An open letter to Barack Obama and the DNC (or, change video formats)

Senator Barack Obama and the Democractic National Convention Committee,

In his campaign speeches, Senator Obama often evokes images of citizen participation in the governmental process. He proclaims that his message of hope is built on the foundation of mutual respect, and the prospect of working together to return the government to the hands of the people.

Is Senator Obama earnest in these rhetorical statements? Or is this simply campaign slogans flung about with feigned sincerity, to be discarded once the US Presidential election is over?

If the DNCC website is any indication, the promise of openness is empty.

Video streams of the Democratic National Convention are available from the DNCC website ( More accurately, video streams are available as long as you are running an approved operating system. When I attempt to view the streams, I receive this message:

For the best Democratic Convention video experience, you'll need the Microsoft Silverlight plug-in and the Move Networks media player. We’re sorry, but the Democratic Convention video web site isn’t compatible with your operating system and/or browser. Please try again on a computer with the following:

Compatible operating systems: Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or a Mac with Tiger (OS 10.4) or Leopard (OS 10.5). Compatible browsers: Internet Explorer (version 6 or later), Firefox (version 2), or, if you are on a Mac, Safari (version 3.1) also works.

By restricting access to either MS-Windows or Apple OSX, the DNCC is restricting freedom of choice in operating systems. A fairly large (3% or more) segment of the population uses other, freely-available operating systems such as GNU/Linux. (Here, "freely-available" does not refer to price, but to freedom.)

If Senator Obama is serious about governmental openness and citizen participation, he should be concerned that the DNCC is disenfranchising a segment of the population because of their choice of operating systems. Those of us who choose operating systems such as GNU/Linux or any of the BSD variants often do so because of choice, because of a love of freedom. Most free software is developed in a manner similar to the participatory government Senator Obama often mentions in his speeches: software for the people, by the people, of the people.

Senator Obama, are you serious about freedom, about choice, about openness? Are you serious about the need for reform, the need to empower the disenfranchised?

If so, you should be very concerned that your party is currently undermining your platform.

Yes, it might seem quaint to choose a technology based on freedom rather than expedience; but freedom sometimes requires effort. It sometimes requires a choice, the decision to go against the status quo, the decision to support your freedom with action, sometimes with sacrifice.

The DNCC's decision to use a proprietary, closed technology like Silverlight goes against everything for which you claim to stand. It is a slap in the face to those of us who support you, but are unable to watch the convention because we have chosen an operating system that stands for freedom rather than corporate ownership, an operating system based on citizen participation and cooperation.

To the members of the DNCC: your choices affect all citizens of the United States. By choosing to restrict access to corporate-owned and corporate-controlled operating systems, you have chosen corporations over citizens. Is this an indication of the direction of the Democratic party? Can we expect continued government support of corporations over citizens in the future?

Do I sound angry? Yes, I am angry. Senator Obama has promised hope through participation. He has promised that he will represent and support the citizens of the United States. The simple decision of the DNCC to use a technology exclusive to corporate-owned operating systems, ignoring the millions of users of alternative operating systems, gives lie to Senator Obama's promise of citizen participation.

That was a promise I believed.


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