Monday, December 22, 2003

It's the Movement, Stupid

Napster Runs for President in '04

Frank Rich wrote a terrific, insightful piece in yesterday's sunday times. the big point, which also applies to the recent Gonzalez campaign is that it's not about the candidate, it's the movement.

"...The elusive piece of this phenomenon is cultural: the Internet. Rather than compare Dr. Dean to McGovern or Goldwater, it may make more sense to recall Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It was not until F.D.R.'s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force.

"...Such has been much of the reaction to the Dean campaign's breakthrough use of its chosen medium. In Washington, the Internet is still seen mainly as a high-velocity disseminator of gossip (Drudge) and rabidly partisan sharpshooting by self-publishing excoriators of the left and right. When used by campaigns, the Internet becomes a synonym for "the young," "geeks," "small contributors" and "upper middle class," as if it were an eccentric electronic cousin to direct-mail fund-raising run by the acne-prone members of a suburban high school's computer club. In other words, the political establishment has been blindsided by the Internet's growing sophistication as a political tool � and therefore blindsided by the Dean campaign � much as the music industry establishment was by file sharing and the major movie studios were by "The Blair Witch Project," the amateurish under-$100,000 movie that turned viral marketing on the Web into a financial mother lode..."

when Gonzalez surprised everyone with his amazing grass roots campaign for Sf mayor and near upset, the pundits all said it just showed that the Dems and Republicans needed to change their strategy, appeal to a younger audience, use the internet, blog...blah, blah, blah. what they all missed was that this isnt about changing a party platform or tactic, business as usual, it's a broad based power shift. Newsom wouldnt have fared any better by using the net more or changing his platform to appeal to young voters (75% of whom voted for Gonzalez, many casting their first vote ever!). this was the machine vs the people and like an ant colony they lacked any leadership or stated organization. most of the 48% of SF voters who supported Matt would never consider voting 'Green" (3% of SF is Green party), however, we all shared a common purpose. we wanted a voice. we wanted to pick our own candidate. we wanted someone who was clearly the people's choice, not some guy who was chosen for us years earlier. anyone who lives in SF knows who the people wanted. even though Newsom spent $40 for every vote to Gonzalez's $4. even though Newsome had the in person support of Clinton, the chronicle and the Dem elites. nobody could pay enough or spin enough to get young people on corners jumping with signs. nobody could pay enough to convince lower income latinos in the mission to put Newsome signs in their windows (virtually all yellow Gonzalez).

the main truth that none of us (here in SF) have yet acknowledged is that we didnt support Gonzalez because he was some amazing new candidate who would save our city. in fact, i was terrified of what an unknown, Green party candidate might do. we supported matt because it was fun. it was fun because we felt liberated by the idea of actually picking a guy and making him mayor. i guess this is what all those power brokers in DC get off on. the difference was that it was the first election i've ever voted in where i actually felt like i was making a conscious choice for something i wanted and had a voice in, rather than a depressing and pointless process of rubber stamping some big machine candidate who we all know represents the guys who paid for the TV which convinced us all that this was the only guy who could win anyway.

and i want to add right now that i rarely vote and i'm proud of it. why? i cant tell you how many times i've heard my friends say (and i'm really hearing their parents and teachers) "if you dont vote, you dont deserve an opinion." bullshit. i didnt vote for Bush or Gore. i didnt want to support the fake fascade we comfortably call democracy. while i am inspired by the potential for democracy, it is a concept that will rock the current powers to their core on the same level as the former kremlin or central government in china. while i dont envision a tianamen square, i do think they wont go down without a fight. we saw a glimpse in the last days of the Newsom campaign where we witnessed disgraceful smear tactics like claiming Gonzalez supported exploiting Mexican workers or 'raping the rainforest' (common, the guy is from the GREEN Party! how dumb can you be?).

our generation is often called selfish and apothetic because we dont have siti-ns and carry peace signs in the streets. i would describe it as smart and pragmatic. where our parents moved from hopelessly idealistic to boring fall-in-line establishment, we have chosen a different path. we have rejected their hypocracy. but we also dont fight battles we cant win. we dont bother voting when the candidate and sometimes election was decided before we ever showed up. we care just as passionately about our issues but have remained disenfranchised. we have lacked a voice because we have never had a voice.

we're on the verge of a shift in american political power which will be our own version of 'bringing down the wall'. namely, we're moving from a command and control, TV based communication system where small, monied interests have long commanded outsized voices to a decentralized, internet based system where grass roots campaigns spreading with napster ferocity have the chance to finally win.

"...Should Dr. Dean actually end up running against President Bush next year, an utterly asymmetrical battle will be joined. The Bush-Cheney machine is a centralized hierarchy reflecting its pre-digital C.E.O. ethos (and the political training of Karl Rove); it is accustomed to broadcasting to voters from on high rather than drawing most of its grass-roots power from what bubbles up from insurgents below..."

and the Dean campaign isnt about Dean.

"It's almost as if Dr. Dean is "a system running for president," in Mr. Johnson's view, as opposed to a person." this is exactly it. i've said for years that 'the process is the platform'. it doesnt matter if Dean wins just as it didnt matter that Gonzalez lost. the point is that we the people learned as Charles Bukowski so eloquently wrote in 'Barfly' that we've been 'living in a cage with golden bars, and the door is open.' in other words, like the Gonzalez campaign before it, Dean needs to accomplish no more than simply prove to us all what is possible and then like the Matrix, we will look at the machine and see it for what it is. we will look at the democratic process and see the whole map. we'll see exactly what it takes to win a presidential election and then that will spread to all other major offices. This will reshape American politics in ways few of us can forsee.