This is a guest post from Delaware blog friend and former Libertarian candidate Steve Newton.
I have argued for years that if Liberals/Progressives in the Democratic Party want to fight the corporatist wing of the party for dominance, they have to employ a model not too far from that used by the Tea Party in fragmenting and then dominating the GOP.
But reading Thomas Friedman’s new book, “Thank you for being late,” has presented me with a new way of thinking about the rise of the Tea Party, and while I am not through digesting the implications entirely, I think it is too good not to share.
First, note when the Tea Party really came into existence. Ron Paul places the real birth of the movement in December 2007, and while different authorities differ (some “Tea Party” tax protests go several years further back) on exact dates, Paul’s has the advantage of capturing the first major fundraising event by a loose national association of groups. Most dates for the beginning of the Tea Party movement as a serious infiltration of the GOP run between late 2007-early 2009.
Hold that thought.
Friedman, in the early part of his book, explains why a twelve month period in 2006-2007 was critical in shaping the modern world we inhabit a decade later because there was literally an explosion of new technology. He cites the following:
- Facebook was opened up nationwide to everyone over 13 (before that, restricted almost entirely to college campuses).
- Twitter came into existence.
- Google bought YouTube and launched the Android operating system for phones and tablets.
- ATT created the first “Software enabled networks” that allowed cell phone traffic to increase 100,000% over the next seven years.
- Amazon introduced the Kindle.
Now keep in mind that prior to this the focal point of cutting-edge media use in politics had been the Daily Kos (since 2002), but most analysts tend to agree that the influence of the Kos peaked around 2007-2008—partly because Obama won, and partly because the platform upon which it was delivered had an again demographic.
But the Tea Party arrived right when Facebook, Twitter, Android, Kindle, and “software enabled networks” did, and it is clear that these were the primary tools used for connecting and coordinating various local organizations into a national network.
First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting local groups to the national conversation.
“I didn’t really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement,” said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania’s Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).
Puig said much of KTP’s online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.
In process terms, Freedomworks in particular was not a “Daily Kos of the right” but a project designed to link like-minded groups into a national agenda and coordinate national activities.
None of which could really have happened without that explosion of digital media tech just as the Tea Party was starting to raise money. I am split on whether it was an unconsciously opportunistic process, or whether the organizers actually notice and intentionally seized on new tools. Either way, it is difficult to postulate such an effective political organization being mobilized so quickly without them.
My point is NOT that Progressive/Liberal Dems need to ape the Tea Party digital media strategy; I don’t think it would work. What needs, instead, to happen, is some key folks with the money to create a spoke-type linkage equivalent to Freedomworks, need to take a look at the changes coming in digital media now and over the next two years, and exploit them. They’re out there. Many of them are almost ephemeral in nature (like our kids’ attention span for political discourse), but our kids understand them.
Food for thought: technology controls the potential for political progress by a determined minority. Always has, I think, but maybe now more than ever.