The Uncaucus
March 24th, 2010

I’m proud to be the first person to blog about The Uncaucus on Smart Mobs. But I’m even more proud that it was started by friends of mine. Let me start from the beginning. When Patrick Kennedy decided not to run for reelection to Congress representing Rhode Island, Providence Mayor David Cicilline stepped into the congressional race, which opened up the mayoral race. That weekend, a small group of local geeks, designers, and entrepreneurs (read: people I know and adore) gathered in one of their living rooms to discuss the soon to be shifting political landscape of their city. One of them suggested posting a Craigslist ad for the next mayor of Providence, which they subsequently did.

But what started somewhat tongue-in-cheek quickly evolved into something more powerful. The group, which calls itself The Uncaucus, seeks to enable the citizens of Providence to participate in the mayoral election in a more meaningful way, pre-ballot box. To borrow Tim O’Reilly’s apt metaphor, our general modus operandi vis-à-vis government is comparable to that vis-à-vis a vending machine: pay taxes, get pre-defined services, bang on machine when broken. Instead of merely choosing between a Snickers Bar and a Milky Way, The Uncaucus is encouraging citizens to think critically about what we want in the vending machine in the first place, and helping us actively solicit it. What if we treated the election of representatives like the hiring of employees? Well, we’d write the job description carefully – and in this case, collaboratively – and vet the candidates accordingly.

Since that fateful living room meeting, The Uncaucus has “developed a campaign concept, launched a Web site (in both English and Spanish), reached out to the broader community, established a mobile technology platform, and established a telephone hotline [called the Uncaucus IdeaLine] where any citizen in any neighborhood can call and leave a message for the candidates, all within days of the idea’s genesis” (Andy Cutler and Allan Tear, And it’s hosting a listening party on April 1st at which, instead of citizens listening to mayoral candidates, candidates will listen to citizens about what they want from their future mayor. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Check out The Uncaucus on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And expect this smart mobby approach to civic engagement to come (or bring it yourselves!) to an election near you.

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