Vote for you (guest post by Jack Yan)

Jack Yan is a font designer, magazine publisher, branding consultant, terribly good guy, and a candidate for Mayor of Wellington in 2010.

He’s also been involved in social media for quite some time, and sees beyond the technology to some of the social good it can generate.

Technically, this post should be called “Vote for Us”, but the English language doesn’t have the nuances of Polynesian languages (matou = “us, not including you, the listener” and tatou = “us all, including you, the listener”) so we’ll go for “Vote for You” instead.

Yes, it’s a political message, and it’s a real-time example of how social media can potentially transform all walks of life.

Here we are in 2010, looking at the local body elections in 10 months’ time.
I’m seeing the same old approaches to the campaigns. My opponents are, largely, doing the ‘Vote for me’ approach, and there is the ‘Vote for this’ with the fielding of a team of élites claiming to represent the people of Wellington’s best interests.

What about, I wonder, ‘Vote for us’, the Wellingtonians like you and me?

We are in an age where real democracy is within reach. Our elected officials can, ideally, have blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. As well as face-to-face meetings with citizens, we can engage people and hear their thoughts directly.
No more intermediaries, no more polls. The technology exists for us to hear directly from Wellingtonians.

When I set up the Your Wellington website, in advance of my own mayoral campaign announcement, I signalled that the next mayor is not someone who has his own agenda.

The next mayor is a mayor who pushes the agenda of all Wellingtonians, based on what is learned from them through citizen engagement.

However, it would not be unreasonable for those who have watched past elections to be sceptical about this proposition.

They would point at the 2007 campaign run by mayoral candidate John McGrath, which indeed employed Facebook and a blog, yet netted the restaurateur so few votes that he trailed councillors such as Bryan Pepperell.

However, McGrath erred on two counts: his Facebook page was set up so late that while it gained followers, it never engaged them in any depth. His blog was, meanwhile, closed to comments.

It defeated the whole purpose of blogging or, for that matter, having an internet presence for a mayoral campaign.

Still, one needs to acknowledge that he was, at least, prepared to explore social media—something which his opponents did not do. Instead, they mounted sites that were particularly one-way.

The difference in 2010 is having a record that shows one at least appreciates that we are masters of this technology. One must be willing, in particular, to engage our 18–45 group, notorious for our low turn-out at local body elections.

For us, there is little point starting a blog now and feigning interest in this group, one which comprises nearly two-fifths of our city’s population.

But if one has constantly listened and engaged, then that at least bypasses the very sensitive detectors this media-savvy group possesses.

In fact, this is the very means through which Mark Blumsky found himself successful in his mayoral campaign in the 1990s.

While he did not have an internet in as advanced a stage as we have it now, Blumsky engaged his retail customers and employed a mailing list, which numbered in the thousands, to make the 18–45 group feel like their voice mattered.
Anyone who sees himself as a representative of the people of Wellington must have the humility to engage, not just in person, but through the new media which its citizens find second-nature.

Blumsky did, at least for a good proportion of young voters in Wellington.
In many respects, this is a 21st-century development of the face-to-face approach that Sir Francis Kitts was known for. But in a larger and more diverse city than what Sir Francis saw, we must employ technology to bridge the gap. We need to reach voters through more channels.

What I am doing with Your Wellington is, then, part of the journey from Kitts through Blumsky to 2010, encouraging more Wellingtonians to have a greater say in our future.

I foresee this to be the way campaigns will head in the 2010s, as blogs, Facebook and their ilk become the norm for over half of our population.

This effort begins now. Beyond my seven years of blogging about politics and my love of Wellington, I have put up some basic issues at Your Wellington for discussion. There are some areas where I am a specialist, but I would be very arrogant to claim that I know it all.

Over the next nine months, my team and I will build this website to cover more and more issues.

By the time of the local body elections on October 9, 2010, I will have presented myself as a candidate who has listened—not just in the last 12 months, but in the last seven years of blogging and engaging. Armed with the knowledge and hopes of Wellingtonians, I can move forward representing what the people have told me they want.

Wellingtonians are not impressed by élites that drive away our hope and future. The Mayor must listen, and show that one has listened.

The Your Wellington blog will continue if I am elected as a Mayor for all Wellingtonians, as a means through which we can respond to city policies as we see fit, rather than demand we attend council meetings to voice our concerns. I will also spearhead other social media tools through which Wellingtonians can have a say in our city.

By saying that we all have a say in our future and using tools that have been around for years, Wellington can become a model city in true representation.

I see Wellington as a leader, both technologically and democratically. Throughout my 22 years in business, I have tried to show off just how great our city and our country are.

I haven’t suddenly emerged this year as a mayoral candidate because I want votes. My belief in this city, and my accessibility to all people, are a matter of record, especially online.

Next year, I hope we will “vote for us”—namely, a mayor and council who believe that power resides in the people, not in the same-old arguments, personalities or élites.

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