As most policy wonks probably don’t know, the March 11-17 is Sunshine Week (http://www.sunshineweek.org)/. Since Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by newspaper organizations the initiative has grown to a national network of organizations that represent a wide range of professional and public interest groups with a activities at the ground level in states, cities and organizations throughout the nation. Since the outset focus has been on celebration of Freedom of Information Day on March 16, birth date of James Madison, framer and author of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Theme for this year is “Put Sunshine in your government.” In the interest of putting sunshine in our government it seems appropriate stop carping and pause to reflect on some of the positives that are happening on the open government scene:
- Lori Sturdevant sets the pace by cautiously anticipating the possibility of bipartisan agreement on HF 1954, IR Re. Keith Downey’s attempt to get cities and counties to report their spending to the public in a clearer and more meaningful way. Sure, the parties took it as a challenge to spar, even on open government for which there is no price tag; still, Sturdevant concludes that “even baby steps” count. (Star Tribune, March 9, 2012)
- Independent journalists and bloggers have added zillions of eyes and ears to the oversight of federal, state and local government – even neighborhood organizations don’t escape the oversight and the reporting proclivities of avid action watchers. Their numbers are legion – some work independently, others through organized grassroots journalism such as the Twin Cities Daily Planet (www.tcdailyplanet.net)
- Local and community media of every stripe – radio such as KFAI (http://www.kfai.org/), cable including the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network and the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, nonprofits such as The UpTake
Public meetings in virtually every community are available for armchair citizens who keep tabs on elected and appointed officials at work.
- Again following Lori Sturdevant’s lead, this is a time to celebrate Minnesota’s state demographers, past and future – Hazel Reinhart, Tom Gillaspy and Susan Brower. (Star Tribune, March 7, 2012)
- The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information will participate in Sunshine Week a bit after the fact by sponsoring a related event on Friday March 23. Amy Goodman will speak at the annual FOI Award Ceremony during which the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award will be presented. The free and open event is 4:00 p.m. at Minneapolis Central Library.
- We can also recognize and support initiatives at the federal level where a host of advocacy groups such as Open the Government , OMB Watch and the National Security Archive speak with passion and authority for the information rights of all Americans.
- At the federal level a unique positive note this week was the launch of Ethics.gov(one more step in the administration’s pledge to let the sunshine in.
- Americans who rightfully pride ourselves on the constitutional right to know are often surprised on the freedom of information ferment on nations around the world – FOI-Net offers a dependable reminder that this nation is not alone and, in many cases, is not ahead in the effort to let the sunshine in.
Though this list should go on to name scores, probably hundreds of advocacy efforts, the word limit is enforced. Advocates of every stripe, including open government and freedom of information proponents, are inclined to decry government’s infringement on openness. Still, Sunshine Week offers a reminder to celebrate that sunshine often does prevail.
For all of us, Sunshine Week presents a challenge to acknowledge that decision-makers, bureaucrats and advocates alike grapple with unprecedented challenges to craft laws, regulations, procedures and policies, appropriate to an unprecedented information environment in which principles remain while technology, not to mention globalization, transforms the landscape.