Monday, November 1, 2004

At the End, Remembering How it All Started

Tomorrow morning, November 2, 2004, I'll join many other Americans in getting up as early as possible and heading to the local polling place with a small book and a large coffee. I'll wait in line and see if there's anyone who feels like talking; then I'll wait my turn to make a tiny contribution toward increasing the unemployment rate in Crawford and bringing some early breath of reason and balance to the world order.

Tonight, I am remembering how all this began: how what may have been seen as a dream only a few months ago--that a marginal political figure from Massachusetts could be on the brink of the greatest upset in political history--came to this threshold of realization. It is a reminder of the true substance of a democracy, and the potential that lies, largely untapped still, for the emergence of a truly natural social order.

It began a number of years ago, with an obscure, grassroots organization called, which was formed as an effort to draw America out of the moralistic morass in which it had been trapped after the Monica Lewinsky revelations and the bizarre impeachment hearings against President Clinton. Quietly, this organization attracted interest and followers for its balanced call toward a renewed focus upon the things that matter in political life: advancing the cause of social (and especially racial) equality, making government truly responsive to the needs of the citizens to whom it purportedly belongs, pursuing goals of peace and stability in our nation's international affairs, and building a broad and inclusive foundation of economic prosperity to leave the next generation after us. Moveon, of course, pioneered the use of email and the Internet to advocate for its causes and objectives, and its success spawned a movement that has taken us to this transformative moment in American political history.

Howard Dean appeared, nearly two years ago, to adapt Moveon's methods, approaches, and experience in creating popular and financial backing for his own candidacy. The grassroots movement that his town-hall and online meetings gave rise to, along with his ability to see the vast potential of the Internet in that vein, brought him to the brink of winning the Democratic party's nomination. To all the Dean supporters out there, I offer the following reminder: Howard Dean did not fail. In fact, he succeeded in a way and a degree that few before him have ever succeeded: he completely re-energized the way a political campaign is practiced, and in the process left the smug, hidebound neocons in his progressive dust. History will not care that Dean lost a few primaries or had a meltdown during a press conference in Iowa--it will only note that he transformed the way political candidates connect with voters, and that he attracted millions of once-apathetic citizens into an active sense of involvement and responsibility in the democratic political process.

John Kerry and the Democratic leadership were quick to perceive the value of what organizations like Moveon and candidates like Dean had accomplished; and they were equally quick to build upon that momentum. Kerry's candidacy (especially if it is victorious tomorrow) will be remembered as the first digital Presidential campaign in history. While the Bush propaganda machine focused on inflammatory TV ads, and only relied on cyberspace to give voice to fringe slander groups which spread the kind of lies that wouldn't even make it past the National Enquirer's editorial desk, the Democrats adapted the vision and experience of online groups like Moveon, ACT, and Howard Dean's meetup networks to diffuse a positive, forthright image of themselves and their candidates. This was not the work of a political machine or a closed oligarchy of wonks or advertising executives: this was the creation of an interactive community led by creative people of every stripe and orientation--from Hollywood (led, of course, by Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11, which is appearing on the DISH satellite network online at this very moment) to the arena of popular entertainment (Eminem pre-released his "Mosh" music video online a week before the election) to the world of high finance (while Moore campaigned with college-age "slackers", George Soros spent a month speaking to press clubs and business leaders). But throughout all of this, and informing the spirit and energy of these more famous and well-heeled supporters, were the Moveon bake sales, the telephone parties, and the grassroots gatherings of students, mothers, minorities, and all the anonymous activists whose energy turned a double-digit defeat into a dead heat. All of these people, the luminaries and the anonymous among them, communicated and shared their sense of a transformative opportunity in this nation through the primary medium of the Internet.

John Kerry has shown enough character, principle, intellect, feeling, and pure energy during this campaign to convince me that he is much more than a mere alternative to Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft: John Kerry represents an opportunity for this nation to begin to right itself in the eyes of the world. He has shown me that he has the potential to be a very good president--perhaps even a great one. As long as he remembers that his success arose from the fact that tens of millions of creative and caring people came together for him in a synergistic groundswell, at a time when he'd been declared soundly beaten by many of the TV pundits and pollsters, he will do well by us. And we will be able to look back gratefully upon the first true President of the 21st century, who was given his mandate to lead by the voice of the people, spoken through the synchronistic energy of the World Wide Web.

So thank you, John Kerry, for listening and for following that voice. Good luck, and may the teaching and helping energies of the Universe be always active within you.

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