Moving Beyond Dean

Dana Blankenhorn, in an email thread, has suggested that MoveOn is the logical inheritor of Howard Dean’s efforts. He suggests an alliance of MoveOn and MeetUp to take the value of Dean’s campaign to the next level, with a broad-based local campaign effort.

Here are my thoughts:

At this point, the remonstrances by Deaniacs of people who have lost confidence in Dean is threatening to destroy what has been built. Dean’s is a shaky coalition, at best. And, while it has 600,000 supporters who have contributed at one time or another, it is hardly populist, because the campaign hasn’t successfully integrated any new issues from the grassroots.

Following on what Dana suggests, I think the opportunity now is to establish a permanent activism, one that can have the influence of the Christian Coalition and the roots of a populist movement. We need, in addition to channels for action, reservoirs of information and opinion like those the neocons built starting in the 1970s and 80s. Information is essential to recovering the political center, as it arms people for debate, which shifts the ideological center (now at its most extreme rightward position in American history).

That permanent activism has to happen at the local level, with candidates tapping the resources activated by the Dean campaign. Simply shifting to another Democrat at the presidential level will leave nothing of the “movement.” It has to experience a rebirth at the bottom and spread, during this election cycle and the 2006 election cycle to give a real populist flavor to 2008.

If Deanspace and other tools from the Dean campaign have to come with Dean’s name and cause attached, we should appropriate other tools, including MeetUp, the social networks, and anything else at hand to buttress democracy against another four years of Bush in the White House, whether he wins or not. Democracy is in peril, after all, and that is an important catalyst for action.

I don’t agree that MoveOn is the tool we need. It is an organization, but not a locally focused one and transforming it seems unlikely to me because of its ongoing success raising money and organizing at the national level. Running television ads about the presidential race is useful, but it won’t win any local campaigns.

We need something bigger, many things, many movements that sweep everything from the filling of potholes and local funding for schools to foreign policy issues into a venue for individual and community action that makes citizen action, not the parties, the center of political power.

MeetUp is certainly one important tool that is already successful at organizing local emanations of national movements (from Wicca to Deaniacs). A national system of people’s caucuses would be another valuable tool, I think — and this could be organized through MeetUp. Remember, Pierre Omidyar has invested in MeetUp and the company is looking for something like this. I’d suggest focusing a plan on how MeetUp’s physical meeting facilitation can be exposed as a Web service for a variety of organizing tools to tap. Everything from email/calendaring apps (a MeetUp plugin for Outlook and iLife) to Ryze/Tribe/orkut APIs for scheduling and promoting physical and virtual meetings. Most importantly, build so that it remains a tool for all rather than becoming a captive of a single candidate, so that the network of political influence can exist without a single heroic leader.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

2 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Dean”

  1. I’ve also been thinking of (and asking) what happens to all the Dean supporters once its all over (one way or another). I also thought MoveOn might be a natural place (there already is a huge crossover between Dean and MoveOn members probably starting with ‘The MoveOn Primary’). I am seeing some movement towards supporting local progressive candidates. I just donated money to a local progressive Congressional candidate in my district. It helped that he showed up at the last Dean MeetUp. A whole bunch of people there were sporting buttons and handing out signs for the candidate too. The guy had just lucked into a small but energized group of people, most of whom had not been politically active before. Amazingly, at a different MeetUp, I saw resistance to people getting involved in the campaign of a longtime Democratic Senator. This might have to do with the Dean anti-establishment rhetoric, or something to do with newcomers wanting to work with new candidates, figuring they’d have more traction in their campaign.

    Merging Deanies into MoveOn might work in the short-term. But I’m not sure what, short of the intense common experience of a presidential run, can keep people interested and engaged. I’ll give $50 to help a guy I like run for President. I’ll even give $50 to take Congress back. Will I give $50 to fix potholes? Hmm. Not sure.

    Anyway, aside from all the software you propose (which I totally agree with) there’s a burning need for some decent tools to do hard political grunt work–but with a distributed grassroots flavor. Things like canvassing, phone-banking, and mailing. Without them, we’ll be ghoettoized into cyberspace activism. We need tools for meatspace activism too…

  2. I agree with fubar:new tools are needed to get people together on a local level, not just through the Internet, and not just on national issues. Moveon, the Dean campaign, and Meetup all deomonstrate what is possible, but they hopefully are only beginning steps in the creation of a widespread sense of aroused citizenship.

Comments are closed.