Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
A Recipe for Conflict
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
Dean for President
Howard Dean will be the next President of the United States, Jock Gill, the Clinton advisor who put the White House online and the President's email public, told the meeting of Dean supporters I attended.
The reason for this prediction is because Dean is the first Presidential candidate to understand that the internet is powerful tool for grassroots self organising and to use it as a means of harvesting discontent with top down politics.
Before you laugh at this geek fantasy, consider that in last 3 months Dean has raised more money than any of the corporate candidates seeking the Democratic nomination and has created a network of 55,000 activists who meet regularly in hundreds of places across America. Dean won 139360 votes (43%) of leading Democrat political action fund Move On members online primary, way ahead of the other eight candidates.
A new reality in political campaigningDean's success has stunned the conventional wisdom of Washington centered politics. Dean's campaign understands what insiders don't.
Howard Dean is the five term governor of Vermont, a small new England state previously only famous for Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Bernie Sanders the America's only Socialist congressman. His Presidential candidacy was as improbable as that fictional New England Governor Jeb Bartlett . It would have undoubtedly would have been crowded out by the declared conventional candidates except for the Iraq war.
Where leading contenders Joe Lieberman , Richard Gephardt, John Kerry and John Edwards all voted in Congress to support the war, Dean stood against it. In doing so Dean became a hero to Democrats who are sick of their party seeking to be indistinguishable from the Republicans. Dean used the opportunity to steadfastly promoting a pugnacious, optimistic, forward-looking message across a range of issues and couple it with a campaign organization smart enough to let his supporters help him.
People powered campaign
The use of Meet Up technology where people can arrange their own local meetings to meet up with like minded people where they decide what they will decide to do for the campaign. Last Wednesday over 300 meetings were self-organised for over 55,000 without any central direction. Unlike the other campaigns the supporters feel like they own the campaigns because they make decisions about what they will do next.
I attended one of these Meet Up's in London, where Jock Gill spoke. A group of people who had never met before decided they were together going to do their bit to defeat George Bush. The feeling was 'Together we could make a difference'. This is the power behind the campaign of people who felt powerless who now feel they have power.
The donations reflect the 'People powered Howard' campaign theme .The average size of a Dean contribution is $72 , including 48,000 people who have never donated before. A lot of small donations over the internet beat the other Democrats corporate fundraising. A showdown next year between the obscene levels donated by America's corporations for Bush and peoples pennies is on the cards.
Good bye focus group. Hello blog
To visit Dean's Blog for America is to understand that the web is not a brochure or one way medium like TV. A blog is a discussion board where people have a conversation.
On Dean's blog, the message-board threads have acted as constant, ongoing, focus groups for everything the Dean says and does. Plenty of ideas adopted by the campaign start out on the threads of the Dean blogs, say Dean campaign aides, and the Dean for America Internet team is constantly updating and modifying the site in response to the posts. Dean himself blogs with supporters.
The blog reveals a startling level of intimacy and transparency about the campaign. It is something alive and involving them for the thousands of supporters. The power of the campaign is not so much in the use of technology but what it empowering opportunity it provides. To quote one blogger:
I think the media and other candidates think Dr. Dean's power comes from the internet and it doesn't... it's just a tool that lets us hear each other, when big money and the media want to tune the people out. It's what Dr. Dean has to say and who he is as a person that motivates me and to get involved."
This seems to be the key as people seem to be supporting Dean because other people they know and trust are supporting Dean. The campaign magnifies the voices of friends and relatives above the voices of those with influence or power.
This is the truly democratic revolution behind Dean's campaign.
What it means for labor
Organised Labor in the US is watching the Dean campaign closely. The AFL-CIO intends to meet latter this year with the aim of maximising Labor's support behind the candidate that it believes can deliver for workers in the Primaries. Dean has the endorsement of the Vermont Federation of Labor and enjoyed a 100% COPE voting record as a governor but Dennis Kucinich John Edwards and Richard Gephardt are strongly promoting their labor credentials as well. Certainly the adding the considerable resources of the AFL-CIO Working Families online campaign resource centre would be a powerful fit with Dean's impressive campaign.
Its a long way to the first official vote are held in Iowa and New Hampshire and even longer to November 2004. Whatever the outcome there are lessons for Labor in Australia as well. If there ever was an example of how technology could be used to support the organising model of Unionism, this is it. For Federal labor looking for harness a loathing of Howard in an electorate that finds them uninspiring, it shows the benefits of reaching out and speaking up for you supporters, and allowing them to speak for themselves.
Dean's announcement of his candidacy declared his faith that old style citizen driven politics with new technology can defeat Bush .
We are the great grassroots campaign of the modern era, built from mouse pads, shoe leather and hope.
Indeed we can only hope.
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