Archive for McCain

CauseWired: Legions of Community Organizers

I’ve been thinking about this since the Republican convention a month ago: isn’t the CauseWired movement the virtual empowerment of thousands – and potentially millions – of community organizers, that class of do-gooders so derided by the GOP nominees in Minneapolis? Sure, I know their derision was about knocking down a portion of Barack Obama’s biography, but I think the focus also revealed a stunning disconnect between a major political party and a major movement in American democracy that is unfolding in public.

I’m going to be putting up some excerpts from CauseWired over the next month as we get closer to publication, and in the spirit of community organizing, I thought I’d share a bit about Joe Green, one of the co-founders of Causes on Facebook:

Joe Green recalls working on the Kerry campaign in New Hampshire during the summer of 2003 and thinking social networks and organizing activists. “That’s when I first saw Friendster and I thought, here is this map of how everyone knows each other.” Friendster is a social networking service founded in 2002 that eventually grew to 50 million users, but peaked in the United States well before sites like MySpace and Facebook became household names. The service had much of what drives online social networks – profiles, photos, and lists of friends and contacts. Green was intrigued at its application on political and social activism campaigns: “That fall I thinking about it a a lot. I asked my roommate about creating social network for politics, but he was more interested in a social network for college students.” [Note: his roommate was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.]

Green went off to work for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in the general election, canvassing neighborhoods in rural Arizona for the unsuccessful Democratic ticket, but he continued to think about combing old-school organizing and new media social tools. set out to build one on his own. After the election, he founded, a non-partisan political social networking website that would let connect with one another based on political opinions. The site was deliberately small in scale and by invitation of other members, and it was designed to try and force intelligent discourse while discouraging flame wars and personal attacks. Its design around small groups of dedicated voices – using political statements called “resolves” to start discussions – hearkened back to Green’s personal experience as an organizer – which began in high school in Santa Monica, California. Green described the formative experience on the progressive political blog MyDD: “I first got active as a senior in high school. Santa Monica had a living wage campaign – one of the first that covered not just city employees, but everyone in our tourist zone. The campaign barely lost but we got a lot of students at our high school involved, many of whom had parents who cleaned hotel rooms in beach hotels for like seven bucks an hour.”

At Harvard, he studied under Marshall Ganz, a professor of public policy and a well-known organizer who spent 16 years working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The lesson was an important one: “Here was Cesar Chavez trying to take pretty much the most powerless people in the country, the people who are closer to serfs than we’ve had for a long time, with almost no legal rights, and organizing them. But first you had to convince them that it was even possible for them to have any impact on all-powerful forces. And once you did, there were no shortcuts. You start with a small number of people, just speaking one on one in a meeting, and you share your personal story, then you convince them to have a meeting, and it’s through these existing social connections of family and friends and church that you grow these movements. Basically you’re organizing yourself out of a job.”

In thinking about modern media technology and old school activists, Green was struck by the potential of online social networking in organizing support for causes. “One hardest parts of organizing is sitting down with the address book and figuring out who everybody knows – the transparency of connections struck me – if we had one of these networks where you knew how everyone was connected, it would be very powerful.”

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A Heartland Political Campaign

So much of the focus this political season is on the horse-race – endless analysis of the daily trackers, swing state polls, trends, and demographic groups. In terms of issues, the economy and American security tend to drown out specific concerns in the national din of election coverage. But there are signs out there that the long-awaited micro-targeting of local – or sub-section demographic and economic issues – is well under way, particularly on the left.

Here’s a perfect example: RuralVotes is a 501c4 advocacy organization focused on progressive initiatives to revitalize rural America. Based in Massachusetts, RuralVotes pushes a progressive agenda that’s in the economic interest of both U.S. farmers and the millions of who live in rural America – issues that, in the organization’s words, include "alternative and renewable energy, sustainable food and agriculture,
bridging the ‘digital divide’ in telecommunications, protecting natural
resources and the quality of life that makes rural America a special
place and other noteworthy endeavors."

Taken as a whole, it’s part of an attempted reinvention of the heartland – away from despoiling agribusiness monopolies and toward self-sufficient rural communities. A lofty goal indeed, but the work is often a combination of statehouse trench warfare and guerrilla communications. Outside of the big yearly Farm Bill, rural issues don’t general find widespread debate on the American political stage.

So I was pleased to see RuralVotes run a highly-targeted rural issues radio campaign against John McCain in New Hampshire, a swing state where Barack Obama is somewhat vulnerable. And then, in spirited of CauseWired activism (yes, that’s a book plug – get used to ’em!) they kicked it up a notch with a viral YouTube campaign, simply taking the radio feed and connecting it to compelling images from rural New Hampshire and a link back to and its terrific BackForty blog. Well done, indeed:

A Nomination Won Online

When Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President on Thursday night, he capped a long and inspiring campaign that set records for fundraising and personal involvement – and he also put the exclamation point on the first national campaign where the winner was determined online.

The numbers simply don’t lie – by any of the metrics tracked by the excellent techPresident website, Obama ’08 was a well-orchestrated online campaign, a wide-ranging cause that got many millions involved in some way via the network of networks. Patrick Ruffini, perhaps the best Republican analyst working at the confluence of technology and politics, doesn’t hedge a bit in his excellent essay today:

Most of the commentary on the historicity of the Obama nomination has focused on the first African American to win a major party nomination, but Obama’s win also signals a shift in the way that campaigns are waged. The broadcast era is ending, and the era of networked politics is beginning.

Without the ‘net, Obama couldn’t have won the nomination. We could say that about a great many things given the closeness of the primary race, but in many ways all the other explanations flow from it to a great extent. Obama’s celebrity — which remains the central fact of the race today — was cultivated online with things like the video. The resources to wage aggressive campaigns in the post-Feb. 5 caucus states came from the Internet. The Internet was not a shiny toy or a silver bullet. It was the platform on which the Obama campaign’s arsenal of silver bullets was minted.

I agree with that analysis; the Internet was central to Obama’s primary campaign – it wasn’t an add-on or a feature or a gimmick. Obama became such a cause online because his team lived and worked and breathed (or so it seems) there. Ruffini roots against Obama, but he recognizes strategic brilliance when he sees it:

I have been constantly impressed at the Obama campaign’s willingness to execute on this higher strategic plain. The normal announcement of candidacy is reserved for local media hits and press. Vanilla. Traditional. Static. Old. Obama led the way in launching his campaign on its first day online.

Now, what worked in the long primary campaign may not work as well in the shorter general election sprint. The txt announcement of Joe Biden as Obama’s safe-choice VP fell flat and suffered from massive delivery glitches. It came across as a gimmick. I suspect the campaign’s use of online video, however, will remain a central focus – it’s hard-hitting, totally viral, and built to convince (or rattle) people easily.

In any case, it will be fascinating to track the wired portion of the campaigning from here on out.