Continuing from my previous post, the Joe Trippi book, “The Revolution will not be Televised” is chock full of good stuff. I’ll reiterate again, that the lessons of US Politics don’t translate 100%, but there are some home truths revealed there. I know you want to hear about the magic bullet, how the Green Party can transform politics, and really kick ass, but these posts are a slower journey through Trippis career, and the general methodology of political campaigning. If we can understand the intended function, and motivations of the Dean campaign, then we can better hope to duplicate it’s success in our own unique circumstances.
In Chapter 2 of this book, Trippi related how he had watched with fascination while one of his opponents, Gary Hart (Trippi was on the Mondale team), did something dramatically different from the normal machine campaign. He came into town, and instead of addressing a crowd, and zooming away for another meeting, Hart would arrive, and have a quiet, lengthy meeting with a smaller number of active, and influential people. He would turn his charm on them 100% for hours, and win them over, then move on to the next town. These people were left behind as committed supporters, dropping a word in their friends ears. Harts influence steadily grew, long after the machine politicians visit was forgotten. Trippi was to apply this lesson later for Dean, and in a big way.
From Chapter 3 in the book, Trippi writes about the time when he moved from Fieldwork, and on the ground organizing, to the media and message realm of politics. Boy is he down on TV! It must have sucked to earn his living doing something he felt was icky and repulsive, but he determined to excel, and claims that he did so. Positive Message is about analysing strengths of your candidate, and reducing them to 30 second spots. The vast bulk of US politics takes place on Television, which is of course a passive medium. Since the paid component of TV is overwhelmingly 30 second spots, there is simply no time to discuss ideas, or policy. You need simple, compelling messages, and ideally a really visceral set of images to go with it. It needs to be visceral, because the audience is bombarded with ever more ‘compelling’ messages daily. Knowing they are being bullshitted, they filter out all but the most compelling driblets.
There are two ways to win a campaign. You can either build your own candidate up, and get your voters out, or you can tear the other candidate down, and get his voters to stay at home. Guess which type of message is easier to turn into visceral images, and quick compelling messages? Especially when the desired outcome is a LACK of action, (Going out to stand in line and vote), it’s plenty easier to keep people at home, than it is to motivate people to get out there in a line-up.
What we are left with are literally billions of dollars of advertising competing to get the OTHER
guys voters to stay at home. When people are bombarded with what goddam creeps politicians are, surprise, surprise, they get turned off politics altogether. Politics stops being about ideas at all, and for Trippi, TV is the passive medium that drives this process. This of course takes huge amounts of cash, which in and of itself is perilous to the governance of the nation.
For Trippi, Field organizers are continuously looking for tools to ID their supporters. In a subsequent campaign, he put an idea to work to work positively through TV. At every single opportunity, his candidate, (in a gubernatorial race) held up a large card with a 1-800 number on it. It worked! They got tons of people calling in, identifying themselves as supporters, and being pitched one-on-one. Obviously though, this would take a lot of telephone workers.
Now, by 2002, the Internet had more than passed it’s infancy. There was a really substantial number of users, and there was a growing plethora of functional tools that were accustoming people to spending, communicating, commenting, and being more participatory online. Especially amongst younger demographics, there were a growing chunk of people who actually spent more time online than watching TV.
When Trippi met Howard Dean, he was really impressed by him. He saw a genuine, and unscripted guy, who he felt had the ability to be a great President. After a long romance, he finally agreed to join the Campaign. The campaign was 2 years too late to run a ‘normal’ presidential bid. There were a few thousand potential supporters names on business cards, paper lists, and even napkins stuffed into a pile of shoeboxes. The money was practically non-existent, and there were about 10 people in a musty 1,000 sq. ft. office. It was imperative that they build a nationwide campaign, and had about a year to do it. The fact is, that doing classic fieldwork, it would take hundreds of organizers, and millions of dollars to even get the ball started rolling. There just weren’t enough heads to plan a fraction of the required structure.
In a nutshell, the campaign had to massively decentralize the campaign. They had to positively engage thousands of volunteers, and start ID’ing supporters. The Hart campaign had shown how quality interaction with people won a lot more than a few votes, it won you active advocates. The Internet had started to come into it’s own, and was a uniquely interactive, and inviting medium. The Dean Team didn’t really know that they could have an inspiring outcome, but they didn’t have much choice in the matter, so they hired a webmaster, hooked up with some bloggers, and started the Dean for America Campaign.
The lessons I would draw from all of the above for the Green Party, is that a 100% positive message will really set us apart from the pack. TV is a waste of time, except inasmuch as it can pass along a simple compelling, and differentiated message. How about, ” We are the Party of positive ideas. They’re important, and compelling, but 30 seconds is too short to tell them to you. Don’t waste your vote on the same old, until you have visited our website at www.greenparty.ca , where you can learn for yourself how we intend to improve the country, and your life.” Our website better be a whole lot better than it is right now, but that’s a whole other topic. In addition, our website should actively seek interaction with ALL visitors. Invite them into a green community, with open unmoderated forums. Currently, the website is locked down, and doesn’t even invite people to register as a supporter! There are hundreds of thousands of visitors who might easily click a button, and go on our ID’d supporters lists, but today they don’t have that invitation.
I guess this post has been a ‘backgrounder’. I’ll get into more nuts and bolts of Trippi’s Dean for America campaign on my next post.
Filed under: election readiness, Election Tactics, Organizing, Political Strategy | Tagged: Canadian Election, election readiness, green party canada, Green Party of Canada, green party organizing, political organizing |