Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama

By Daniel Kreiss | Go to book overview

2
Crafting Networked Politics

On March 5, 2003, presidential candidate Howard Dean and Joe Trippi pulled up to a campaign event at the Essex, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The event was part of the “National Dean-in-2004 Meetup Day.” Over 4,500 supporters gathered at Meetups in over 80 cities across the country. In the weeks leading up to the day, campaign staffers watched in awe as the number of attendees for the Essex Meetup grew to over 300, and they decided to send Dean himself. The candidate and his campaign manager arrived to find nearly 600 supporters packed into the restaurant and huddled on the sidewalks outside. That evening, a commenter on the supporter-run Howard Dean 2004 blog challenged all Dean’s Meetup supporters to donate $10 dollars to the campaign and reach out to 10 friends to do the same in order to raise a million dollars with FEC matching funds by the end of the first fund-raising quarter. The challenge spread across the netroots, with supporters then adding a penny to designate that the contribution came online. The result was over $750,000 in direct online contributions, $400,000 during the final week of the drive alone.1

For Dean, Trippi, and the campaign’s Internet staffers, the events of March 5 and end-of-quarter fund-raising revealed the power of Internet tools such as Meetup, which enabled supporters to organize their own gatherings for the campaign. This story repeated throughout much of 2003 as Dean ascended to ever greater heights. Dean’s meteoric rise—from being an outsider, insurgent candidate to becoming the consensus front-runner among the press corps—had much to do with the campaign’s support at similar Meetup events and the rest of the campaign’s Internet operations. Both fueled Dean’s spectacular online fund-raising and captured the attention of journalists across the country. By the time of Dean’s eight-city “Sleepless Summer Tour” in mid-August, supporters, campaign staffers, and journalists alike declared that the Internet was rewriting the rules of political campaigning. Trippi provided both a language and framework for understanding what was taking shape online, situating Dean’s run as an extension of the “dot.com” boom that had seemingly refashioned much of social life.2 Even more, on May 17, 2003, Trippi declared that the campaign’s role was

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