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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Taking Our Country Back presents the previously untold history of the uptake of new media in Democratic electoral campaigning over the last decade. Drawing on interviews with more than sixty political staffers, fieldwork during the 2008 primaries and general election, and archival research, Daniel Kreiss shows how a group of young, technically-skilled Internet staffers came together on the Howard Dean campaign and created a series of innovations in organization, tools, and practice that have changed the elections game. He charts how these individuals carried their innovations across Democratic politics, contributing to a number of electoral victories, including Barack Obama's historic bid for the presidency. In revealing this history, the book provides a rich empirical look at the communication tools, practices, and infrastructure that shape contemporary online campaigning.

Taking Our Country Back is a serious and vital analysis, both on-the-ground and theoretical, of how a small group of visionary people transformed what campaigning means today and how technical and cultural work coordinates collective action.

Excerpt

On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama’s presidential exploratory committee posted a video of the candidate on BarackObama.com. In it, Obama declared that he was formally entering the race for the presidency and that “tomorrow, we begin a great journey. A journey to take our country back.” Obama echoed Howard Dean’s announcement speech nearly four years earlier, on June 23, 2003, in which the former Vermont governor declared that “we stand today in common purpose to take our country back.” Obama, of course, ascended to the presidency—an achievement of which Dean had only dreamed.

More than rhetoric links the campaigns of the two men. Dean’s run came up short, but the insurgent, outsider candidate was stunningly successful at mobilizing his supporters. While ultimately short-lived, Dean’s success was in large part due to the campaign’s embrace of the Internet. The Dean campaign took up an extraordinary array of tools to spur supporters to action and to coordinate their efforts. The campaign was the first to routinely and systematically use e-mail for fund-raising and to deploy a blog to gather supporters. The campaign was also a remarkable site of technical innovation, as staffers and volunteers modified existing technologies to meet their needs and built entirely new tools, including an early social networking application that enabled supporters to find one another and thus coordinate their electoral efforts. The campaign’s organizational innovations were as important as its technical work. Dean’s staffers crafted new and effective practices for mobilizing and coordinating the efforts of supporters online. As a result of this work, the campaign set records for fund-raising, drew tens of thousands of supporters to events, and moved thousands of volunteers to contact voters months in advance of the Iowa caucuses.

With these tools in hand, and with the knowledge and skills gained over the course of an election cycle, a new generation of political staffers and consultancies . . .

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