Will Obama Transform Government Communication?

Fifty years of tromping through the streets of Manhattan and I never experienced the widespread spontaneous elation that erupted in this city election eve, 2008. At two in the morning the subways were still full of people so overcome with joy they would yell and break into dance with no prompting. In Harlem, where we live, the smiles on people’s faces were wide and unabashed. If you grew up in the 60′s it was a long, long time coming – a feeling that we can actually hope for a better day and we believe once again that we have the power to change the world. It is a sense that individually we can make a difference, and we don’t have to do it through coercion and bullying, it can come through intelligence, compassion and thoughtfulness. We can lead by example, not by force.

Barack Obama Transition Team Unveils Change.gov

As communicators we have to marvel at the transformative nature of the moment. When you expect gloating, Obama chooses humility.  When you expect forcefulness, Obama chooses deference. We know that politics will never cease (enter Rahm Emanuel, the enforcer) but within that is a larger agenda – we all share the same planet, our experiment in democracy never ceases to evolve and survives only by the will of the people.

Today, the day Obama visits the White House of the most unpopular U.S. President on record, a President who has raised government secrecy and intransigence to a new level, the transition team unveils Change.gov, a web site meant to support the open flow of information from the government to its people, and a means for the people to interact with the Federal government.

Does this mean that we can send an email to the federal government and expect an answer? I doubt it. But the intent is there, and a blog, and a method to apply for a goverment job, and the understanding that we are living in the digital age when school age children and middle age executives rely on the web to get their information and stay connected.

The thrill of Obama is that we don’t know what to expect from him. He has the ability to surprise in a way that seems measured and logical, in the moment and playing to history. If we at least have the sense that government is listening to us we believe that our involvement in government has value and can be reciprocated. That is the art of public relations.

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