September 10, 2008

(Almost) Liveblogging Conference Call With Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of The Daily Kos

When I registered for tonight's conference call with Markos, founder of The Daily Kos, which is being sponsored by the Courage Campaign, I was asked for my name. I blog anonymously, so there was no way I was going to give my real name. Instead, I gave my blog name, "Media Concepts." When I called in a few minutes ago, the operator asked my name. I stated "Media Concepts," but pronounced the first name like "Medea." It's pretty funny to be referred to by a name from Greek mythology. Anyway, here goes:

6:05 p.m. -- Host: Rick Jacobs of Courage Campaign. Over 500 people RSVP'd for the conference call. Kos has changed the way politics is conducted in U.S.

The call is listen-only, but then questions will be allowed.

Rick is describing Courage Campaign: California based, and does online organizing, but also gets into national issues. Many of these start in CA.
Markos has a new book out: "Taking On the System -- Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era." Introduces Markos.

6:11 p.m. -- Markos thanks Courage Campaign. CC is fighting "hate amendment" (Proposition 8) that would ban gay marriage. CA is a progressive state but gets stuck with some non-progressive politicians like (ousted CA governor) Gray Davis.

Kos talking about his book. He's been an activist for only 6 years, but has come in on the ground floor of the digital revolution that has transformed politics. Wants to impart lessons he's learned through trial and error.

Internet and technology has led to democracy in allowing us to have a greater say. We all know that, so that won't be his focus.

He's focusing on the change in our culture that has led to acceptance of "amateurs." 500 years ago, people who could do many things (Michelangelo, etc.) were revered. But then, society only put their faith in credentialed professionals, and everyone else was riff raff, hoi polloi.

Now, it's getting back to regular folks who are showing great expertise in politics, are writing about it, and are getting great acclaim. They don't have poli sci degrees, they're just self starters. On the Internet, people respond to quality, no matter who it's from. These stars then get famous on traditional media. Kos is a prime example. He came to U.S. in 1980, fleeing civil war in El Salvador.

This is happening in other areas too -- music (create and sell your own), art, filmmaking, etc. Markos runs a network of sports blogs where many people want to have discussions with non-experts who offer quality content.

This makes traditional elite gatekeepers uncomfortable. They have lost control. Amateurs break the rules. Result is disdain toward bloggers.

We're empowered and have more control over things now. Big advance for our culture. Thanks, and I'll take questions now.

Rick: CA Sen. Diane Feinstein wants to run for governor. Her advisers say she'll win, and no one else should even get in the race.
What is the role of organizers and activists vs. gatekeepers known as campaign consultants? How do we go around them and beat them.

Kos: the game is changing. Outsiders are winning more and more. E.g. Ned Lamont winning Dem primary in CT in 2006. CA has 4 0r 5 Dems who Feinstein would have to beat. Fragmented field opens the way for progressive who on-the-ground activists could back. CC should help i.d. some. No more mishmash, retread, damaged candidates.

Rick: How about you run for CA gov?

Kos: That would be a "horrible fate" for CA. I'd be falling asleep at meetings. I'm better as an outsider. Al Gore is a great example of someone who stepped out of elective politics and has a vital platform now against global warming. Politics would diminish his ability to be a cross-partisan champion of the environment. Kos: I'm a good writer, good explainer, good manager of online community.

Callers can queue up to ask questions. They will also read some that were previously submitted by email (I submitted one about fighting back on defense vs. taking the offense during the presidential campaign).

Question: How can we have effective protests in the digital age?

Kos: Current street protests are ineffective. To build popular support through the media, having a crowd on the street & get covered by the 3 networks is obsolete. Many protesters shout different messages. Media doesn't much care. Today, it's more effective to use protest as exclamation point to a campaign around a specific issue. E.g., protest against unfair immigration laws (that would deny public education to kids of illegal immigrants). Another example is Cindy Sheehan's caravan to Bush ranch in Crawford. Big buildup before she showed up. It bubbled up in blogs and indy media. She had a single message ("I want my son to tell my why my son died in Iraq.") It was a huge catalyst that shifted opinion against the war.

6:33 p.m. listener question: Barack Obama needs to repeat his original message of humility and a redemption story (skinny kid, unlikely candidate, etc.). McCain has a great story (POW) that people i.d. with, Obama needs to do something like this.

Kos: Obama isn't doing as bad as some people say. He's doing well state by state. He's getting a lot of advice lately. McCain has a bump from convention and more popularity among Evangelicals who are GOP base anyway. Thought McCain's convention speech was "horrible."

Listener question: Has strategy to turn around economy in CA. Make own biofuels like ethanol and live sustainable. Need a biofuel farm. Use manpower from "corrections union" (? I don't follow her question at all).

Kos: says that sustainable living is a successful movement and campaign that barely existed a few years ago. Clear goal. Divide into bite size chunks. Quotes right winger Grover Norquist re tax cuts: In 10 years, you'll see how much not getting everything you want gets you. Kos: Don't demand everything up front.

Rick: Tax cut advocates in CA have similar goals. What issues should CA voters use to tie to national issues and campaigns?

Kos: better to keep it at state level. E.g. target Republicans who espouse the most egregious tax policies, win more Democratic seats. But long term project needed to fix CA budget. Need to build popular support by traditional means (letters to editor, organizing, etc.) First term of president will be dominated by Health Care and Energy.

Question: any advice on what to emphasize in swing states in presidential campaign.

Kos: find what you enjoy the most and focus on that. Kos hates doing phone banking but others love it. Some like going door to door. Professionals such as lawyers can help by giving their professional time. Montana and ND would be unique battleground states to go to (and they're beautiful).

Question: concerned about keeping electronic voting tallies from being rigged. What can citizens to do keep it honest.

Kos: E-voting boxes can be sketchy, but many other types of voting problems. E.g. 2004 election -- many types of disenfranchisement in Ohio (purging from voting rolls, Democrats didn't get absentee ballots, urban districts didn't have enough voting booths, etc.). We need to make sure barriers to voting broken down before people get to the booth. Need to elect Dem secy. of states. We have one new ones now in Ohio and 7 other states, thankfully. Kos likes Oregon model -- vote by mail, has paper trail.

6:49 p.m. Question: what can we in CA do to reach people in swing states to get Obama elected?

Kos: talk to your friends and family in swing states. No one is more influential to a voter than their close friends and family. Make sure they are registered to vote & that they plan to vote. This is the essence of democracy and citizenship.

Question: Civil disobediance is effective when focused. Do you see any relevance for it now?

Kos: Cindy Sheehan example. She set up camp where she wasn't supposed to. But most effective disobediance used media at the time. Ghandi used newsreels that were shown before movies in the theater. Today, media are jaded. Need something new and different.

Question: How can the presidential race be so close, and why do people believe McCain given his record?

Kos: It's a 50-50 country. McCain has effectively portrayed himself as not a
Bush clone. So has Sarah Palin. Our job is to point out that Republicans are Republicans, and the problem is with their ideology that says Government doesn't work. Bush chose Michael Brown, a "horse lord," to run FEMA because if he chose someone competent, people would believe that government does work and they'd buy into the Democratic ideology. GOP is paranoid that government would work.

Question: How can we get corporate software out of elections?

Kos: Repeat previous answer re Democratic secy of state and increased voting by mail. It's allowed in CA.

Question: How can I convince my relatives who are pro-choice but who watch Fox every day to get online for their information?

Kos: Explain to them what matters. Explore why they want to vote a certain way, and try to present facts and info. on your side. Use the source material (New York Times articles, etc.), not just the editorializing on blogs like the Daily Kos. Don't give up, be persistent.

Question: How should Obama handle Sarah Palin?

Kos: I'm better at analyzing decisions than giving advice or reading popular sentiment. We can't leave her alone. We can't let false media narratives to stick (e.g., she opposed Bridge to Nowhere, she's anti-pork, she's not allied with Ted Stevens). Media won't confront those falsities unless Obama does so first. This is starting to work on the Bridge to Nowhere and pork issues. Obama should stick to issues, not personal or family matters, regarding Palin. She's "Dick Cheney redux."

7:07 p.m. call ends.

That was a very worthwhile call for me, although I just realized that, technically, I didn't liveblog the call, since I wrote the post as it was happening, but published the whole post a few minutes later. It's a learning process.

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At 8:27 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Fascinating as a way to conduct an electronic meeting. Maybe Obama should put Markos on the payroll! I'm most impressed that he came to this country from El Salvador as a 9-year-old and has done so much with his life. I found myself agreeing with just about everything he said. A very practical approach to some very difficult issues.


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