Kristof: "Tear Down This Cyberwall!"

From Nick Kristof's NYTimes column today:

The unrest unfolding in Iran is the quintessential 21st-century conflict. On one side are government thugs firing bullets. On the other side are young protesters firing “tweets.”

The protesters’ arsenal, such as those tweets on, depends on the Internet or other communications channels. So the Iranian government is blocking certain Web sites and evicting foreign reporters or keeping them away from the action.

The push to remove witnesses may be the prelude to a Tehran Tiananmen. Yet a secret Internet lifeline remains, and it’s a tribute to the crazy, globalized world we live in. The lifeline was designed by Chinese computer engineers in America to evade Communist Party censorship of a repressed Chinese spiritual group, the Falun Gong.

Today, it is these Chinese supporters of Falun Gong who are the best hope for Iranians trying to reach blocked sites.

“We don’t have the heart to cut off the Iranians,” said Shiyu Zhou, a computer scientist and leader in the Chinese effort, called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. “But if our servers overload too much, we may have to cut down the traffic.”

Mr. Zhou said that usage of the consortium’s software has tripled in the last week. It set a record on Wednesday of more than 200 million hits from Iran, representing more than 400,000 people.

If President Obama wants to support democratic movements on a shoestring, he should support an “Internet freedom initiative” pending in Congress. This would include $50 million in the appropriations bill for these censorship-evasion technologies. The 21st-century equivalent of the Berlin wall is a cyberbarrier, and we can help puncture it.

I had more on this yesterday.

Obama's great advantage in the fall election - his modern campaign

I'm quoted in two pieces today on the momentum events of the last few days. One, by the ever-sharp Susan Milligan in today's Boston Globe, talks about why Senator Clinton lost:

More damaging, critics say, is that the veteran staff was operating from an old playbook, misreading the mood of the country and the new makeup of a 21st-century Democratic electorate.

With her promises to wage war on the enemy - be it Republicans, pharmaceutical companies, or oil interests - Clinton made a textbook appeal to the Democratic Party of old: working-class white Americans, union members, and senior citizens. Obama, however, picked up on the physical and emotional exhaustion many Americans felt after the bitterly partisan Bush and Clinton years, and built a new Democratic coalition among young, educated, and independent voters.

Obama had been to 30 states to campaign for fellow Democrats in 2006, and developed a keen sense of the country's mood, analysts said. Clinton, who was obliged to concentrate on her own reelection in New York, traveled to only 14 states to campaign for fellow Democrats in 2006, and did not pick up on the direction the country was headed politically, they said.

"They didn't understand how much politics has changed since the 1990s. They were slow to use the Internet and the new media. Their understanding of the new coalition was imperfect," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network and a veteran of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.

The other, in Wired, talks about why Obama won:

Ever since the internet propelled Howard Dean's campaign to national importance in 2004, observers have expected the web would soon play a pivotal role in electing a president. As Obama makes history by becoming the first African-American presumptive presidential nominee, his campaign is also the first to fulfill that long-anticipated internet promise. With an enormous internet-driven donor base of 1.5 million people, more than 500,000 of whom have accounts on Obama's social networking website, Obama is the first internet candidate to win mainstream success. His online supporters have created more than 30,000 events to promote his candidacy, some of which are still underway in the last primary states of Montana and South Dakota.

"It's impossible to imagine Barack Obama's rise without the modern methods that his campaign used to organize itself, particularly around the internet," says Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the non-profit think tank the New Democratic Network. "This really was the most successful campaign of the 21st century."

"This is what happens is when you have a charismatic candidate, and you organize on a scale not seen before," he adds. "Literally, the size and scale of this is unprecedented in American political history, and it wouldn't have been possible without the money, and passion, and support of millions of American people."

The campaign came up with a number of innovations on the internet. It used wikis -- online collaborative software -- to coordinate and churn out precinct captains in both California and Texas. And it created a counter-viral e-mail campaign to combat the anonymous e-mail smears that question his religious faith and patriotism. It set up policy pages that solicited ideas from supporters, and at one point, the campaign solicited letters from supporters over the internet to lobby the undecided superdelegates.

And Obama's campaign constantly updated its YouTube channel to keep its supporters around the country up to speed on his latest speeches.

Obama's campaign spent significant resources on physical offices in battleground states. But those efforts often came to follow the informal infrastructure that his supporters built ahead of time by finding each other through and coordinating off-line to campaign for their candidate.

The most obvious area in which it led was online fund-raising. Just under half its record-level of $265 million raised so far came from donations of $200 or less, much of which flowed to the campaign through the internet. The Clinton campaign ended up tweaking its fund-raising approach after Obama's initial successes and began asking supporters for smaller amounts of money in online fund-raising drives following each primary victory.

In contrast to Obama's campaign, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has raised only $90.5 million during the same 2007 and 2008 period. Just over a third of his donations came from the $200-and-under crowd. Forty-two percent of it came through contributions at the maximum $2,000 level. For Obama, just under a quarter of his donations came from $2,000-level donations.

Obama's record fund raising enabled him to out-blast his chief rival through traditional television ads in battleground states during the Democratic primaries, as well as build out the physical infrastructure needed to organize volunteers.

But it was also savvy off-line campaigning that boosted the size of his online cadre of supporters, notes Rosenberg.

"One of the reasons that they have so many donors is that they were able to collect millions and millions of names through their rallies," he says, referring to Obama's stadium-sized political events, one of which took place tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place this summer. "It was all part of an ecosystem where they made it clear that they wanted supporters to be at the center of the campaign."

Each of these interesting articles visit themes we've been talking about here for years - the emergence of a new politics of the 21st century. I end this post with a long repost of an essay I wrote in early February right before Super Tuesday which offers a way of thinking about what this new people based model of politics Dean pioneered and Obama took to another level means. To me what we are seeing is the emergence of a virtuous cycle of participation, which I guess could be described as a political version of the network effect. But the key here is that what Obama, David Plouffe, Steve Hildebrand and others have done is to create a new and better model for how we organize our politics and advocacy, one that brings together on and off-line, and that is,simply, a much better model than the old 20th century tv-based broadcast model we all used for so long:

A Virtuous Cycle of Participation - Finally, Obama has one very powerful advantage in these final days that is hard to see and evaluate - the power of his virtual community across the country. We saw the power of this community with the truly extraordinary amount of money it raised for him in January. But equally important in these final days will be the virtual door knocking these millions of people will be doing - emails to their address books, actions on MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites, text messages sent to friends, viral videos linked too, and comments left on blogs, newspapers and call in radio shows. It is no exaggeration to say that this million or so impassioned Obama supporters will reach tens of millions of voters in highly personal ways in the next few days, providing a messaging and personal validation of Obama that may be equal in weight to the final round of TV ads, free media and traditional grassroots methods.

All the way back in 2003, I wrote an essay about this new era of participation in politics that argued the new Dean campaign model was changing the way we had to imagine what a Presidential campaign was all about. In the 20th century, a Presidential campaign was about 30 second spots, tarmac hits and 200 kids in a headquarters. In the 21st century, the race for the Presidency would be about ten million people going to work each day, wired into the campaign through the campaign's site, through email, sms, social networking sites etc acting as full partners in the fight not just passive couch potatoes to be persuaded.

This is a very different model of politics. One begun by Dean but being taken to a whole other level by Obama. It puts people and their passion for a better nation at the core of politics. When used correctly, it creates a virtuous cycle of participation, where more and more people engage, take an action and bring others in, creating a self-perpetuating and dynamic network of support. It is also why the endorsements of entities with large, active virtual communities -, MoveOn - is so meaningful for Obama. He has created an on-line ecosystem that can quickly take advantage of the support of the millions of people now doing politics in this new 21st century way and exponentially grow his dynamic community of change.

The Democratic Party is one entire Presidential cycle ahead of the Republicans in adopting this new model, and I will argue it is simply not possible for the Republican nominee to catch up this year. Too much experimentation, too much trial and error goes into inventing this new model for it to be easily and quickly adapted. It has to be invented, not adapted. I'm sure the GOP will catch up over time, but this year year the only GOP candidate who has taken this new model seriously has been Ron Paul - and they have paid the price. Obama raised almost as much money in January of this year as John McCain raised in all of 2007. Democrats are raising much more money across the board, seeing historic levels of voter turnout, increased Party registrations and millions more working along side with the campaigns - all of which is creating an extraordinary virtuous cycle of participation that continues to grow the number getting engaged in politics as never before. While there can be little doubt that anger towards Bush and disapointment with his government is a driving force behind this, the key takeaway is that the adoption of this new politics by Democrats allowed the Party to take advantage of this tidal wave in unprecedented ways, and will be one of the Democratic Party's most significant advantages going into the fall elections.

Much attention has been given to the money raised by this Obama network. Much more needs to be given to the power of it to deliver message, provide personal validation to friends, neighbors, colleagues and peers in ways so powerful, and ways never seen before in American history. I have no doubt that it has been the campaign's ability to foster and channel the passion of his supporters - creating a vrituous cycle of particpation - into an unprecedented national network - helping amplify and reinforce the power of Obama's argument - that is playing a critical role in Obama's closing the gap with Clinton in these final exciting and dramatic days before Super Tuesday.

The challenge for McCain of course is that he has yet to even begins experimenting with this people based model, and is, at this point, not in a position to catch up. As one begins to handicap the fall election this yawning gap in models between the two campaigns will emerge as one of the greatest differences between the a new and dynamic 21st century politics and what I think will be seen as a last gasp of an old - and failed - 20th century politics.

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