Partners in our fight

Our good friend Jerome Armstrong offers up lots of interesting thoughts about the Democratic Primary in a new post on mydd.  I strongly recommend it without offering any comment on whether I believe it is accurate or not. 

We at NDN and NPI believe we are in the midst of a profound media and technology transformation, one that is ushering in a whole new era of communications that we call "post-broadcast."  Yesterday I wrote about the most important change in this media revolution, the way television is changing.  My piece reflected on how people are swiftly leaving the old 20th century media platforms, and looks at how the Romney campaign is experimenting with a very new 21st century television model.  In his essay Jerome intelligently reflects on the 2nd great change, the arrival of the internet in politics. 

To me what the internet has done more than anything else is lowered the barrier to entry for average people in politics.  A whole new set of cheap and easy to use tools is allowing politics to come to people in more personal, intimate ways.  These new tools allows campaigns and organizations much greater ease in managing relationships with literally millions of people, something not really easy to see or understand until the Dean campaign came along. 

If the broadcast age was about passive consumption, this new age of communications and politics is about participation.  People want to be partners in our fight, not donors to a cause or passive consumers of a candidate's message.  Remember that what is now perhaps the most powerful show on television is one that allows active and sustained and meaningful citizen participation - American Idol.  Success in this new era of politics requires groups or candidates to treat folks as partners and participants, not "couch potatoes."

This is a big change.  It is a cultural change, an operational change, a fundamental change in the way politics and society at large operate.  How one manages this change and this new reality is becoming one of the most important measures of political or advocacy success in this emerging century. 

On the progressive side the organization that has best embodied this "new politics" is Moveon.  Moveon really is only the sum of all the small actions of its individual members, working together towards a common cause and as true and valued partners in the fight.  This model has allowed Moveon to gather more email addresses than the DNC, and to blossom into perhaps the most influential progressive organization in the nation today.  And yes this is an organization without a real office, a dozen or so folks scattered across the country and headed up by a couple brand-new to politics. 

Another way to think of this transformation is to think of a Presidential campaign.  In the 20th century, the age of broadcast, when one thought of a Presidential campaign one thought of a 30 second spot, a tarmac hit and 200 kids in a headquarters.  That was the campaign.  Today, when one thinks of a 21st century Presidential campaign one needs to see millions of people - perhaps in 2008 tens of millions of people - going to work every day as true partners in the fight to elect the candidate.  They can get daily emails or text messages or perhaps even this cycle more complicated intergrated multimedia; they can read blogs and other sites to stay connected; they can share their passion through blogs, their own blog or a variety of social networking sites; they can give money and encourage others to do so; they can email, text, post, link or phone others to take action including giving.  But the key here is that a campaign now has the ability to harness the energy of so many now - as advocates, bloggers, contributors, doorknockers, signholders, etc - as true partners in the fight. 

This is a radically different model, and of course, a much better model than the old. It brings people back into the core of politics in a way they simply haven't been in the broadcast era.  It took Dean 6 months to get 160,000 people signed up on his site in 2003.  My guess is that Obama is close to a million already through his site, facebook, myspace and other means.  We are four years further into this new age of politics, and thankfully, more and more people are asking to become meaningfully involved in the future of their country.

The question that this begs is - what do we want all those people to do other than give money? If folks are true partners does that mean relinquishing control? How much control? What role do they really have in the campaign and how does it stay real?  The answer to all this is the secret sauce now, perhaps the most important key to 21st century politics. 

But figuring this out is worth the struggle, the experimentation, the letting go for the upside is so extraordinary.  Wouldn't you want 10 million people on your team, fighting it out each day, as valued and trusted partners, rather than than relying on the support of a few hundred kids scattered throughout the nation?  I know I would.  And this new age Jerome discusses in his essay allows that.  The question he raises is do the campaigns in this cycle understand all this? We all know Dean and Trippi did.  Do the folks running today's campaigns do too?