By Joe Sims
I had a conversation not so long ago with an intelligent fellow about the merits of on-line activism to working-class constituencies. The working poor in his state and city, he claimed were not online. Hunh? More recently, I heard a few editors and writers refer to the movement to on-line publishing as a “defeat.” The absence of print for them meant a publication had “disappeared.”
Tell that to the organizers of the Obama campaign who singed up 1. 5 million contributors who have brought in a few hundred million dollars in small contributors. Tell that to the Hillary Clinton campaign one of whose chief strategists, Peter Daou said in a Google forum on the Internet and Presidential politics, that a chief task of their campaign for the last year, was to move Mrs. Clinton's core supporters, workers and the elderly to on-line activism. The issue wasn't whether or not they were on-line, but how to get them to use technology to contribute to the campaign financially or organizationally.
What's the most important issue in the 2008 elections? Why winning of course. How to do it? Why, “It's the networks stupid," according to Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's on-line presidential effort in 2004. Trippi in a written address to the Google panel discussion on 2008 election suggested a completely new era is afoot in presidential politics. The reason? The turbo-charged multi-platform power of the Internet. Trippi pointed to three unprecedented developments to make his point.
First, the explosion in the number of bloggers in 4 years from 1.4 million to 77 million today.
Second, the role of independent initiative of citizen bloggers, one of whom, independent of the Obama campaign created a Million-for-Obama social website that gathered in a few weeks hundreds of thousands of members.
Third, the geometric growth in the number of broadband connections. Trippi suggested we are on the verge of the first Interactive Presidency, where the new president will use the vehicle of on-line organizing, not only to get elected, but to mobilize the grass-roots on-line community of millions to get his legislative program implemented. In other words, to get people active in the process of governing. Think about that. Everything has changed.
In a recent blog, I made the point that most people see the Internet as a means of communication. The Google panelists, who included the on-line directors for many of the democratic and republican candidates rubbed that notion into the dirt. Peter Daou spoke of the Internet use as having three basic aspects: fund raising, organizing, and communications Mindy Finn, who worked for Mitt Romney summarized it nicely as Message, Money and Mobilization.
Daou spoke directly to issue of message claiming that the interaction between traditional and new media forms have created a new dynamic 24-hour “chattering stream” or interactive loop of information. The agenda setting role of traditional media, he said is gone. Now, controlling the flow of the “chattering stream” he suggested is key to winning elections. The candidate who controls the stream is the victor, he said.
Joe Rospers, who heads the Obama campaigns online work pointed to the huge importance of organizing interactive networks around the three principal pillars of the campaign. With 1 million participants in Obama campaign website and another 1. 5 million donors, the campaign has managed through social networks to
a) build campaign constituencies in tens of thousands of communities;
b) bring those people into activity during the primaries; and
c) involve them in several dimensions of the campaign's organizing, fund raising, and communication activities. They have managed to leverage networks of supporters to build relationships between different groups, allowing them to reach out and get friends involved. One example of this was by getting first-time contributors to agree to give a second or third time on the promise that they would get matching pledges from another first-time contributor. They could then communicate with that person, send them messages through the site or directly through e-mail, thereby building relationships and building the movement.
The concept of “networks” is an interesting one that should be given greater attention. Significantly, it is involving millions in new political activity for the first time. I have heard criticism of concept of networks on the left as being a “lower” form of organization, that is, loose, amorphous, too autonomous, faceless, etc. Similar attitudes have been expressed regarding people who join organizations on-line and on-line activism generally. However, the explosive growth of a mass movement around the Democratic party primaries might suggest a rethinking of these attitudes is in order.
No one responded to my earlier blog on Behold the Power of the Internet which raised some of these problems. Didn't surprise me. Wonder if anyone will care to comment on this one. Hey, guys, It's the Networks! Intelligent people.