It was a gum-bleeding privilege to share the stage with the other members of this panel at the Personal Democracy Forum on Monday. The talk ranged from chihuahua Meetups to MoveOn’s phone parties. (Okay, perhaps not the widest range in all the land.) But what moved me most was a thread of similarity between some comments by Eli and some comments by Dave Weinberger about where it’s all heading.
Answering a question about how technology will fuel campaigns in the future, Dave said “We will be driven to invent new stuff.” Asked about the impact of MoveOn’s tools on the future, Eli said “It’s gonna shake out over the next couple of years,” and later, talking about how a viral campaign catches hold where you might not expect and finds priorities you can’t predict, he said “It goes where it wants to go.” These guys, from their promontory views of emergent politics, know that the best organizer and the best network-builder will only learn the most important lessons by sitting back and watching. Internet-enabled politics is in its infancy, was the general consensus, and it’d be dot-com arrogant to claim a world-altering tool or definitive insight on trends. The Internet Revolution will not be IPO-ed.
Speaking of revolution, I’ve given MeetUp a hard time in conversations in the past – partly because it’s easy to T-P the biggest house on the block, and partly because I do think the model is only as good as the community it’s tapping – but I was really moved by Scott Heiferman. Not because he can be hysterically funny as a speaker, though he can, but ’cause he talked like an absolutely true believer. He doesn’t talk like someone who had a cool idea, read Putnam, and then cut and pasted some of it into his biz proposal. He talks like someone who read Putnam first, got it, and has refused to let go (with chihuahua-like tenacity?).
At the end of the Q&A, David Pollak reminded everyone that real evolution for this field was not going to come in the 2004 national campaign, but in hundreds of local and national initiatives over the next several years–especially if the president is re-elected. The panel definitely did focus on presidential races, probably at the expense of some other issues, but I think that was to be expected. Besides having Scott, Eli and Dean blogger emeritus Matt Gross, it was moderated by Mark Halperin of ABC News, who understood the cultural implications of technology far better than anyone could hope for from a television journalist, but who also naturally brought a focus on electoral politics.
I hope my comments added perspective. I think they did (except for the part where I kinda rambled into an answer). I remember saying that the important distinction wasn’t between TV and the Internet, but between control over a message and word of mouth – sort of an air war/ground war distinction.
Andrew and Jerry and Deb Schultz put together a cool event that helped some timely ideas coalesce. I feel lucky to have been there.