Activism + crowdfunding = ?

Crowdfunding, Paying For Legal Bills?
The allegations, if true, are serious. The parents of a Riverside, CA 17-year-old, Doug and Catherine Snodgrass, say their son has autism, Tourette Syndrome, bipolar syndrome, and no friends. His parents claim an undercover policeman–pretending to be a fellow student–befriended the young man, pressured him so severely into buying marijuana that he began harming himself. Further, they say when the social pressure grew too great for the student, he did buy some marijuana, leading to his being promptly arrested, along with 22 other special needs students, and then expelled by an unsympathetic school district.

In court, the alleged victim was found not guilty although the judge required to serve 20 hours of community service. He was returned to the school in spring due to a court order, however the school district is still fighting to expel him due to a zero tolerance policy regarding drugs.

After the verdict, Reason, a libertarian magazine and web portal which is unsympathetic towards the War on Drugs picked up the story:

The Snodgrass’ plight/allegations of impropriety/request for aid/attention seeking/blame deflecting/whatever-one-wants-to-call it seems to have escaped the notice of most of the public, whom overall so far seem either indifferent or unaware. Then again, the parents’ next move led to at least a small number of people saying, “wait, what?”

That next move was to open a two month long IndieGogo, entitled The Snodgrass Legal Fund, (currently in progress, with $1,941 of an asked for $30,000 raised) asking for help with legal bills from anyone who had heard the story and felt sympathetic (or perhaps just wanted to ensure the police and school district aren’t doing this kind of thing in the future.)

The news coverage and attempted use of IndieGogo has raised the interest of a few activist internet blogs: “Riverside Cop Tricks Autistic Teen into Buying Pot“! was reason.com’s take. “Undercover cop tricks autistic teen into buying pot“! said boing boing. The teen’s mom probably got the best one-liner in, however. “This experience basically taught our son how to sell drugs, and that’s not why we sent him to school,” she said.

The Snodgrass Legal Fund is still in its infancy. Currently with not even 10% of the requested amount raised, it looks unlikely to succeed. Still, this may have more to do with the public’s unawareness of this story, let alone that the Snodgrass family is asking for money. The Snodgrasses come across as sympathetic, and, if word of mouth were to grow, (as it does appear to be, although slowly), internet activists may be able to chalk up an important early first win for a new way of financing their pet causes. In this case, that of policy reform for the local police and the Temecula Valley Unified School District.

More important than that though, hopefully the truth will be determined and justice will be done in the case of young master Snodgrass and his seemingly not-so-good first-friend “Dan”. Hopefully no police officers are out there converting innocent special needs students into drug dealers. And hopefully Snodgrass’ next friend is a decent person.

Public Access to Public Records

Somewhere in Sebastopol, California, an average looking man with a crazed gleam in his eye poses for a picture, surrounded by piles of government documents, books, and boxes that contain many more.

2013-10-16 - blog 01 Anyone who can be around that many government documents and be excited, even though he is not a government employee, is clearly no ordinary man. He is Carl Malamud, outspoken activist, creator of the first internet radio station, founder of public.resource.org, and much more besides. His passion is the public domain, something he advocates for in tireless fashion. In particular, Malamud believes that the text of all government laws should be accessible to the public so that the public can read them. Not content with the laws being accessible, Malamud desires for these documents to be easily accessible, preferably on the internet, where they can be easily searchable.

To that end he has engaged in numerous endeavors to make internet copies of government materials. His website claims he has digitized 588 government films for Youtube and the Internet Archive as well as publishing a 5 million page archive from Government Printing Office materials.

Malamud has also clashed legally with several government entities who have asserted copyright over their documents. For instance, he has challenged California’s assertion of having complete ownership to the copyright of all its laws by publishing the state’s building, plumbing, and criminal codes online. When it came to the state of Oregon, Malamud was able to convince Oregon’s legislators to change their minds without either side resorting to a court battle. As a result, the state of Oregon currently does not assert copyright over any of its statutory laws.

Carl Malamud’s latest such effort is a Kickstarter. He is asking for $100,000 (needed by October 28, to be successful) to convert 28,000 or so public safety documents to HTML and to put them online. As of today he has raised about one fourth of that, making his success somewhat of a long shot. However, Mr. Malamud seems to be an irrepressible sort. If this endeavor fails, no doubt he will remain unfazed.

More to come?

Currently such campaigns seem to be in their infancy. Even if these particular two do not succeed, it is not so hard to envision a future where even big politicians might use a crowdfunding model for raising their election support. As to whether such a future will actually come to pass, though, this author has no idea.

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