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The Real Value of the Dean Campaign
Jon Lebkowsky, 27 Dec 03

Jim Moore, author of The Second Superpower Rears Its Beautiful Head, has just become the Howard Dean Campaign's Director of Internet and Information Services. He's blogged a couple of important points about that campaign's online organizing, applicable to online activism in general:

  • Meeting offline, face-to-face, is critical.
  • We're building activist networks that we can sustain beyond any one campaign.
Building activist networks, which are goal-oriented social networks, is what it's about. Political parties gave us a centralized approach for sustaining coalitions based on ideology when our communications were limited to snailmail, telephone, and broadcast media. With the Internet we can find affinities and form coalitions with a speed and agility that traditional party structures can't match – or comprehend. The politics of the future is about sustained affinity networks that can form ad hoc coalitions around specific issues, and the leaders of the future will be those who find resonance with that Internet-enabled new reality, as Howard Dean and Joe Trippi have done. In a recent post to his blog, Jim says
To win we must find more and more ways to deepen the support that online organizing provides for face-to-face community.  Face-to-face meetings generate and feed the intimate daily personal communication networks that help people stand up to the media-driven information assaults that currently define politics as usual.  Face-to-face community involves identifying local people who share your values, obtaining social permission to get together and talk politics, sharing information and developing understanding, and taking meaningful personal action to play a part in a larger political whole.
This resonates with discussions over the years among those of us who have lived some part of our lives in virtual or online communities, where we've learned that community relationships are strengthened and deepened by face-to-face gatherings.

Political analysts talk about Dean's success in raising money via the Internet, but they miss the social value of the campaign's clueful Internet strategy. In the past, grassroots presidential campaigns tended to fail because they couldn't compete with established party machinery in reaching enough voters nationwide to win an election. The first grassroots presidential campaign to make at least some use of the Internet was Ross Perot's, and he at least succeeded in influencing the outcome of the national election.

Dean is the first candidate to establish his viability via online organizing, though, and he's succeeded partly because he hasn't insisted on complete control. Dean volunteers are empowered to create web sites, weblogs, and other innovative online presences as volunteers. A community of open source developers have created a complete content management system, Deanspace (originally called hack4dean) to support the campaign. Deanspace is a customization of Drupal, an Open Source platform for web applications, sort of an application server and sort of a content management system. Drupal has many modules to support many kinds of functionality, including weblogs and content syndication. The latter two items are perhaps the most valuable: as built, Deanspace facilitates easy sharing of blog items among Deanspace sites and aggregation of content from any or all sites.

Before Deanspace was created, the Dean campaign was effectively using Meetup, an online tool that facilitates face-to-face meetings, and Dean volunteers were communicating via Yahoo groups. These groups and other email lists were used to organize house parties in neighborhoods across the USA, and those house parties used teleconferencing to give Dean a chance to talk and field questions. There's also the Dean Issues Forum for discussion of Dean's policy positions, Deanlink and GetLocal for finding other Dean supporters and building your own social network, a site for endorsements, Project Deanlight for Dean ads created by supporters, and many others.

This isn't just about Howard Dean. The relationships and activist communities that emerge from this campaign, the real sense of empowerment, will persist whether Dean wins this particular election or not. And activists everywhere will use these and increasingly better tools to form coalitions, and ordinary citizens will expect and demand increasingly sophisticated platforms for participation in Democratic governance. The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.

(Note: This is an extension of a blog item originally posted here.)

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Mister Franklin's Folks

Mister Franklin’s Folks began when a small group of people decided to bring a solar fountain to the local farmers markets, swap meets, and outdoor community events and began to generate public power. Each week, they’d float the solar electric panel and pump on the water in a tub and the little fountain would splash and spray. The brighter the sunshine the higher the water would go. Children loved to turn it on and off with their shadows, jumping into and and out of the sunlight , making the water dance and themselves laugh. Older kids asked questions and so did some of the adults. “What’s it for? How does it work? Why are you doing this? So what?”

The exhibit was labeled, “Solar Fountain/Wishing Well” and some coins lay at the bottom of the tub. There was a big can labeled “Donations” on the table under the shade of an awning or umbrella where one of Franklin’s Folk sat with a portable computer and a collection of books, pamphlets, leaflets, cards, and stickers. The car, van or truck parked behind them was full of working models and public experiments, product demos and testing equipment. The computer had a wireless connection to the Internet and could print out paper copy or burn a CD. For a donation.

Each week, from Memorial Day to the week before Thanksgiving, throughout the farmers market season, they’d be there . Each week, they’d set up the solar fountain and present a different demonstration of solar ingenuity and practical power. When they said power to the people, they meant it. 

The Franklin Folk said “Your south-facing window is already a solar collector but we can show you how to use it.” They provided designs and projects that began by caulking and sealing and ended with a complete one room, one window HVAC and electrical system for daily and/or emergency use.

They liked the little solar/dynamo radio/flashlights that were out then. “A solar/dynamo and a set of rechargable batteries is a perpetual source of personal AA electrical power - at least until the batteries wear out. You should have power as long as the sun keeps shining, you can turn the handcrank and the batteries hold a charge. And when the batteries die, all you have to do is go out and buy some new ones. That is, unless we’ve changed to fuel cells or flywheels by then.”

“If you have a bicycle or exercise equipment, you can probably install a generator device and provide another lifetime supply of AA power from that, too!” They had the plans so you could do it yourself and a bulk buying club so that people could save money on parts and supplies. “Let your kids make their own battery power from sunight and a little exercise. Power your Walkman with a walk on the treadmill.”

They did simple experiments like the one with three boxes of air - three small, transparent, sealed boxes all the same size, each with a thermometer. They set them out in the sun - one box totally transparent, one box covered in white insulation board except for the side facing the sun, the third box with black insulation board. Two thermometers measured the temperature of the outdoor air, one in the sunlight and another in the shade. The Franklin Folk at the table could display the day’s results for you on the computer in a variety of different ways.

They called themselves Mister Franklin’s Folks because, like Benjamin Franklin, they believed in ingenuity and thrift. They quoted Poor Richard:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have.

Every little makes a mickle.

A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly.

Spare and have is better than spend and crave.

Like Mr Franklin, they were experimenting with electricity but instead of kites and lightning, they were looking at the sun for energy independence and building the idea of a renewable economy use by use, appliance by appliance, socket by socket, room by room.

One day, one of Mr Franklin's Folk pointed back at their car and said, "This car is now a hybrid vehicle. We modified it to charge an extra battery and can switch that battery with one in the house to run another room or part of the household. Many of us Franklin Folk are reducing our electrical bills considerably. Eventually we want to use the the grid only for back-up and you can too. With the money we save, we'll be able to install enough solar electric panels so we can begin to run the meter backwards and the electric company will have to pay us."

Other days, they had information on how to keep a pantry and food storage. Not only did they teach people how to can and salt and dry foods but they also helped organize buying clubs and bulk purchases in season to save everybody money and help the farmers in the local agricultural system steady their income and cashflow. At the farmers market they displayed maps of all the agricultural resources in the state - farmers markets, pick-your-owns, farmstands, CSAs, community gardens and farms, coops, buying clubs, community kitchens, food pantries and feeding programs. They had composting and worm farming demonstrations, taught gardeners how to lengthen their growing seasons, and encouraged the public planting of fruit trees and berry bushes throughout the city and town.

“Spare and have is better than spend and crave.”

"A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly."

"Every little makes a mickle."

"A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have."

They quoted Poor Richard's old home truths but put them into an ecological survival context. Each week they offered practical lessons in real thrift or how to save a fortune while saving the environment, the community, and the world.

"Franklin established the oldest working cooperative in the United States, the Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss Against Fire in 1752. It was called the Hand-in-Hand, after the symbol of four hands grasping four wrists in a form commonly known as a Jacob's Chair. It was their fire mark, a sign they put on the houses they insured so that their volunteer fire department would know which houses it had responsibility for. A volunteer fire department not associated with the Hand-in-Hand would just let the buildling burn.

How might Mister Franklin be doing business these days?

Benjamin Franklin was one of the early researchers into the Gulf Stream. How would he deal with global warming and the ozone hole, let alone local pollution? He invented an odometer to set up postal routes and was the first postmaster general of the United States. How do you think he'd feel about the Internet? He published the first political cartoon in North America and refused the job of writing the Declaration of Independence because he would not be edited by anyone but himself. 

Benjamin Franklin was a printer, writer, editor, newspaper, magazine, and book publisher. How do you think he would have felt about modern news outlets?

These were some of the things Mr. Franklin’s Folks brought to their table at the farmer’s market or church social and neighborhood celebration week after week all that year.

Posted by: gmoke on 27 Dec 03

hey it's like the wired article :D

but (steven levy says) beware!

"Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

"To those exposed to the Panglossian euphoria of Net enthusiasts during the 1990s, this vision seems unbelievable. After all, wasn’t the Internet supposed to be the defining example of empowering technology? Freedom was allegedly built into the very bones of the Internet, designed to withstand nuclear blasts and dictatorial attempts at control. While this cyberslack has its downside—porn, credit-card fraud and insincere bids on eBay—it was considered a small price to pay for free speech and friction-free business models. The freedom genie was out, and no one could put it back into the bottle."

Posted by: smerkin on 28 Dec 03

hey just thought this was remakrable: greens and conservatives alike offering dean some good advice i think!

"I think, for example, that the Bush administration is far more vulnerable politically than the Democrats are probing, or exposing. I refer people to which has my letter to George W. Bush from a month-and-a-half ago about the Texas State Republican Party platform of 2002 which has 25 positions diametrically opposed to the Bush administration. It's basically the platform of the conservative libertarian republicans who are furious all through the South, including other states, with the Bush Administration on the PATRIOT act, the invasion of privacy, the erosion of civil liberties, NAFTA, GATT, huge deficit, corporate welfare subsidies. It's surprising that the democrats are not probing a wedge that would depress Bush's vote. There are a lot of ways that to depress Bush's vote that the democrats have to be educated on."

"In many ways, Bush's supporters have devised a more powerful critique than anything Bush's opponents have come up with. Their complaints point to mismanagement and incompetence, never words one wants associated with foreign policy. Given the high stakes that the administration is playing for in Iraq and the war on terror, Bush's process failures make him far more vulnerable on national security issues than one might imagine."

he could well be a bullmoose :D

"I just ran across the Bullmoose Republican site, complete with multiple blogs. The strange thing about them is reading their four pillars, they don't sound like republicans at all. They don't sound like democrats either, though their stance makes them sound centrist to me. I suspect a party like this could gain a lot of support, but I doubt next November's choices have much in common with these folks."

alas, sage/astute political observer joe klein notices a disturbing trend! (or rather a lack of one :),18471,562114,00.html

"There is, however, another statistic that may put the Dean phenomenon in perspective. On Sept. 30, Dean had approximately 452,000 Internet supporters. Trippi said the goal was a million by the end of the year. Last week they had only 515,000. The New-New movement may have reached a plateau. Then again, doctors have been known to change their diagnoses. The devotion of his followers gives Dean the leeway to take the movement in any direction he wants. One can only wonder what the next New-New thing will be."

Posted by: smerkin on 30 Dec 03

The irony is that the Bush campaign may be hipper to the Internet than the opposition, using multiple onlne angles of attack to Dean's, which is fairly unidimensional (blogs and websites). Zephyr Teachout, Dean's Outreach Coordinator, is a walking encyclopedia of Bush grassroots online efforts, which she has called to the attention of the Dean campaign. Only recently has her awareness apparently translated into counteraction. Deanspace, as a motto and organization, is now cast in the role of the status quo -- and is proving no more gracious than dominant actors before it (e.g., IBM and Microsoft) in welcoming other IT possibilities into the mix.

Posted by: Bob Jacobson on 2 Jan 04

We have also the odd situation that Bush's supporters, who have a very different mindset than Dean's, welcome bad news about their champion. Every tree felled, every military overstep, every ally alienated, every poor child left behind -- these things appeal to the Bush supporters, who remind me of the dinosaur and the fawn in the classic animation spoof, Bambi: squash. The more we get the bad news out about Bush, the stronger he becomes among his supporters and others used to being victimized. Better to talk about Howard Dean and his positive side, to use IT for organizing the political campaign, than merely spawning more negative news stores about Bush -- few of which achieve their aim of deflating the President.

Posted by: Bob Jacobson on 2 Jan 04



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