From City Council to the Supreme Court, the coronavirus has taught us that public-access, live-streamed government is not only possible, but healthier for democracy, and it should never go back to the way it was.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world have begun figuring out ways to meet in groups without having to actually meet in person. Virtual meetings have become second nature in the midst of a global quarantine, with tech companies such as Zoom, Slack, Facebook and Google providing platforms for doing so, and changing the way we think about the value or even the necessity of face-to-face meetings.
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that they would hear oral arguments via a virtual meeting, and in an unprecedented move, would provide a live-stream of the proceedings to media outlets. Supreme Court proceedings have been relatively private, with public access limited to a small gallery and televising of the action prohibited. This departure from historic norms opens government to a new world of access and transparency heretofore inconceivable. If the Supreme Court can do it, so can your School Board, Zoning Board or City Council. If Congress can do it, so can your Board of Freeholders.
Congressional proceeds have been largely televised on C-Span for years, and officials from Mayors to Presidents have regularly held televised press conferences. It’s time to shed this archaic notion that one must be present to be entitled to bear witness to the actions of our duly elected government. All government meetings open to the public should be live streamed to anyone interested in watching and engaging with their elected officials.
It’s precisely in times like these, in the midst of chaos and turmoil, that paradigm shifts take place and we are able to leap forward, rather than inch so. We have an obligation to try to make things better and not just return to the status quo. We have an opportunity to reform democracy in positive ways that reflect and keep pace with this information-laden, electronic age, and we should take it.
The only reasonable opposition to this action would be that it would open up elected officials to more public scrutiny than they are presently used to. That cannot be the argument for keeping the actions of a democratically-elected government behind closed doors. This is not how to foster and grow democracy in the modern era.
Now is the time to open the backrooms and dark corners of democracy and let the light shine in. Now is the time to let the people watch the sausage being made.