Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gov. Bill Richardson, americaforrichardson.org, and me

Richardson is out, so I feel comfortable pushing publish on this.

This is a rambling reflection on my coming to support Bill Richardson over three years ago, how I quickly came close to his campaign, met the governor, shook the hand of a guy I read about in a book, then slowly gravitated away from the campaign.

And, now how I think twice about politics, blogging and civic life.

I was in Orting, standing outside the office of the Gazette talking to a financial planner from upstate New York. We were both members of a Yahoo! listserv for Governor Bill Richardson, and a few days before I had responded to an email from another guy on the list who wanted to set a pro-Richardson for president site.

I had said that instead of putting up a bill-board site, that he should try to be interactive as possible. Try using civicspace I said.

That led to a couple of inquiring emails from this fellow I was then on the phone with and within a few weeks we had set up americaforrichardson.org. On totally his dime, but my effort, we had a community site up and running for a governor of a southwestern state was that more than a year away from even declaring his run for President.

His campaign was pretty quick on the uptake in reaching out to bloggers. By that spring I was already trading emails with his campaign staff, especially his netroots outreach guy, Joaquin Guerra. I also met a guy in my home town (can you imagine that) who was not only a somewhat seasoned campaign pro, but also a pro-Richardson blogger.

The whole thing crescendoed later that next summer when Richardson came to Seattle, and Ken (the guy from my town) and I went up to a meeting of a couple dozen bloggers that Ken had put together.

My memories of that meeting:

1. Richardson got people in a way that I feel is rare with people in general, not just politicians. Honestly, despite my interest in politics, I have a somewhat undereducated take on the entire process. Forgive me.

I just liked him.

2. He got blogging, and not in a VC, PR sort of way. But in a "I like talking to you, blogging is just talking" sort of way.

So, I continued working on AFR and trying to find ways to bring folks together (we eventually started getting small groups together using zanby).

But, something eventually didn't happen. Richardson never became Dean. Not Howard Dean in the yelling, angry guy that people remember, but the Dean that got me involved in his campaign four years ago. Even though I was involved in the campaign, I guess I was too involved.

I saw other people's personalities, and it became too hard to just do what I wanted to do without having to step on toes. Too many conference calls with people from other states.

I'm sorry I'm not being more specific, but I spent too much time in the parking lot in my truck on conference calls in the fall and winter of 2006 to stay very excited.

Up to the point that when Richardson eventually declared his candidacy in early 2007 I was already walking out the door.

I decided that the reason I got involved in the first place was to see if the Richardson campaign could be like the Dean campaign: easy to involve yourself in and feel excited.

The eventual real killer for me was the ask Bill feature on his website. When they launched Ask Bill, they billed it as a way for anyone to ask Bill a question, sort of like the Youtube debates. But, it was hardly that. It was basically him just answering canned questions to a camera.

This is the guy that would stay in a room until all the questions were answered, but they were trying to pull off this lame imitation of that. The web is so powerful, they could have made a big and good deal with it. They could have allowed people to vote for what question they wanted answered, for example.

Anyway, here's the summary:

2004 was the election where civicspace was born. People took deep action into their own hands and used tools like meetup.com and hacked drupal to make it work for them.

2008 was the election when every campaign that mattered bought Blue State Digital's campaign suite and expected the excitement of 2004 to automatically replicate itself. Which, at least in my mind, it didn't. The tools you offer don't bring life, people using their own tools and the campaign letting that happen is what brings life to a campaign.

That said, its not all the campaign's fault, I ran into a lot of unimaginative people along the line. I received a lot of emails from people who had contacted the campaign, willing to help, but were frustrated that they hadn't received any direction.

I should have asked them, why do you need direction? You like Bill, you know where you live. Just do something, see if it sticks. No one is going to take out a contract on your life because you designed and printed up some signs and they aren't exactly what the campaign wanted.

Ok, so blogging is different for me now. After the 2004 election, I started blogging at different places, such as westerndemocrat.com and eventually washblog.com. I moved from my own place to places with larger communities and attention. As I moved away from the Richardson-o-sphere this fall, I also pulled back from those places as well.

My civic life is also getting different.
One place I didn't pull back from was olyblog.net, my hyper local community. I also have been reflecting on my local involvements, too see where I can do a better job and where I might be able to better focus my attention. What I take from everything above is that if I have time beyond my local commitments, I'll try larger things again. But, local is first.

1 comment:

Ken Camp said...

Emmett said: "I saw other people's personalities, and it became too hard to just do what I wanted to do without having to step on toes."

One of those personalities that you and I both know well, just stepped all over my toes and so I think I'm going to drop my whole Richardson for VP online campaign.

And if that weren't bad enough, losing sure brought out the worst in our grassroots supporters n Washington state.