatory. The force of hundreds of devoted watchful eyes, becoming constantly more capable and knowledgable, can certainly exert some pressure on our congressional committees, and affect their actions, right? Especially if we make our presence known, and become organized, knowldegable, and share our resources. We're a huge community, and since there are experts in our midst who know everything about any topic you could possibly bring up, a little specialization and organization could really step up our impact, right? Don't you think?
Apparently you do. My initial diary, after an initial lukewarm reaction, promptly shot up the recommended list, and garnered support from a huge portion of our community. I quickly began work on our wiki,a project whose undertaking I really didn't understand. My goal was to make a chart that would have each committee on the left and the person volunteering for it on the right. I phoned a friend at Carnegie Mellon who understands this type of thing, and he explained some very basic chart-building html to me.
What happened next is really a testament to the amazing power of this community. As I got to the third and fourth sections of my (ugly, rather inept) chart, I realized that it was changing behind me. DailyKos users with an understanding of wiki page creation had started to clean up what I was doing, following behind me, fixing my chart as I went. This was just the beginning.
As I have said elsewhere, everything I've done regarding this project has seen my hands quickly multiplied by fifty. I (nervously, with feigned confidence) act; I jump, pretending to know what I'm doing, while acknowledging that I don't, and hope that some understanding activist hands will reach out and guide me.
Do you ever! The redesigned html in the wiki's chart was only the very beginning. We now have a detailed, rather professional-looking wiki page complete with an area to organize every single committee and sub-committee of congress! We decided that a wiki page for every single committee and subcommittee would allow for a place for volunteers to organize, share resources, and create a home base for watching their claimed committee.
After about a week, we have over 4,200 hits on the wiki. As I said above, we are now the #1 hit on google for "congressional committees project." Over half of the committees have at least one person signed up for them, and many already have their own wiki pages with piles of information, committee schedules, and members lists.
We are now beginning to address some of the challenges that we're going to face in moving forward. I'd like for us to create solid relationships with individual staff members on each committee, so that we can garner as much support and cooperation from our government as possible. Access to committee transcripts and recordings will be invaluable, so we've got a draft started in the wiki for a request to Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi asking for help in gaining access to that information. Mp3s, videos, and written transcipts of committee hearings and markup sessions will go a huge way toward making our monitoring project a big success.
Getting staff members inside each committee to be aware and cooperative with our project will also go a huge way toward helping the project. As we decide to start contacting people, we need to be sure that we're not harrasing them, so the organization of our project is extremely important. To be recognized as a qualified citizen's media group, we have to have professional capabilites when it comes to our own organization.
Our goal throughout this project has been to keep it as decentralized as possible. We'd like this to continue to be a project that has grown out of the community and proceeds therefrom: heavyhanded moderation could quash your creativity or willingness to be involved. To that end, we're committed to keeping this project transparent, with the organizers being available to everyone.
We have created a yahoogroup (basically a group email service) where we have been discussing organizational issues and ideas. We may split this group into two: one for organization, and one for those monitoring committees, but for now the email volume is low enough that one list still makes sense.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who has expressed interest in helping with this project already, and especially thankful to have found Annan, SimonF, and Abou Ben Adhem, who have already committed a pile of time and creativity to our project. I'm also indebted already to Markos, whose amazing webpage and dkosopedia have created this opportunity for all of us.
As far as where we're going, that's up to all of you, as a community. We have a lot to do, and first on that list is keeping our community involved and inspired. We have a lot of room for contributors, so if you're interested in helping with a committee, or interested in helping in an organizational capacity, let us know! Go to the wiki if you're interested in signing up, and edit yourself into the page. If you'd like to help organizationally, go sign up on the yahoogroups page.
We'd appreciate any suggestions that you all may have.
Finally, I'd like to restate those things that I think are important for us to develop soon, so you all know where we stand, and the direction in which we're all aimed.
-We need a better understanding of what will entail to monitor a committee. We're reading up on how committees work, and have ammased a huge pile of links to governmental resources regarding committees.
-We should work on our relationsips with staffers on each committee. I feel that this is extremely important, and I think we should only take this step when we feel organized, and when we're confident about what we're asking for.
-We will continue to improve our accessibility for new members. We're working now on an FAQ section for the wiki, and there are now several explanations to help you edit the wiki page as you desire.
-The wiki is the central organizational feature of our project, and helping everyone to understand editing the wiki has been quite an undertaking. There are now links on the wiki to help you learn how to edit it, and the discussion page is also a great asset for inquiries of this sort. The committee-specific wiki pages will become the real staging grounds for all of our efforts, and I'm really excited to see so many of those under construction. Excellent work!
Thanks to all of you who have helped get this project off the ground! We're really moving, and I'd like to keep our momentum as we move to the next stage in organizing ourselves. I'd appreciate any comments you may have, and will be hanging around the comments section for a little while to answer questions.