Planning page for Ask the President

Ari Melber's The People's Press Conference in The Nation introduces Ask the President, a project to bring citizen-generated questions to White House press conferences. When we talked about it in the #p2 chat, there were a lot of concerns as to whether it really lead to diverse voices being heard, and at least in the early results participation on Twitter and the blogosphere is very skewed. However, Ari asked on Twitter for ideas about improving diversity which gives us a good opening.

One thing we could do is organize and work with allies to get a few questions that you don't usually hear in press conferences to the top early on. This doesn't guarantee that they'll be asked or answered, of course, but it can highlight the possibilities. And with the next Presidential press conference is scheduled for Tuesday, the timing is good.

There are three topics on this page: goals, what questions to ask and how we'll promote it. There are also discussion threads at the bottom. Please join in!

-- jon

Goals and constraints

A question that came up during the chat is whether this is a good use of our time. Why should we do this?

Possible goals:

  • get more air time in White House press conferences for better questions and more diverse perspectives and topics.
    • Within the competition: We've got skills and connections and our support can potentially can bring a lot of votes to questions that should be heard.We can also potentially spot some gaps, areas that aren't currently covered in Ask the President, and contribute (and promote!) questions of our own.
    • More broadly: by highlighting situations where lack of diversity in the White House press corps and other gatekeepers is marginalizing many communities.
  • increase the diversity of participants in Ask the President. The early reviews are positive and it's a very strong coalition, so it's vital to start planning now for the situation where it's a big success. In that case Ari emphasizes that it's not going to be a one-shot deal. So it's very important to get a diverse population in place from the beginning.
  • develop skills and resources for progressives, feminists, women of color, and other marginalized groups to use for social network advocacy.
  • build alliances and partnerships between #p2 and others -- on Twitter (#rebelleft, #topprog, #FAB, ...) and elsewhere (project sponsors including Color of Change,, care2,, and so on)
  • have fun while creating and deepening connections, within #p2 and with others
  • it can't take a lot of time. Everybody's ridiculously overloaded already so for most people voting needs to be as easy as clicking links (which fortunately it is) and promotion needs to be dirt-simple and quick as well.
Thoughts? Discussion thread here.

What questions to ask

In the chat,
problemchylde said

You have to take your issues, find the universal appeal, market/promote that, and mix in the prog ideas

Indeed. And feedback I got from journalists is that it should also be a short pithy question.

One thing we could do is put our energy behind questions already others have submitted. Sarah Jaffe's post on Alterdestiny has some good one related to Katrina, single-payer health care, and banks that are too big to fail.

We could also look for questions that haven't been covered that highlight what topics are typically excluded. An example question that could work well:

  • the shift towards online politics risks further marginalizing those with less access to technology and accessibility challenges. how does the Obama administration plan to counter this?
this is pretty unifying, including inner-city access, geographical diversity, accessibility, and the "gov 2.0" crowd -- and intersecting strongly with class and race. (it's far from perfect though, suggestions and other ideas very welcome.)

as we discussed last night, we'd also want to add other questions: from a #fem2 perspective, from a #woc perspective, possibly others. so please just view this as a starting point!

thoughts? discussion thread here .

How to promote

Once we have some questions, we need to promote the effectively.
Based on my experiences a few months ago, with Ideas for Change and Open for Questions, and a little experimentation with the site's technology, there are likely to be three keys:

  • getting the link to the question out their broadly, via blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, digg, and email lists
  • converting people who follow the link to voters -- and (a smaller percentage of the time) to supporters who else help promote the question
  • partnering with supporters of other questions

Getting the link out broadly

To start with, there's the basics: all of us blogging about it, sending it on to friends with a personal note, posting it on Facebook etc., tweeting about it. There are enough of us here that this will have a big impact if we can find the time.

On blogs and web sites, you can embed a widget for the question. Sarah's got examples of this.

Just as important, though, is empowering others with instructions on how they can promote the question. Get FISA Right's Ideas for Change overview page is an example; we also had wiki pages with more detailed instructions for our users on Facebook and Digg. These pages can also be useful templates for people promoting items in similar voting-based contests and over time can help neutralize the advantages of the big white- and male-dominated blogs.

Converting visitors to voters and supporters

Based on my experiences with Ideas for Change and Open for Questions, and the site's usability, I think the most leveraged short-term thing to do is make sure that there are good instructions for voting and promoting in the question itself. There's a total of 500 characters available, so with a short question we'd have room for something like

TO VOTE FOR THIS QUESTION: click on the green "thumbs up" above it.

If you'd like to tell others about this question, you can tweet about it using the "retweet" button below. Or share on Facebook, MySpace, etc. with the "share this" button. For more ideas, please see

Relatively few people will follow the link and get more involved... those that do, however, can make a significant difference.


Just some rough thoughts here ...

  • how to work with #fem2, #woc and the other progressive hashtags?
  • is a co-sponsor. can we work with them?