Three U of T alumni are reaching out to Toronto residents through social media in an attempt to generate greater interest in municipal politics in the run-up to the city’s fall election.
Dave Scrivener, Jen Hassum and Sharon Fehrmann are among the 14 co-founders of #voteTO, which is using Twitter to spread online links to articles and blogs about the mayoral candidates, their ideas and the city’s future.
“People are frustrated with the political system,” says Scrivener (BA 2008 Victoria). “We wanted to make this project not about backroom deals and crafted campaigns, but about opening up the dialogue a bit more.”
Twitter was not a significant factor in the last mayoral election, in 2007, but the microblogging service has grown exponentially since then, and is now used by millions of people worldwide.
Fehrmann (BA 2007 Woodsworth) says her group hopes to make city politics more accessible to a greater number of citizens – and to engage them in the debate over the city’s future. Twitter enables individuals to respond to posts with their own thoughts and links, creating a dialogue among all users, rather than just between the media and politicians. “The conversation is more accessible when it’s on Twitter,” says Fehrmann. “It provides another opportunity for people who don’t know how to participate to become engaged.”
In February, the group reached beyond the Internet to host “#voteTOin416,” a real-world event featuring 14 speakers. Each participant gave a single four-minute-and-16-second presentation on a municipal issue – ranging from affordable housing to cat neutering. The evening attracted nearly 200 people, including several mayoral candidates and their campaigners (watch video clips of the presentations).
Next on the group’s agenda is a series of discussions with candidates from specific wards, beginning in April with Ward 27, followed by Ward 19. The group is also planning an event similar to “#voteTOin416” in Scarborough to discuss issues that relate specifically to that part of the city.
While Scrivener, Hassum (BA 2007 Trinity) and Fehrmann credit U of T with fostering their interest in municipal politics, they say they didn’t become active in urban issues until after graduation. “I spent two years in residence not doing anything political, but then I moved off campus and got more active in the city,” says Scrivener.