Aaron Marks asks if we are on the verge of a rightroots movement. The answer to that question depends on what we're organizing around: new tools or specific political objectives?
The last couple of months has seen a flourish of conservative organizing on Twitter. Now, we have DiggCons, complete with hashtag.
As someone who just crossed 3,000 followers on Twitter while writing this post, I'm just as thrilled as anyone about these developments. But I feel compelled to add a caution.
If these new movements don't evolve beyond efforts to colonize insert-Web 2.0-property-here, reacting to perceived liberal dominance of these spaces, we will not move the ball forward. That's because strategy must always precede tactics. A unifying goal to organize around is inevitably more compelling than cheerleading for specific tools. The end goal should not be to dominate, or keep ourselves from getting buried on Twitter or Digg. The goal should be to (eventually) dominate the American political system through the strategic use of all the tools at our disposal, including e-mail lists, fundraising, blogs, social networks, Twitter, or tools that don't even exist yet. In terms of how we communicate to the outside world, blog / Twitter / Digg triumphalism should be kept at a minimum, and a statement of our ultimate political objectives -- delivered in clear, non-technical language that even late adopters can understand -- must be in the foreground.
If you want a great example of goal-based online political organizing, look no further than Chris Bowers' call to his readers to pressure Democratic members of Congress to support no-name liberal legislation that would normally die in committee. This is actually a useful and serious political objective the realization of which just happens to be made easier by technology. But there is no tech-triumphalism in this -- just a hard-nosed political goal.
In many ways, the Open Left example mirrors the initial development of the conservative and liberal blogospheres. Conservative blogs in their early days featured a lot of blog-triumphalism, with "Carnival of X" serving as the precursor of a hashtag. This self-referential activity was good at building lots of interlinking between blogs -- but meanwhile, the left was beating us by organizing around concrete political objectives outside the political blogosphere. Raise Money for Candidate X. Defeat Bill Y. There is a lesson there. Anyone, whether an existing user of the tools or not, will be drawn to the goal, and will eventually latch on to the tools as a way to achieve the goal. The netroots was not self-consciously about dominating blogs. It was about routing around existing failed power structures to achieve concrete external goals, and blogs just happened to be the readiest tool in the arsenal.
People like Justin Hart are working to convert the right's energy on Twitter into dollars for candidates and organizations. And #TCOT has a whole slew of action projects, including a campaign to realize the 435 District Strategy and pressuring RNC members to get on Twitter. Given that Twitter is best used as a person-to-person medium, this is actually not a bad way to personally influence the 168 who elect the next Chairman to make sure our concerns are heard.
As someone who conspired in the creation of a hashtag around the wedding of one of The Next Right's founders last night (Congrats, Soren!), I know what great fun they can be. But if our goal is to exert real-world political power and convince the late adopters to follow, we might want to think about organizing our movement around things that are more serious, and less meta, than another hashtag.