Tonight I pulled into Williston,North Dakota just in time for the airing of the Pic_home_cnn_300x50_3Democratic debate on CNN.  As a vociferous follower of all things political and a self acclaimed tech geek, I was in awe at the format for the debate this evening.  Throughout the past fifteen years I have watched many debates spanning all parties and political affiliation.  This debate brought a new tone to the conversation at the debate.  The average Americans featured as the questioners were willing to go on the record asking the incredibly difficult questions that Americans want answered.  There is something about watching people from their living rooms, questioning the leading candidates in the election.  The participatory nature of the format and the ubiquitous presence of YouTube have launched debates into a completely new realm.  Previously, the questions for debates came from a very one dimensional space hatched from the pundits, reporters and ‘experts’.  Occasionally, a town hall format had been used, but even then there is a limit to who could participate based on geography or economy.  We have crossed into a new era of interaction between those candidates previously insulated from the publicly broadcast interaction with the candidates. 

I will watch with a keen eye and listen with an attentive ear to the commentary that follows this debate format.  I am incredibly interested to see the changes that will occur between the Democratic debate this evening and the Republican debate that will follow on September 17th.  Democracy is about people having conversations about the issues of the time WITH the individuals elected to represent these interests.  Technologies like YouTube allow for a massive nation, both in population and acreage, to connect, converse and comment in a way that has not been possible to date.

As a Social Studies teacher, this debate is EXACTLY the type of teaching resource that I plan to use at the beginning of the school year, to drive home the point that there are powerful conversations to be had in the global community and that you need not have a pocket stuffed with money to gain access to the direct election conversation.  Civic participation has hit new lows over the past few years and I look to technologies like YouTube to draw people back to the conversation that we desperately need to be having as a democratic nation.  Only through vigorous dialogue and careful questioning can the people of a democratic nation stay attentive, involved and engaged.  Social networking sites can and will change the very fiber of American elections and have the potential to become great change agents towards a more perfect union.