The sun has shone and the sun has hidden behind many a bureaucratic and political cloud since the launch of Sunshine Week a decade ago. The decade has experienced cosmic change ranging from Wikileaks and Snowden to the emergence of open government groups such as Code for America to the President’s National Action Plan for Open Government to a last minute failure of the 113rd Congress to pass the FOIA Improvement Act.
Constant vigilance inspires Sunshine Week sponsors to join forces to plan for Sunshine Week 2015, March 15-21.
Ten years seems a propitious time to reflect on the basic principles as well as the visible manifestations of Sunshine Week including thoughtful editorials, inside the Beltway events, state and local awards, and the many examples of collaborative focus on a fundamental principle of this democracy.
It’s also a reminder to get back to basics — I think of it as a sort of WWJMD? (What Would James Madison Do?) approach to Sunshine Week 2015. The focus on Madison stems from the fact that the celebration of Sunshine Week is set to coincide with his birthday on March 16. Besides Madison has always been my go-to thinker on the sometimes elusive permutations of the freedom of information tenet. (http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_14680391)
My reflections have been informed and reinforced by a treasure collected and distributed by FreedomInfo.org. (http://www.freedominfo.org/resources/freedominfo-org-list-quotes-freedom-information/) The thoughtful staffers there have produced a robust collection of freedom of information quotes, arranged chronologically from the 18th Century to the present. “Light on ponderous material from the preambles of laws” the listing of quotes is lively, inclusive, and open-ended, inviting those who care about such things to add their own. FreedomInfo’s collection is great reinforcement for my personal WWJMD? Challenge and a must for any group grappling with plans for Sunshine Week 2015.
The other indispensable resource for Sunshine Week planners is the abundant assistance provided by Debra Gersh Hernandez who has been the illuminating presence since the pre-dawn of the national Sunshine Week initiative. Deb is responsible for the Sunshine Week website (http://rcfp.org) and for the steady flow of tweets that keep the ideas and energy flowing from Sunshine Week planners around the nation.
A bit of background: Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Prime movers are freedom of information proponents including journalists, civic socity groups, libraries and archives, government officials, schools and universities, and an expanding cohort of advocates for transparency and accountability at every level of government. Key players at the federal level are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors, organizations that welcome inclusion of the broadest possible circle of interest and activity. Sunshine Week 2015 is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation along with The Gridiron Cub and Foundation.
Sponsors and past participants in Sunshine Week offer a host of ideas and support materials, including an Idea Bank of “bright ideas” from a decade of Sunshine Week experience and a “Toolkit” rich with op ed pieces, editorial cartoons, logos, icons, sample proclamations and more. There is also a virtual catalog of Freedom of Information in action – samples of how federal and state freedom of information laws have been put to work to expose and resolve real life problems.
Back to my decentennial deliberations — WWJMD? Admittedly, James Madison would have some catching up to do. On the one hand, he would hold the nation’s leaders feet to the fire, demanding that they move on passage of the bipartisan Freedom of Information Improvement Act sponsored by Senators Leahy and Cornyn. He would stoke up the heat under the President’s commitment to transparency as stated in the National Action Plan for Open Government.
Madison would applaud the unstinting work of state coalitions and national civic society efforts to keep the heat on – and to work with global freedom of information initiatives. And he would welcome the energy and commitment of the nation’s newest open government enthusiasts who are raising issues and developing new tools to make government information more accessible to more people. Most of all, he would work with leaders to make sure that all the players and stakeholders are at the table, talking with, not past, each other.
With specific reference to Sunshine Week 2015 Madison, the global thinker, would concur with British philosopher Jeremy Bentham who wrote that “without publicity, no good is permanent; under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.” (1768)