How do we educate people about local elections using new media?

Our small group answered the question of how to engage citizens in local elections using new media by designing a project. We talked about two different consituencies we would like to reach: the elderly and the young, particularly college students.

Our hook would be an old model — the book mobile,with a megaphone! — while the goods would be a new model — an interactive computer interface that would provide information about candidates, voting locations and representation based on geographical information fed in by the user. The design would mimic an ATM or Redbox — technologies people of all ages, income levels and education levels are comfortable with using.

This idea evolved from an earlier discussion about taking computer and internet technology to places where people gather to engage them in the election process — senior centers, K&W’s, churches for older folks, and cafes and nightclubs for younger people.

Providing information to users would be only one facet. More importantly, the project would include their voices. Similar to NPR’s “Story Corps,” this project would allow users to record video messages on the bus to express their concerns, what needs should be addressed in their neighborhoods, what they want changed, etc. The videos would be uploaded onto a central website, and then sorted by district (city council, county commission, state legislature, congressional) to build identification among other voters and to set an agenda for candidates to respond to.

Video messages could also be done in the field by collector/producers. Contributors would be encouraged to perform and display individual style. We cited Jasiri X’s hip hop newscast as a great example. Another example offered was a person of color playing a violin and then making a statement. Others might incorporate athletic passions — running, basketball, soccer — “whatever you’re in to.”

An exciting and enlivening idea was offered by a participant, who suggested that both older and younger persons be interviewed to find out why they do or don’t vote. Some older contributors might talk about what sacrifices they made to win the right to vote. Some might talk about why they didn’t vote in the past, but do now. Others might talk about why they don’t see any point in voting. Older participants might talk about why it was important to win the right to vote, and what changed after they won that right.

Another inter-generational topic that could be explored is experiences of the Great Depression 75 years ago, and experiences of the Great Recession today. What are the similarities and differences? What lessons have we taken away from these experiences?

Theater companies could take the stories and perform them before audiences.