Ari Melber happens upon what could be an important moment in the history-in-the-making of participatory, self-organized online politics: Barack Obama supporters used his own network to organize a protest against his actions on telecom immunity.
Now if a campaign is going to argue that it’s truly grassroots, what is it to do with a revolt or protest from within? I’ve argued since Howard Dean’s run in 2004 that campaigns aren’t or can’t really be bottom-up when it comes to policy. They are necessarily propagandistic: This is what the candidate says. Indeed, Dean’s supporters acted like white blood cells in his blog discussions quite effectively surrounding and strangling dissent and opponents in the bloodstream. That’s the way campaigns have to work if you’re going to decide what this guy stands for and whether to vote for him, right? It’s about the message, no?
Ah, but when it’s a grassroots organization that makes you — rather than a party — and you say you’re beholden to them not to special interests and big money and lobbyists, well, then you really are beholden to them. If they rise up from within to tell you that they don’t like what you’re doing — when they use your own organizational tools to do that — then I’d say you ignore them at your peril. Live by the crowd, die by the crowd.
It so happens that I agree with Obama on this issue (and I know my view is as unpopular as his). When government forces you do to something then that force must come with immunity. The problem is not the telcos going along but the government making the demand and there being no check on that. But that’s a different debate.
I have disagreed with other things Obama has done since getting the nomination. I am profoundly disappointed in him for his decision to turn down government campaign financing. He stood on expediency not principle. I also find tragic irony in the fact that the best reason to vote for him is to turn around the Supreme Court before it is too late (if it isn’t already) and yet Obama endorsed just the kind of decision I dread coming from a right-wing court: last week’s ruling on handgun bans. So should I go into MyBarackObama and try to organize pressure groups from within who agree with me? Should I encourage my fellow Hillary Clinton supporters — now that we’re all unified — to do likewise to try to get him to promise truly universal health coverage? Why not? In the open organization, what’s yours is mine.
I find two things fascinating about this: First, we are beginning to see a campaign built openly on coalitions. Even though I disagree with them, I am happy to see the anti-immunity lobby crack the monolithic, glassy-eyed facade of the Obama fan club (the sort of people who yell at me in my comments and tell me I’m not allowed to disagree with him about anything). Thank goodness we see disagreement and discussion — democracy — inside a campaign. I believe the greatest impact the internet will have on politics will be that it enables like-minded groups to find each other and organize apart from old organizations and labels (red, blue, Republican, Democrat); we will organize around issues and priorities rather than parties. See the comments under this post.
Second, I wonder what these self-organizing groups will look like when they get into power. The Deaniacs and Joe Trippi made valiant attempts to stay organized after their campaign melted but that didn’t work. If Obama gets into the White House, though, will his supporters at MyBarackObama continue to use these tools to influence him and government? And will he have to listen because he is beholden to them?