Gifts & Giving
Public Commons
Social Ventures
Home » Politics

CauseWired Politics: Remembering the Near Past

By Tom Watson on November 4, 2008No Comment

By this time tomorrow, the United States will likely have a new President-elect – and just as likely, he will be the product of the most socially-wired campaign in American history. Maintaining tight message control at the top while freeing up supporters to create their own media, their own campaigns, their own constituencies has paid massive dividends for Illinois Senator Barack Obama. But it wasn’t all that long ago – the cycle before last, perhaps – that politics plunged along pretty much as it had for generations. Here’s a bit of chapter six from CauseWired, which focuses on political organizing and advocacy – sometimes it’s important to realize how near the past really is:

When I was a political reporter in the Bronx a lifetime or so ago, local political organizations ruled the ballot. In those days, there were two basic factions in the near one-party rule of what was then America’s poorest county – the regular organization and the insurgents. One had power, the other wanted it. And both used the same means: armies of volunteers and paid staff, gathering the requisite petitions signatures to gain a place on the election ballot. The organization – called the “regulars” in those days – had the upper hand. Their political clubs were bigger and their volunteers usually included a brigade of public employees who used their time off to work for the very bosses who pretty guaranteed their continued employment – and their chance for advancement. These same political activists also contributed to the party coffers, which allowed the organization to pay for the type of advertising efforts that worked in local campaigns – palm cards, fliers, loud-speaker cars, newspaper ads, and the occasional radio spot.

In New York, each borough had its regular organization – in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn they were Democrats; in Staten Island, Republicans. They often got together for the big citywide races, designating candidates after bruising primary campaigns that took real money to buy television advertising. The insurgents, meanwhile, operated around the edges – running their own political clubs and, if they were very well organized, electing some councilmembers, state legislators and judges of their own. They used the same system of club organization, street signature and campaigning operations, and patronage. Often, they put themselves into position to cut a deal with the regulars and thereby help make a candidate for boroughwide or citywide office.

Thus, there were two tiers to political access – the party insiders and the outsiders who still knew how to run the machinery well enough. In cities all across the country, in suburban districts, and in rural counties, the de facto system has remained very much the same. The two keys to real political power were patronage and money – forever intertwined. Contributions went through the big, organized groups – jobs and candidacies flowed the other way.

Then came the grand disruption: a change in political organizing still in its infancy, but capable of rewriting how we operate this republic. That disruption uses the CauseWired digital tools to displace the entrenched powers, creating new organizing levers for changing public policy and bringing new candidates to the fore. Sometimes, this involves major political campaigns – but sometimes, it’s just about local issues or putting the pressure on incumbents to change their positions. In all cases, it’s about ordinary people plugging in and linking up to create political change.

Share This Post
[] [Digg] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.


#cgi2010 Allison Fine Barack Obama Beth Kanter Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Clinton Blogs Case Foundation CauseWired Changing Our World Clinton Global Initiative Corporate Social Responsibility Disasters DonorsChoose Facebook Facebook Causes Flash Causes Fundraising Fundraising Nightmares Giving Pledge GlobalGiving Haiti Hillary Clinton Kiva Lilya Wagner Mario Morino Millennials Non-profit organization Nonprofit NonProfits Philanthropy Planned Giving Politics Ron Paul Skoll Social Actions Social Media Susan Carey Dempsey Susan Raymond Ph.D Tom Watson Twitter United Nations Women YouTube


Philanthropy News

Sites We Like


onPhilanthropy and DotOrgJobs are published by CauseWired Communications, LLC - copyright 1999-2011, all rights reserved.