from blmurch’s flickr
Obama’s telecom immunity flip-flop earned him some new press and a online ‘movement’ of 15,000 or so people petitioning him via his website to reject immunity. Almost simultaneously, folks in charge of the DNC announced their policy towards other, more unruly types of protest by basically telling protesters in Denver to go fuck themselves.
On the one hand, this episode shows a potential benefit of candidate internet-openness – Obama was forced to respond to an complaint raised solely by his supporters, changing his agenda and forcing him off message. In a sense, that demonstrates a type of power wielded by net-activists: they can raise issues, reset political agendas, and press candidates on their image. (The case of Trent Lott in 2003 was a particularly telling, if almost cliche example of this type of ‘gotcha’ politics played by bloggers)
On the other hand, it shows the danger of organizing and activism online. The internet, social networking technologies like Facebook, and blogs have a certain, sexy appeal. They make political expression easy, personally rewarding and visible. Folks like Markos Moulitsas become netizen celebrities off the power of their blogging opinions, you can connect with literally millions of people and get them to join petition-groups on Facebook, etc. etc.
But all this seduces more than it produces a viable independent movement that challenges the power of political parties, governments, and corporations. The DNC article from above is vastly more important than the Obama one: it reveals the fundamental disregard American political parties have for their purported constituents. It shows that the freedom of net protest remains only a freedom to express yourself, and not to act in any other capacities. Yes, Obama gave a blog-reply to the petition, but not much else. We don’t necessarily need a revolution to make substantive change, but police/party practices like the one announced by the DNC makes near impossible any movement independent of the state or political parties capable of challenging them on the serious issues that will define our future. And that is a dangerous thing.