Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era By Markos Moulitsas Zuniga Celebra, 2008 288 pages, hardcover, $23.95.
There's passion. And intrigue. And big egos and big voices. And that's just the jacket copy. From Markos Moulitsas, founder of the self-proclaimed "most influential political blog in the nation," comes Taking on the System, a manifesto proclaiming that technology has leveled the playing field and now, true democracy, whether in choosing musicians or politicians, has begun. Vox populi, and all of that.
With galvanizing chapter subheads like "Crush the Gatekeepers," "Cultivate Your Allies," and "Advance and Hold Enemy Ground," Moulitsas stirs up his rhetoric with a military spoon and dishes out truth: "Without the media, little can be accomplished. If you cannot influence the flow of information, you cannot effect change on any substantial scale." Here then are examples of how some have bypassed the traditional top-down media to make their voices heard.
Since 2004, targeted pressure from bloggers chipped away at the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a centrist think tank with strong ties to corporate America, to the extent that by the summer of 2007, none of the eight contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination made time to attend the DLC's annual convention. They did, however, attend DailyKos' annual conference of bloggers, held one week later.
MoveOn.org, now with 3.2 million members across the U.S., began in Eli Pariser's apartment on September 12, 2001, when he e-mailed a bunch of friends asking them to contact their legislators and urge a nonmilitary response to the events of 9/11. As Moulitsas comments, "Pariser did not develop a ten-point plan and implement it - he acted from his gut and from his deep convictions, and found half a million allies online."
Taking on the System's strength lies in its inspirational populism: You can do this. You don't need permission. Passion leads to action. Its conversational tone, with a behind-the-hand, confiding smugness, suggests that activist action can trump the policy wonks. Chapters begin with a punchy anecdote, offer relevant examples (and a few actual tactics), then concisely recap. Moulitsas also addresses the necessity of presenting a compelling story, with examples of crafting a hero, presenting a worthy villain and exploiting a conflict at the right moment of a news cycle. It's a roller-coaster ride of low comedy and high tragedy. The bombastic Keith Olbermann vs. Bill O'Reilly mudslinging-for-ratings battle is set against the attacks that Moulitsas received after he posted a from-the-gut blog entry about "feeling nothing" after the Blackwater deaths - "They are there to wage war for profit." And while often exhausting in its exhortations (the reader may feel a bit bludgeoned and shouted at), Moulitsas' sincere belief in leadership from the ground up comes through: "My guess is, there are thousands - hundreds of thousands, in fact - out there just like me. Tired of accepting a backseat. Tired of feeling powerless and voiceless. Tired of the squalid state of our public affairs. And at heart, more than ready, willing and able to take on the system."
This is not a book of bullet-point how-to lists about using Twitter to your best advantage - it's a rallying cry to take the revolution online in order to influence traditional media and upset the entrenched power structure.
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