Organizing inside

When Barack Obama reversed his position about the bad FISA bill (that updated US surveillance law by pruning the fourth amendment), Obama supporters didn’t just get mad, they organized. What’s new is that they used Obama’s online social network, to organize their opposition to their candidate’s position.
Barack Obama’s campaign has been innovative in using online social networking to organize his supporters — it’s a milestone like FDR’s use of radio, Kennedy’s use of television, and Viguerie’s use of direct mail. But a social network is not like radio or direct mail. Participants can talk to each other and organize. This is the first well-known instance of a candidate’s supporters organizing using the candidate’s tools. I don’t think it will be the last.
The FISA opponents lost this battle. Marcy Wheeler’s debrief shows that the participants are learning lessons for the next battle, not just about online organizing or even messaging, but about longterm strategy and tactics, understanding the unwritten legislative process; dogging committees; and organizing primaries against key adversaries.
The discourse about social media often sounds like marketing rebranded; how to market to the buyers inside the social networks. But the people in social networks can talk to each other, and that’s a fundamentally different thing.

Blogher, consumerism, community

The Blogher party last Saturday night was at Macy’s, which is a propos. Conventional wisdom is discovering that a network of women bloggers is the next generation of women’s magazine. This isn’t a sellout shock like yoga fashion; it’s not as if BlogHer comes from any kind of ascetic ideal; the founders of BlogHer came from media, and intended from the first to be a new kind of commercial media; The early BlogHer conferences had sessions on how to make money from your blog; now the dream is starting to come true.
Also, there is a basic difference between Parenting Magazine and home blogging – a journalist writing about being a parent and quoting parents in little snippets is different from people writing about their lives. A feature article with quotes from 5 families is different from a comment thread with people talking to each other. The number of voices and kinds of voices in a handful of mass-produced magazines is going to be smaller than the number and kinds of voices in the blogs of individual women. And folk culture does its own transformations of the products of advertising.
And yet there’s a big caution from history. One of my favorite books, Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s More Work for Mother, tells the story of the way that advertisers helped construct the culture and identity of middle class women in the age of automation. Laundromats and storebought clothing might have enabled women to do other things with their time than clean house and sew; and early feminists argued in favor of using automation for liberation. Makers of soap and manufacturers of appliances allied with people who believed that women’s place was in the home, to advocate that women ought to clean clothes more often instead of using their time for other things. When the sources of revenue are makers of consumer goods, how does this affect the lives and conversations of those of us dependent on that revenue? How reluctant do we become to bite the hands that feed us?
There were some excellent sessions on women working in open source communities developing blogging tools; hopefully we will continue to create ourselves as makers not just consumers. I talked to one woman who has a video project on the history of feminism; I hope that the community continues to host that sort of work. And I am hopeful that the lesson of the Obama campaign is that social networks are and remain tools for organizing at the same time as they are tools for marketing.

Glad to be in California, #53

The first time I heard the radio ad on the network news radio station, I was driving in traffic and wasn’t sure I heard what I heard. The next time I listened closely. “We’ve been planning this day for a long time” says the woman’s voice. Kathy and I want the day to be special. “Rick and I wanted to a symbol of our love and commitment” says a man’s voice. The radio-dignified voiceover: “Shreve and Company. A San Francisco tradition.” Schmaltzy, yup. Consumerist, check. An every day sign of culture and values. Also yes.