Despite the repeated requests for upscale dress, I wear my standard outfit: a bright white t-shirt and blue jeans. Kai, the Institution’s President, who is dressed in a suit and tie, catches me on the way in and gently chides me. “Well, it’s techie dress, he says, “I know to take you seriously.” I tell him that at least this way I can’t get called on to speak (flashbacks from the Creative Commons launch party flash before my eyes — the time the monitor cord fell out of my laptop so my slides couldn’t be seen and I didn’t notice, the time the laptop covered my face so no one could see me, the time I walked in front of the projector during Lessig’s talk…). Kai considers the possibility of me getting to speak highly unlikely, which cheers me up.
The room itself is tastefully decorated by silver balloons, a jazz band, and Roosevelt quotes. It actually reminds me a lot of the Creative Commons kickoff, which I suppose is impressive, given Lessig’s starting advantages.
At 9, the line for the sign-in is snaking out the room’s door and across the building, where, at the door, a greeter points people to the obvious end of th eline. And some point she starts coaching people that the line isn’t as long as it seems. Eventually, the line stretches past her entirely and out the door.
I crack under the pressure of all those people and jog back to my dorm room to change into formal wear (translation: a grey Daring Fireball t-shirt, instead of a white OS X one.
When I return, expensive camcorders wander around the room picking up B-roll. Jake, my partner (I do coding, he does design and telling me to stop slacking off), tells me how the whole thing almost fell threw. A bureaucrat canceled their room reservation the night before because Roosevelt wasn’t yet a registered student organization. Kai spent the night replacing all references to Stanford on the website with “University A” (since apparently unregistered student groups can’t mention Stanford) and then in the morning went to a board meeting and begged for the room back. (Obviously, it worked.)
at some point, the formal talks begin. Quinn, the executive director, opens the event with a story about butter and telling congressmen where they can shove it. It’s very entertaining. Quinn’s point is that the people have the butter—err, the power, they just need to exercise it. Then Quinn introduces Kai, the man behind the “only successful living wage campaign in college history” (that doesn’t sound right to me), who is more formal and depends on his slides for entertainment, like the one that says “ROOSEVELT WINS, HOOVER LOSES” (to applause).
Neither candidate offered a Roosevelt-style vision for America, he says. “THE ROOSEVELT SOLUTION:”, reads another slide, “Have Better Ideas”. Politicians don’t have time for ideas, they’re too busy raising money. So it’s up to us. We can take our unused intellectual capital, the reports and papers we do for class, package them up, and send them to Washington. “America is calling for our ideas and government is ready to use them.” (“We are very smart,” Quinn adds.) “The ideas that we have…could influence policy. … Ideas will change the world. I firmly believe that.”
But even if they don’t, Roosevelt will act as a nice training organization, turning people on to politics and policy, giving them the skills they need to work in the field. We’re an educated generation — 71% of us read the newspaper — and an altruistic one. But while we’ll clean up a beach we won’t help pass a law against polluting it in the first place. We need both. “When you chop your own firewood, it warms you twice.” Quinn (I think) explains. “The Roosevelt Institution is like firewood—no, that’s not right.” But it is about re-politicizing this generation.
Then come a seemingly endless series of talks from the various center directors and the room quickly hemorrhages people. You can really tell things have jumped the shark when someone mentions “Liberian refugees”.
The Daily reports that about 400 people showed up which I find amazing.