Video as a condiment

A citizen activist asked my opinion of adopting an online televsion platform for activist work. Example:, “communicating what works for America.”

My response: if you’re asking me if I think a citizen’s group should adopt a web version of one-to-many broadcast technology and support efforts to turn the web into television, I have to say no.

I had a conversation not long ago about a diet with meat vs no meat, and the nutritionist I was talking to said that meat should be used as a condiment, not a main dish. That’s probably how you should approach video.

There’s a lot of interest in adding video to web sites, and we’ve worked on projects where it makes good sense to do that. I’ve also worked on activist projects where we used video effectively. You might use video to show irregularities at the polls (something we did in 2004 and others have done since – Video the Vote is a good example. You might also use video to show what mainstream media chooses to ignore – as Indymedia, for instance, has done.

There will inherently be more and more video and rich media online, but we have to think about the context we’re creating. I know there are ways to be interactive in and around video, but I’m still concerned that more video = more passive watching, less interaction. The web promised more: I’m remembering the tag line Paco Nathan came up with for our media company, FringeWare: “Because your television doesn’t love you anymore.”

(Disclosure: I actually do watch televsion, probably far more than I should.)

What do you think?

Hope Art


Found a page filled with parodies of the Shepard Fairey “Hope” Obama poster.

The strong, simple poster hit the nerve of many graphic designers. Fairey, who had been accused of copying style and content of communist propaganda posters, found himself suddenly imitated with numerous versions of his original design. Tutorials and plugins began to appear in the web on how to make your own Fairey/Obama poster, even ready made solutions where you can just enter your own text instead of HOPE.


In my last post, I mentioned that I was one of a group of online community professionals who were attempting to help the Kerry campaign in 2004. Sanford Dickert, who brought us together, has posted his own account.

The team began to work on the plan – and, through the hard work of the people on the team, we had the initial draft that Jock shows on the Greater Democracy post by the self-imposed deadline. The challenge we had was, at that time – the campaign was focusing on fundraising, staffing up and the insanity behind building up for the coming Convention.

But it should be clear – that DemComm was another skunk-works project: no one in the senior staff (with the possible exception of the Dir of Internet) knew about DemComm. We all knew that the goal was to prepare a proposal for the campaign that would be guidance for development – and help in supporting Cam’s community solution. Cam’s proposal (which I think is still one of the better ideas the campaign generated at the time – combining the best parts of threaded discussions, forums AND blogging) – was not accepted due to cost concerns and potential political liabilities (“What if someone said something on a Kerry Community blog that was racist or anti-American? Even though it came from an outside user, it still is a Kerry-branded site…”) So, while we had some of the best people working on DemComm, the challenge was – as a priority, the community effort had a very different focus.

It’s part of a longer piece by Sanford, who I met at the Digital Democracy Teach-In we helped O’Reilly organize in 2004. I had been engaged in trying to corral the social technology and social media experts who had been involved in the various progressive campaigns that season, to find ways that we could work together to build stronger progressive networks. This led to the creation of an “activist technology” group and a very effective workshop Dan Robinson and I put together, and Jerry Michalski moderated, the day after SXSW Interactive ended in 2005. It also led to a sustained connection with Sanford and other collaborators he brought together with similar intentions. I think that, long-term, our efforts and commitment have paid off. I’ve been less involved in politics this season because I’ve been focused on creating a new business, because I’m more interested in supporting multipartisan grassroots efforts than candidate campaigns, and quite a bit because I think capable people are using the tools much more effectively in 2008… as Exley’s piece confirms. For more on the 2004 accelerated evolution of political technology, check out Extreme Democracy, a book Mitch Ratcliffe and I co-edited.

Zack Exley on “The New Organizers”

Zack Exley, who rejected a proposed plan a meeting to discuss a proposed plan for community-centric organizing offered to the Kerry campaign in 2004, writes at the Huffington Post about the Obama campaign’s success in incorporating the “netroots.”

The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization….Win or lose, “The New Organizers” have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation.

Obama’s people are extending the uses of technology documented in Extreme Democracy The Kerry campaign had an opportunity to go there in April 2004, but opted for a completely top-down approach, though a group of volunteers with experience in online commmunity, including Howard Rheingold, Nanci Meng, Tex Coate, Cameron Barrett, Jock Gill, Nancy White, Bob Jacobson, Aldon Hynes, Jerry Michalski and myself offered community organizing plans that could have been implemented with minimal overhead, leveraging technology and volunteers. Jock Gill wrote about this in 2006 at Greater Democracy. Jock posts text from the plan in comments.

Not faulting Zack, who was coming to the Kerry campaign from, an email-based organization brilliant at coordinating activist campaigns, but never effective using social technology to organize the “netroots.” We had been meeting with the Kerry campaign when he came on board and chose not to pursue the netroots approach, working instead with the moveon style of fundraising he knew best, under very real pressure to raise money for the campaign, leaving little time and mindshare for grassroots organizing, the effectiveness of which was iffy in the short term. What we were offering was risky in that it would have taken longer to build effectively, however if we had started then, there would have been a much stronger network of communities committed to the Democratic party, and Obama could arguably have grown his network better and faster. And it’s not that the netroots didn’t organize. Howard Dean continued working his networks to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a very effective netroots emerged through Daily Kos and other progressive hubs.

And the Obama campaign really understood the power of the technology, not just to support fundraising, but to organize effective networks and communities in support of their candidate. I suspect there’s a whole powerful Obama network that you don’t really see because of this focus on building support from the ground up rather than through more visible mass media. It will be very interesting to see the effect of this organizing on the November elections.

Additional note: I’ve been discussing the netroots in a two-week interview with Lowell Feld and Nate Wilcox, authors of Netroots Rising, in a public conversation on the WELL.

Bacevich: let’s get our affairs in order

Maybe I’m a conservative, after all, because I was listening to Andrew Bacevich earlier today and nodding. Bacevich is a real conservative, not a neocon, and I’m thinking he’s got the right message … I was pretty excited by all he had to say:

  • The U.S. has become in empire of consumption, not production.
  • We assume that business must be built on credit, and not on productivity.
  • Americans (and others) are participating in a de facto Ponzi scheme, borrowing with the underlying assumption that the bills will never come due.
  • No one in politics seems to offer a politically plausible solution.
  • Trade imbalances are larger each year. Jimmy Carter was the one president who recognized the challenges awaiting if we refuse to get our house in order &ndash check out his “malaise” speech.
  • Freedom does not equal, or depend on, materialism. Quite the contrary.
  • We might have to modify what may be peripheral to preserver the core of the American way of life. Focus on the way we live and order our affairs.
  • At our best, we have focused on community, harmony, and the future. That last is important: we now think too little of the extent to which we put our children and grandchildren at risk as we squander our resources, which is the same as squandering our freedom.
  • We’re using military power to conceal the real implications of U.S. profligacy. Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 all assumed that power can “fix the world” to sustain our dysfunctional system.
  • We have created an imperial presidency, and congress no longer articulates a visoin of the common good.
  • The National Security State build around the president doesn’t work – it didn’t predict 9/11 or plan effectively for the war in Iraq.
  • No one in Washington DC knows what they’re doing.

At least, that’s what I thought I heard him say… and I’m ready to work on solutions. My business partner, David Armistead, and I are already working on something that might be helpful.

Check out the Bacevich interview on Bill Moyers’ Journal.

“Twelve Tribes” study: religion and politics

A bit of political anthropology via Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman and the University of Akron’s John Green at beliefnet: an analysis of “Twelve Tribes” and their positions on presidential candidates. This grouping, more nuanced than “Religious Right vs Everyone Else,” is “inspired by the twelve tribes of Biblical Israel, but formed around similarities in religious beliefs and practice.” Marc Armbinder at notes that “there is no discernable (sic) trend toward a preference for more government intervention. Indeed, trust in government has declined.” (Thanks to Bob Carlton for the pointer.)