When I was in college at the University of Rhode Island, I first became interested in politics. It all started when in 2003 I helped my friend Kevin campaign for URI Student Senate President — the traditional way. Oh yes, we made flyers, signs, passed out cookies with cute campaign slogans on the wrappers — and some of us may have flirted a bit with a member of the opposite sex or two to try to win a vote or two… like I said, a traditional political campaign! 🙂
Anyway, after Kevin won the election, I became his director of communications and my interest in politics really took off from there. I decided to pursue a second major in political science, volunteered for the college civic action campaign called Raise Your Voice, and ended up volunteering a brief stint for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in Rhode Island, as well as Jennifer Lawless’s campaign to uproot incumbent Jim Langevin from his seat in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District.
While all of these political/campaign experiences were fabulous, they were all conducted in a fairly traditional manner, as far as an outreach strategy and tools go. For example, I think the only way we used social media as part of campaign outreach was when we created a Facebook group for Jennifer Lawless, and I honestly don’t remember how effective it was as a tool. Maybe not that effective if I can’t remember!
Fast forward to 2008. I am working in communications for an environmental policy organization and getting excited to actually vote at the polls (I voted absentee in 2004). What was just as exciting, perhaps, though, was the fact that I was watching soon-to-be President Obama as he revolutionized the first thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto (in this case, campaigns as conversations) with his amazingly effective social media campaign. As Garrett said during one of our first classes, President Obama and his team changed the world with that campagin — that was pretty much how he won the election. Now that is an example of Clay Shirky’s effective tool!
Since I already talked about the tool, let’s talk about President Obama’s promise. CHANGE. It was definitely easy to get sucked in to this promise after eight years of President Bush, and Obama’s tool made it even easier to believe his promise because the effective social media tools themselves represented ways that our society were changing and evolving for the better.
The bargain is that change, unfortunately, doesn’t come easy. Even though it is true that change happened in a big way during the campaign with the fundamental change of how people communicated effectively in human sounding voices, I think President Obama has struggled with fully keeping his promise.
Don’t get me wrong — he has succeeded in making change in some key ways. The recession is slowly turning around and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has some good projects/funding underway. Passing healthcare reform was definitely a big one. But the climate/energy bill is still not going anywhere, and we are still fighting a war in Iraq, just to name two examples.
Honestly though, when I think about the thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto that talks about the effectiveness of humans acting like humans and sounding like humans, I think about the President and his job more like a human and less like a politcally-minded American. Yes, the president promised change, and yes, his campagin used effective tools to get us past that first step and continue to somewhat use those tools effectively two years later, but I think, from this human to human perspective, the bargain is most important to consider. The President has the most difficult job in the world, and he works hard everyday to make the right decisions for the entire country. And the Republicans are likely taking over Congress in less than a week, so that’s another big challenge. So if the bargain is that we might not get all the change we want right away because it takes time and hindering challenges pop up along the way, but in the meantime the President as a human is doing the best he can, then I accept.
American political campaigns have come a long way in just the past six years when it comes to effective social media campaign tools that contribute to making change, and ultimately these interactive tools further help inspire me to vote in what I believe in.
And that definitely has not changed since my first experiences on the campaign trail back in college.
Until next week —
P.S. — Video clip above is one of Jennifer Lawless’s Congressional campaign ads from 2006.