July 02, 2003
Have the Ants Hijacked the Democrats?

Doc Searls’ thoughts about Howard Dean’s huge Internet fundraising numbers got me thinking…

A political party ideally would be a living expression of anthill-community-ism. I mean, anthill communities are communities of purpose, and what’s more purpose driven than getting your guy elected?

However, over the last fifty or sixty years we’ve seen this type of party activity disappear in the United States. Parties today are really nothing more than funnels to route money, either to officeholders or to people who want to be officeholders.

Don’t believe me? Try this — ask your friends if they are registered members of a political party. Odds are that many of them are. Now ask them when the last time was that they went to a party meeting. For that matter, when the last time was that their party asked them to do anything except give money and vote on election day.

Parties were born as ways to harness the power of grass roots; today, though, the grass roots have dried up and politics has become a game of the elite, by the elite, for the elite.

It’s looking more and more, though, like Dean is succeeding in building an insurgency within the Democratic Party, fueled by party members’ desire to have a say in the future of their own party. Regardless of whether or not you think he’s a good candidate, he’s definitely energizing the ants on the left like nobody else is.

Will this be good for the Democrats in 2004? In my opinion, probably not. The reason is precisely because these ants have been stepped on for so long; when that’s happened to you, you don’t think clearly, you think in terms of emotion and anger and teaching the S.O.B.’s a lesson. And then you throw your support behind whoever best gives voice to that sentiment — and that’s a sentiment that plays better in party primaries than it does in a general election.

Does this mean that we need less Dean-style organizing, though? No, it means we need more of it. We need to remind people that politics is something that we all have a role and a voice in if we’re going to retain whatever tatters of a functioning republic we have left. We need to get to a situation where people being involved in the future of their society is less Big News than it is everyday reality. If anyone wants to start leading the way there, though, they could do worse than to take a few tips from the Dean campaign on how to get started.

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at July 02, 2003
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