From Joke to Success

“I think that change and progress begin when people stop standing aloof and start to participate. I hope we make change and progress in 2012 through civic participation.”

As soon as Guk Cho, professor at Seoul National University Law School, ended his speech, the audience burst into thunderous applause. It was a flare that signaled the opening of the Guk Cho • Yeon-ho Oh Book Concert.

On December 27, 2010, year-end concerts were everywhere in Korea. The book concert held in EWHA University’s 100th Memorial Hall had a special meaning in the flood of year-end concerts because it was based on civic participation. The audience did not come to see celebrity performances but to express their views and talk about the future of Korea.

The Guk Cho • Yeon-ho Oh Book Concert began as a joke. Yeon-ho Oh, founder and CEO of Ohmynews, mentioned in passing in a tweet that he would hold a small book concert in a pub if his book Plan for Liberals to Seize Power published three impressions. His words would not have been taken seriously if he had announced it to a small number of people. However, because his words spread to thousands of people on Twitter, and because people really wanted the concert to happen, his joke became a promise to keep. Eventually Plan for Liberals to Seize Power published three impressions, and citizens made the joke a reality.

Citizens did more than just instigating the creation of the concert. Thirty citizens who were active in promoting Plan for Liberals to Seize Power started an arrangement committee. The arrangement committee organized the book concert with civic participation-based programs. At the concert rehearsal, held in a pub near Gwanghwamun, the committee worked smoothly, as the members had known each other for a long time. When one member suggested that they sing the song “As Time Goes By” with choreography in the closing ceremony, several other members choreographed on the spot. Aside from the arrangement committee, other citizens played a huge role. Because of the promotion by the citizens in social media sites, all 430 seats sold out in three days.

At the concert, the effort of the arrangement committee and other citizens paid back. The programs organized with ideas by citizens made people laugh. The highlight of the concert was a program called “If I Were Yeon-ho Oh I Would Ask Guk Cho This,” in which Professor Cho answered questions that the audience wrote down before entering the concert hall. Questions such as “What’s your beauty secret?” made people burst into laughter, and other ones such as “What would you first do if you become president of Korea?” made people listen carefully.

The concert was made possible by citizens using social media, which successfully brought together those from different regions. Social media is designed to be disseminated through social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media made other seemingly impossible events besides the Guk Cho • Yeon-ho Oh Book Concert happen. Thinking of Samsung by attorney Yong-Chul Kim became a best seller without any advertising in newspapers or television because one hundred fifty thousand people on Twitter promoted the book.

At the end of the 2-hour concert, Mr. Oh made a remark.

“We started the concert with the help of citizens. So I think that this concert should end by a closing ceremony of citizens.”

As Yeon-ho Oh finished, 30 members of the arrangement committee appeared on stage, ending the concert by singing “As Time Goes By” with choreography and guitar accompaniment. Their choreography was not perfect, but their message was clear.

“Don’t be small-minded, be confident. The sun will rise tomorrow. The sun will rise tomorrow.”

In the last chapter of Plan for Liberals to Seize Power, which has sold twenty three thousand copies in 2 months and has become a best seller in the politics section, Professor Cho and Mr. Oh promised to write a sequel with the help of citizens. This writer is looking forward to seeing what incredible work citizens will do in the next book and hopes that the sun will rise in the future through the power of citizens.

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Eunbyul Oh

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01 2011

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