Volume 12, Issue 44 ~ October 28- November 3, 2004
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The Age of Empowerment
by Joe Trippi

A huge change is occurring in the country right now because of technology and the Internet.

Erase the term information age from your memory banks. We are not in the information age. We’re in the age of empowerment.

We live in a top-down society. Every institution in this country is top-down. In a top-down institution, information is power. The guys at the top make the rules. We influence them when we can, but we don’t have much influence.

When a top-down society starts rusting and corroding, the system starts breaking down. If the Internet contributes information democratically to everybody who has access, then the Internet is not distributing information. If information is power, the Internet is distributing power.

Suddenly, hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans can come together, pool their time and resources and do amazing things, making change from the bottom up. The first sign of this was not the Howard Dean campaign. The first sign of this was Napster. In the top-down recording industry, a bunch of kids figured out how to do peer-to-peer file sharing and change how music is distributed in ways the music industry could never fathom.

The Dean campaign was the same thing: the bottom rising up and wreaking havoc on a top-down political system that was not working for the American people.

My book is titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything. Everything, every part of our society is going to be changed.

In the Dean campaign, we were able to take 432 people and grow to 650,000. We were able to raise more money than any Democrat in history. Why? Television is becoming more and more isolated, but the Internet is a place where we can build a community.

Neil Abercrombie, a congressman from Hawaii, said “This is about Americans having faith in strangers again. In a society where people are triple-locking their doors, people are going on the Internet and checking zip codes and saying, ‘I live at this address. Come to my house. I don’t care who you are. Let’s change this country.’”

People out there held thousands and thousands of these meet-ups, and the jewelry and the silverware were still there.

The Internet is helping us break down in our minds the barriers that the broadcast media has given us as to why we can’t work together.

Because we are in an age of political empowerment, organizations have amazing opportunities to use this technology to build a community that will change this country.

Our founders, Jefferson and Madison, had one recurring fear: that economic power would gain too much power and take control of political power. They didn’t want democracy to be subservient to capitalism, and they feared the Constitution wasn’t strong enough to keep that from happening.

Madison wrote that when that moment came, the American people would need tools to spread knowledge. Those same tools could enable them to join together to thwart it. I think we’re there.

It takes focus to build something from the ground up. But I think we now have the tools to do it in a way we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. So I think we’re getting back to the point where there is real activism in political campaigns, and I think the reason is that the American people want to be treated like citizens and not just consumers. If our leaders won’t do that, we can.

Eastern Shore resident Joe Trippi, a political consultant, was campaign manager for the short-lived presidential campaign of Howard Dean. He is also an analyst for MSNBC and the author of a new book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything. His commentary is excerpted from his remarks at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ John Kabler dinner, where he was keynote speaker.

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