Richard Pietro has set off on the journey of a lifetime, an epic trek of exploration across Canada in pursuit of community and in promotion of Open Government.
In communities from coast to coast, regional organizers are setting up events like the one that happened last night at Toronto City Hall where Richard will discuss what Open Government is, how Open Data can improve everything from our economy to our democracy and, importantly, how where we go for here is up to all of us, together.
Richard's journey has been in the works for a long time, with a great deal of support from the folks at Make Web Not War
, especially Keith Loo and Bruce Chau. Make Web Not War has revitalized the artist/patron relationship, providing Richard with $10,000 in support of his tour - #OGT14, for those of you on Twitter - with the ask of nothing in return.
It's important to pause on this for a second.
Make Web Not War is a corporate social responsibility arm of Microsoft. It has a financial purpose (drive traffic to their cloud), but that comes second to their mission, which is to promote the values of openness, transparency and engagement they believe in. And they've given $10,000 to a little French Canadian guy with a dream and a motorcycle.
The people who've dedicated countless hours to Richard's quest have not done so for monetary gain, or to build their own brand - nobody's made headlines or fortunes from this venture. They, like the MWNW team, believe as Richard does, that our future must be shared, open, accountable and engaging. It's this vision that has brought everyone together, sharing their skills, times, resources and networks to make Richard's trip a success.
Why? There are so many causes, individuals and whatnot out there, seeking dollars and donations of time and resources - why has Richard garnered the support he has? He's not a politician, a corporate leader or a wicked salesman. He's a server with some knowledge and a dream.
There are many reasons as to why people are so willing to empower Richard in the realization of his Open Gov on the Open Road tour
, but one towers above all others: Richard is the embodiment of his dream. Open, authentic, collaborative and engaging, Richard lives his life in the exact manner that he envisions our country functioning. You can learn more about his Principles for an Open Live here
We believe in Richard because we know that he believes in his vision and ideals.
We believe in Open Government because it's absolutely necessary for us to move forward. It may be corny to say, but we believe in the willingness of Canadians to engage, too. Canadians do care - they just need opportunities to participate.
Richard is a catalyst, setting small stones in motion. The hope is that as his journey progresses, interest and participation will grow; like Forrest Gump
, he will inspire the country to go on the adventure with him.
A former backpacker, I know what it's like to start off on an unfathomable quest across a continent with nothing but your kit, a couple coins and whatever charm and empathy you can muster. As the world you left behind closes in and carries about it's business, you find yourself unattached, a tumbleweed blowing across the country, touching down on the lives of countless others. Maybe you leave a kernel of an idea or two behind; maybe you act as a social synapse, bridging those communities together.
It's the best feeling in the world.
At the same time, I know what it's like to feel the immensity of landscape, to experience the tight bonds of community as an outsider and that wearying feeling of waking up each day with no idea what to expect of the day ahead.
Richard will be putting his head down in a tent for much of his trip - and as his dad says, Richard's idea of camping tends to be sleeping in a bad Holiday Inn. He has to carry his whole world on his bike, through varied landscapes and whatever weather Mother Nature throws his way. There will be cold, wet days, cold, dark nights, moments of fatigue and loneliness and a feeling of being lost where, I'm sure, Richard will question his purpose.
As a former backpacker, I know all too well the challenges that are in store for him. I had a chat with Richard's dad today, who expressed concerns about what happens if his son gets caught in a flood, or finds himself without enough food, or if lord know what else happens to him.
As a dad myself, I can relate to his concern. It's not an easy journey to take on your own, this quest of his.
This is where we come in, Canada.
Richard Pietro has a dream, one that is shared by many, if not most of us - that we need to renew the relationship between citizen and government and that government needs to be more open, accountable and engaging. We, as citizens, need to want to engage.
As he rolls across the Canadian landscape, Richard is daring to do what many of us have longed for someone to do - he's picked up the gauntlet and is being the change we collectively want to see in our country. Here's how we can help.
If you see Richard on his quest across Canada, offer him an encouraging word. I'm sure a bite of food wouldn't hurt, from time to time, too. If you're on social media, follow his tour via #OGT14 on Twitter; there will be videos that emerge, feel free to share them.
If you feel so inclined, hop in your car or on your bike and join him for a spell, as Bruce Chau has done already. We can be Richard's community as he seeks to bridge Canada's communities together.
More than all of this - if you believe in the mission, if you believe in the vision, then engage. Post a video, write a blog piece, attend a session, take pictures, talk to friends, make new friends. Write to your Member of Parliament, call up your local press. Talk to your kids about what it means to be a citizen.
Richard is one man on a bike, but what he is doing, he's doing for all of us. Canada doesn't belong to one community or to elected officials; it's something we are all part of. When we recognize this and engage, we can shape the country we want to have, together.
Which, ultimately, is what openness is all about.