BUILDING WALLS, BUILDING PLATFORMS
A double wall proposed by Congress would stretch 700 miles across the border between Mexico and the United States and come equipped with motion sensors and surveillance cameras. Inspired by this plan, Sarah Newchurch built a wall to keep riffraff out of her own neighborhood. "Crossing of the international boundary and unlawful entry are aggravated felony," a note attached to it warns, adding that "Secondmen" volunteers are also standing by to make sure no "migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers" make it past the line of control.
Ms. Newchurch's wall is actually her irony-laden statement against proposed Congressional legislation aimed at illegal immigrants, expressed in a way that can be experienced in immersive 3D. "See," she explains, "in SL we have people from Mexico or USA or anywhere you can imagine all in the same virtual world. The wall therefore is utterly silly, just meaningless." The wall is also the gathering point for the virtual protest Sarah Newchurch has scheduled for tonight at 7:00pm, Second Life Time (i.e., Pacific Standard). "It'll be a fairly typical mass rally," she tells me. "Maybe a march. I'm making signs and [will] probably also give away white T-shirts. The white is the color for peace and is the symbolic color for this nationwide movement." Which now has a virtual presence too, coinciding with the street-level protests planned today throughout the United States.
But this is not the only political event of the day, because two hours earlier on another part of the continent, a candidate for a seat on the City Council of Long Beach, California, will try to make an appearance at his official campaign headquarters in Second Life. The candidate, architect and community activist Brian Ulaszewki, doesn't have a Second Life account yet, though he plans to. In the meantime, real life neighbor and SL Resident Tom Bukowski has turned his own home in Dowden into the very first official virtual world headquarters for an actual political campaign. (Credit for the first unofficial campaign headquarters goes to IceRink Zamboni's John F. Kerry for President site in 2004; then again, credit for the first unofficial negative campaign headquarters goes to Dugo Jacobs-- but that's another story.)
As a candidate for the seat of Long Beach's Second District, Ulaszewki's Dowden office is particularly the place to go for Residents who are registered voters living in the 90802, 90813, and 90814 area codes of the Los Angeles area-- though today's event will deal more broadly with the potential of online worlds to empower local politics within its international community of citizens.
And with two separate events with the same rough purpose rolling out on the same day (neither of the organizers aware of the other, until I told them) that topic becomes something to consider in New World Notes, as well. Can Second Life be leveraged into a kind of virtual Meet Up space or 3D blog, and have just as much impact on actual politics?
political rallies and Katrina fundraising events in the Metaverse Messenger.
I ask her how she expects a protest in a virtual world could influence real life politics, and she suggests it will. "At least as much as any other form of media can. In the past," she says, "new telecommunication medium always brought an innovation in campaigning and also in raising public conscience... radio, TV, telephone, and World Wide Web. So it would not be a surprise if this new form of media can have at least the same effect-- but probably even greater because of SL's participatory and interactive nature."
But with 175,000 total subscribers compared to billions of TV and phone users, that kind of impact may be quite a ways down the road. Then again, in the case of Brian Ulaszewski's campaign for the Long Beach Council seat, the chance of having a substantial impact may come quite soon: the Los Angeles region votes this June.
"It's a small district," Tom Bukowski explains, ticking off the unique variables at play. "The person who won last time won with 1,400 votes... There is no imcumbent in this case-- he quit unexpectedly. There are 11 people running to replace the seat, with no runoff. Historically, there is under 10% voter participation..."
"With such a low turnout," I speculate, "if you could get the, say, 200-500 Second Life Residents in the district to vote for him, I imagine it could turn the election."
"Oh yes," says Bukowski. "That's what is so interesting to me, how SL might play a role not just in 'global' issues (like the immigration thing) but things that seem 'local'... On the surface of things, SL doesn't necessarily make sense for local politics. But people know people, etc. So we're wondering. And any buzz that spills into real [life] is kewl... So using SL, Myspace, etc., is a way to try and get [awareness] out, especially to younger voters... He has a good chance, but grassroots is key, and so why not try 'virtual' grassroots?"
As for his platform as Long Beach Councilman, "[H]e's interested in the area developing and growing without losing its sense of community [in Long Beach]," Bukowski summarizes, while candidate Ulaszewski helps with the interview from over his shoulder. "And it's a very diverse area, which is important. And in Long Beach there's sometimes a tendency to see things in terms of downtown versus neighborhoods, but he wants to move beyond that. For instance, if you look at his website, you'll see three cases where he's designed new parks for the city and in terms of policies, smart planning for how to handle density, a strong emphasis on preservation (we live in a historic district)..."
So oddly enough, Brian Ulaszewski's political platform for Long Beach deals mainly with urban planning issues that Second Life Residents debate often, themselves. Late last year, for example, many feared that removal of "smart growth", subway-style telehubs would harm local businesses, community, and public spaces, while leading to the rise of gated private communities. If he's wise, then, the first candidate to create a campaign headquarters in a virtual world may also become the first candidate to enhance his platform by learning from the development of that world, too.
Details to both the protest and the political discussion in the upcoming "SL Events of the Week, 4/10-4/16" post. In the interests of equal time, New World Notes will also profile any other candidate for Long Beach's Second District who appears in SL to campaign and contacts me with the announcement.