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Digital Democracy

Eau Claire locals to launch online town hall forum

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by Eric Larson photos by Andrea Paulseth

In September, Eau Claire will be able to log in to E-Democracy.org and participate in an “online town hall.” Above: An informational booth for the forum at Phoenix Park.
 
In September, Eau Claire will be able to log in to E-Democracy.org and participate in an “online town hall.” Above: An informational booth for the forum at Phoenix Park.

In 17th century New England, town hall meetings served as America’s earliest forms of direct democracy. Community members would assemble to throw their two cents in about local issues, whether they were political, land-related, or legal – anything flew.

Thoreau, during his 1854 speech “Slavery in Massachusetts,” even referred to the democratic meetings as “true Congress” – and the concept of using constructive conversation to aid in collective decision making has since stuck.

The typical American lifestyle has certainly changed. Powdered wigs don’t have nearly as much respect, and – more relevantly – finding a meeting time to match busy schedules has proved an increasing hassle. But thanks to the Internet, town hall meetings are no longer restricted to Tuesday night gatherings in the church basement after soccer practice.

Starting in September, the Eau Claire community will now be able to log in to E-Democracy.org, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization, and participate in an “online town hall” from any location, at any time.

“This is really a great way to promote civic engagement,” says City Manager Mike Huggins. “There’s been a lot of discussion here in the past four or five years, and this will be a good way to network discussions on what’s happening in the community.”

Since its origin in Minneapolis in 1994, E-Democracy has spread across the nation and globe. The concept is easy: Community members can register through the site (for free) and must provide their own name. Once the forum opens, it becomes an ongoing thread for members to post topics, ideas, or issues. Then, discussion kicks in.

Huggins says the official forum for Eau Claire will launch in September. At the moment, he says, upwards of 80 members are already registered. “An online venue for people to chat and share information is just what this community needs,” he says. “You can think of it like Racy’s online.”

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