15 December 2005

Three Blind Mice...

...see how they run. I'm talking about Martin, Harper and Layton, of course. The blindness to which I refer is their collective ignoring of a large, nominally disaffected constituency who are relatively removed from the broadcast media (i.e., few-to-many media, including television and the press) in which the current election campaign is primarily being run. Among a very large demographic of people who don't watch television and don't read the mainstream press, relatively little of the major parties' respective political "messages" are getting through. And, for these people - largely voters up to the age of approximately 30, but definitely those between 18 and 25 - their lack of attendance on voting day is not so much a result of being apathetic, so much as a lack of connection with the process.

As an aside, I would say that a lack of connection with the process is a malady that affects many Canadians, irrespective of age. One major intended effect of broadcast politics as it is currently waged is precisely that: to disconnect people from active engagement with the demoncratic process, and instead, hypnotize them with slogans, quick fixes that are "good politics but bad policy" (a phrase that I've heard repeated after the daily partisan policy announcement), and attention focused on irrelevant "issues" rather than on thoughtful deliberation. (An example of this is the emphasis on change for the sake of change, with little thought given to the nature of the change, the effects of the change alternatives, and so forth.)

But all of that is not really the point of this post. None of the English Canada campaigns have an online presence with which people can truly engage. (The Bloc Québecois, to their credit for cluefulness, have a blog on which people can leave comments, including those that express dissenting views. Vive le Québec discours libre!) Those that have blogs use them as either comic relief, or as merely another broadcast medium. The lessons of the "Howard Dean Experience" concerning engagement are two-fold: First, by allowing comments, you encourage people to become engaged in conversations with the campaign, and coversations are the beginning of involvement and commitment. Second, by actively encouraging supporters to set up blogs (that is, by creating blogrolls on the campaign blog, by linking to entries in supporters' blogs - you know, all the regular bloggy stuff) you encourage those who have reach into communities that the main campaign cannot reach to "get out the vote" among those who wouldn't otherwise vote. That's why was saw the likes of "Punkers for Dean," "Bikers for Dean," "Grannies for Dean," and even "Born Again Christians for Dean."

Last night, I heard a piece on CBC Radio One's The World at Six in which a person, presumably in her twenties was interviewed at her business. She said that she doesn't watch TV, and were it not for "Moe," would not be interested in the election and would likely not vote. The reason: the mainstream parties are completely ignoring her. Moe, on the other hand, is representative of an incredibly influential political power. He has an email mailing list 5,000 strong, and he's not afraid to use it to influence otherwise unreached and unreachable potential voters. Most "Moes" around the country have blogs, connections, networks and, most important of all, credibility. While they cannot be co-opted by the major parties, they can become connected. All it takes is the major parties to realize that the Internet is not a broadcast medium, but a medium of connections, relationships, conversations and engagement. Sounds a whole lot like democratic processes to me.

If you find the insights of this post interesting, why don't you stop by the main blog page for more?

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1 comment:

Mark Hamilton said...

I remember federal elections campaigns up until the late 1980s when candidates, including party leaders, actually engaged with voters face-to-face: town hall meetings that were truly open, public forums and speeches to which everyone was invited, and the like. Voters were more connected because they saw the candidates, they heard them speak, they felt the press of the crowd and whatever fervour there was.

I doubt we'll see those days ever again, but the 'net does return some of the ability to build that common experience back into politics. The problem is that political handlers aren't ready to face the primary lesson of the online aspects of Howard Dean's campaign: it only worked when they gave up control and allowed supporters to be truly engaged in what was happening.