What really differentiates a social movement from a political campaign? Is there even a difference? In this week’s reading, both Trippi and Shirky discussed how the Dean for America campaign struggled with defining its role as one or a combination of the two. Using Dean’s open source, web-based strategy as a foundation for my analysis, I’ll advance Shirky’s argument that the Dean for America campaign was more similar to a social movement than an actual political campaign. I’ll add to the argument by suggesting that through interactive blogging and MeetUp tools, “definite supporters” started talking to each other about social issues rather than talking about the political candidate they claimed to support.
Trippi (2008) connects his understanding of the Dean for American campaign with the idea of being both a social movement and political campaign. In doing so, he describes it as “the Great American Conversation—a dynamic online discussion of our country,” stating that one of the campaign’s most redeeming qualities was its ability to get people to start chatting and meeting up with one another to talk politics (140). It was this vivacious conversation, Shirky (2007) suggests, that ultimately created a “bubble of belief,” which then made it hard for the campaign team to see that the voters weren’t really convinced that Dean deserved their vote. Instead, they “suffered the same temptations as the campaign workers to regard our fellow citizens as ‘definite supporters,’ … supporting a movement rather than a campaign” (10).
When I read about how much the Dean campaign was influenced by the ideas of individual bloggers, I came to the conclusion that the presence of an “institution” (the actual campaign team) became a lot less influential as a guiding body. When the people started to realize that this was “their movement,” the message that the people could make a difference became more important than Dean himself as a political figure. In other words, the ideas propelled the campaign forward rather than the actual candidate. By relying so heavily on peer-peer communication and less so on the guiding organization of a campaign team, the effort disbanded as quickly as it had grown, under the veil of “interactive” Internet communication.
Do you agree? Disagree? Was the fact that the campaign resembled more of a social movement responsible for its demise?