John VanDyk has been innovating with information technology for more than 20 years. Read more...
Drupal, Grassroots Political Activism and the Ron Paul Campaign
There is a battle going on for the control of information. The powers that be (traditional news outlets) are increasingly being challenged by widespread independent media sources including bloggers and journalism-enabling sites like NowPublic. It is the difference between "Good evening. This is what the news is." and "What is going on in the world? I'll find out." The change from one to the other is inevitable.
In politics, this is an important change. Instead of politicians claiming that this or that is "the will of the American people", that will can actually be tested by listening to the people because the people now have a voice. The first real example of this was the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Dean used DeanSpace, a community CMS based on Drupal, to raise massive internet support.
In the current U.S. presidential election, the candidate who is using the internet most effectively is Ron Paul. Like Howard Dean, Ron Paul's support on the internet is massive. While his main website does not run Drupal, the Daily Paul is a popular site about the campaign. It's managed by Michael Nystrom and it runs on Drupal.
What I find interesting about Ron Paul's campaign is that while Howard Dean had support from the mainstream media (representing the traditional "we will tell you what is important" position), Ron Paul seems to be virtually ignored by the mainstream media; only the Washington Post has covered him. Thus, he represents the first test of how well grassroots internet campaigns can fare when they are pitted against, and not supplemented by, traditional media.
Perhaps the Long Tail, while effective economically, is ineffective politically at the present time. When Ron Paul, a pro-life Christian obstetrician and ten-time Taxpayer's Friend awardee was excluded from a forum put on by the Iowa Christian Alliance and Iowans for Tax Relief in Iowa, eyebrows were raised and his supporters on the internet were quick to unearth the fact that the forum's organizer, Ed Failor, is a senior advisor to the McCain campaign and otherwise involved in Big Politics. But can they convince Iowans to vote for Ron Paul in the Iowa Straw Poll? They have until August 11. That remains to be seen, and would take a tremendous logistical and monetary effort.
While all that is interesting, times are not static. The young people who make up a significant portion (though not by any means all) of Ron Paul's support have grown up with the internet. They do not go to the television Evening News for their news. They do not have landline telephones that are called by pollsters. They are used to using news aggregators, where media bias is apparent. They're savvy. And -- here's the key -- they are making up an increasing percentage of the public.
So while Ron Paul's campaign may not succeed, the battle between old and new media, between the powers that be and the widespread dissatisfaction with those powers, between corporate power and individual power -- that battle will become increasingly heated.
For myself, I'm glad to be involved in an open source project like Drupal, which, in addition to being a platform for individual voices, is in itself a microcosm of individuals working together to achieve a communal goal.