Reprinted from BeyondChron.
Markos Moulitsas’ new book, Taking On the System, is not really about political blogs. One would expect the founder of Daily Kos to write about the netroots (and his book offers plenty of anecdotes about how they’ve changed politics), but it’s really a guide for how ordinary people can make an impact in the 21st Century. Moulitsas writes about how the Internet has democratized the process – making old gatekeepers like party bosses, media moguls and even record companies less powerful and relevant than before. But modeling himself after the late Saul Alinsky, Moulitsas offers plenty of pragmatic advice for political activists – like “stay on message,” “how to handle your enemies,” and “pick your battles” – that was applicable in an earlier era. In the 21st Century, however, more can play this game. Taking On the System is a resource for progressives hopeful about November – but anxious about how to keep that momentum going in an Obama Administration.
The impact Daily Kos and other blogs have had is so well established that anyone picking up Taking On the System will probably be familiar with it already. But what Moulitsas argues is that he’s really no one special: any citizen can use the Internet to bypass the traditional gatekeepers who once decided which political candidates were legitimate, what wisdom was conventional and even which songs became hits.
Activists don’t need to hold press conferences and hope the media shows up – they can create their own media with a blog. Political candidates getting started don’t have to kowtow to the same rich donors – if they have a compelling grass-roots message, the netroots will embrace them. Even musicians don’t need to be “discovered” by recording executives to make it big – now they can use social networking sites like MySpace.
It’s not about destroying the gatekeepers, says Moulitsas. It’s about using the Internet (along with a compelling product) so you can simply by-pass them. “Technology has unlocked doors and facilitated a genuine democratization of our culture,” he writes. You don’t need anyone’s permission to start an online movement: it was ordinary people who stepped out of their comfort zone to recruit Jim Webb for the US Senate, create MoveOn, and launch an annual blogger convention that culminated with Netroots Nation.
What activists need to understand, said Moulitsas, is what technology medium is most effective in their time period at getting out a message that will influence conventional wisdom. Gandhi used newsreels to push the narrative that the British were exploiting the Indian people. Television helped dramatize the civil rights movement in the 1960’s that galvanized a country to its cause. But the era of mass visual rallies that grab attention on the evening news are over, he says. Another thousand people in the street just isn’t news today.
In fact, Moulitsas is very critical of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan – because she too quickly fell into the obsolete model of ‘60s protest no longer conducive for the digital era. After activists spent years marching in the streets against the Iraq War without changing public opinion, Sheehan’s plea to meet President Bush in Crawford, Texas put on a human face that most Americans could relate to. But once Camp Casey became a circus for every left-wing group, it devolved into the same type of ineffectual protest we’ve all seen before.