A new study says more and more Americans are using the internet for political interaction. View the study here:
Wired: study stats
Here I am, talking at you as I have done about politics, getting myself all riled up.
Here you are, reading my [more-or-less] political meanderings.
I follow the backs-and-forths of my favorite political team, the Dems, with my full nerdy might going time-bankrupt keeping up-to-date with my RSS feeds. You may or may not be so recklessly nerdy as I, but you might have signed an online petition or sent an email to your local representative. You might have discovered places online that told you how to get to politically loaded places in the real world (like assembly meetings or rallies). Maybe you contributed to a campaign online or spoke up in a forum with other aware individuals.
Whether or not you’ve done any of those things (and this polling data suggests there’s a good chance you have), so what?
We are organizing ourselves in traditional methods; information comes from a central source (like Lesbiatopia) perhaps in the form of a bleg, and people comment or respond privately or send up original material or what-have-you. All of this winds up communicating back to the central source, which processes the responses and chugs forward.
Many of the web’s most innovative tools—such as vehicles for networking or user media—connect people in increasingly accessible ways. Suddenly, people can interact with one another directly without relying on an organized hub of command, thus enabling individuals with financial- or cultural-capital-earning ideas to make major changes without operating through a mediating force. The majority of the people using these tools for political interaction (as the data from the above poll suggest) are between the voting ages of 18-29.
This marriage of political thought with equality of access [accented with the tantalizing prospect of engaging hot 18-29-year-old politically savvy females] inspires my newest and most pressing curiosity in the field of populism. By using the word curiosity I mean to suggest that I know nearly nothing about the subject except what I have cursorily heard and read. In an effort to spark your interest about populism as I have had mine sparked, I will cite the following:
“The term [populist] is not simply defined by any given issue position. It is instead a ‘politics that champions issues that have a broad base of popular support but receive short shrift from the political elite,’ as the Atlantic Monthly’s Ross Douthat says. ‘This explains why you can have left-populists and right-populists,’ he adds” (8).
Sirota, David. “A Portrait of the Writer on a Bathroom Floor.” The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. New York: Crown Pub, 2008.
Everyone is talking about David Sirota’s new book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. Apparently the guy is a New York Times’ best-selling author, but I’d never heard of him—not until my pretend celebrity girlfriend Rachel Maddow interviewed him on her radio show. All of a sudden I wanted to know a lot more from this guy.
I went to a book-signing (free courtesy of Brave New Films in Culver City) to see what he was all about, and what struck me most was his assertion that the internet has yet to be used to its full capacity as a political tool. I thought to myself, This guy is so old. Hasn't he seen Obama's website? It's an ingenious mixture of networking and activism! Before I had time to ask a self-righteous question about his claim, he cut my thoughts off by pointing out that the position of President is, Constitutionally, the most resistant office to change; the fact that Obama has been able to pick up on popular social networking website constructs from MySpace and Facebook shows not the ingenuity of his staffpeople but rather the magnitude of benefits that already established methods of social networking lend to political discourse. The mere fact that Obama uses them shows how culturally pervasive (and thus politically safe) they must be in that a Presidential candidate would spend resources endeavoring to learn, promote, and wield them. To put it simply, Obama wouldn't bother making my.barackobama.com work like LinkedIn.com if he didn't think it would win him votes.
One might wonder if Obama is a populist force, but the Senator proves not to be; he releases communications, his base responds to them, and he acknowledges the desires of his base to often unequal degrees. This is all standard organizing as mentioned above. The contrast appears when populist members of Obama's base act independently of the campaign, perhaps by organizing smaller groups amongst themselves (e.g. LGBTQ folks for Obama) that operate outside of the central campaign.
I absorbed all this and much more at Mr. Sirota's book-signing but was left with one pressing question. Dutifully, I bought a copy of the book (AND I WAS SHORT $2 SO A MAN KINDLY GAVE ME $2 TO PURCHASE MY COPY. SIR, WHEREVER YOU ARE, THANK YOU AND THE BLESSINGS OF MANY LESBIANS UPON YOU!) and got in line to ask Mr. Sirota my question.
When I got to the front of the line I said, "I'm 24 years old, and this social networking stuff is, like, 1,000 years old to me and my friends. They're self-organizing all the time, but very few of them have any experience or interest in social activism. My parents (who instilled in me a love of justice and the Constitution) grew up in the most politically volatile period in decades and continue to be deeply involved in local to national legislature; however, their generation is slow to embrace all the technology that promises the most. So how do I bring together the experience of our elders with the innovations of our youth to inspire action?"
He didn't really have an answer, but he was upfront about it. He said something like, "Like I said, these tools have yet to be utilized to their full extent. Someone's going to have to figure out how to do it."
I lamely replied, "I'll figure out something!"
He signed, "To Julia-- Join the uprising! David Sirota".
Now I can't stop thinking about it, although I have yet to read Mr. Sirota's book. (I'm still relishing Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present by Michael Oren, which is awesome, by the way.) I keep asking myself, how do we self-organize to inspire change without an umbrella organization? How do we unite bloggers with our aged cultural warriors to kick ass? I'm seeing the buds of inspiration in places like OpenLeft where the "American Blogger" contest is producing fresh ideas every week from bloggers to affect change using normal people in their everyday communities.
But I look longingly at Lesbiatopia and experience an almost metaphysical sensation of the opportunities to incite lesbian revolution that must lie so narrowly past our capacity to perceive them. I feel that the machine to get lesbians in motion for their best interests must intrinsically reside in the html code here, but how do we activate it?
I suppose that an idea of "pure populism" works about as well in practice as "pure loving sharing equality hearts and flowers" does, which is not at all; naturally, a theory of self-organization that pits any sort of us versus them--no matter how noble the intentions--will eventually crumble to in-fighting or change under pressure over who is on the side of whom (much like an idea of total equality will be belied by invariably unequal assets within and among a populace). What I mean to say is, any movement that attempts to rid itself of a central hub will produce, ironically, a leader around which such a movement will coalesce, right?
--but then again, look at sites like youtube or Wikileaks. Even with the increasingly important roles they play in shaming the powers that be and providing laypeople with ways to educate themselves, we cannot point to leaders steering these egalitarian utilities; the popularity of the media within these sites reflects the necessity of useful user-driven content to succeed in a [quite metaphorical] "death-of-the-author"-type way. While the content-producers or "authors" may remain anonymous, we can easily identify the censors who pull the videos and articles from view and the lawyers who make the persuasive demands to pull them.
So we can point to populism, and we can point to its enemies. How do we go from pointing to interacting? How do we, for instance, take a site that points at lesbian interest and transform it into a weapon of lesbian evolution that takes its cues not from your fabulous blogging team but from you, the readers?
Check out David Sirota's blog here, and join the uprising with me. I wish I had some answers formulated for my questions, but like I said, this is brand-spanking-new to me, and quite frankly, to dictate my thoughts to you would be anathema to the spirit of the movement I'm seeking.
My only clue for my questions is anonymity--the one running current I can identify in the "populist" versus conservative hot-topic areas of social interactions as I perceive them . . . .
. . . including the faceless mass of people who hate the occupation in Iraq versus individuals running our government.
. . . including the prescriptively anonymous LGBTQ military members versus the senators, generals, and colleagues who oppose them while all receive salaries paid by public taxes.
. . . including the concealed couples who enjoy the intimate but not civil privileges of marriage versus the registered voters, petitioners, and rallying disorganized religions.
. . . including the anonymous closeted lesbians toiling away under an ENDA that protects no one versus the pointed homophobia of the identifiably ignorant in the workforce.
So maybe that's not populism at all really; I admittedly have a lot of research ahead. Perhaps radical change requires the full force of a nameless majority to impel momentum, and LGBTQ issues would not be considered large enough for the populist stage (although, e.g., 73% of servicemembers polled said they were alright with openly gay servicemembers in the military). Maybe populism doesn't have anything to do with any of this, and I'm completely making all of this up and/or missing the point entirely; it's interesting to ponder whatever it's called, though, right? And you know I'll come clean whenever I finish the book!
Regardless, if any of this stuff at all interests you, please kindly help me along; I told David Sirota I'd figure something out, and right now I got nothin'.