I honestly believe that the Howard Dean campaign, during its ascendence, was the most important project on the planet. I can’t help thinking in those terms, since there are only a few days in our four score and ten years, so we ought to spend them on the most consequential projects we’re allowed to pursue. That’s why I spent a week each month at the campaign, and most of the rest of my days on the campaign.
When I watched the CNN special on the Dean campaign Sunday evening, I was watching my friends, at a place that still seems to me like somewhere I could just drive to tomorrow, as I did so many times. But my harsh brain tells me what my heart doesn’t want to admit, that there’s no one to welcome me and ask me to stay up late to do something for them, there at 60 Farrell St., So. Burlington, VT.
We need a framework for developing the next generation of organizing tools. It seems to me that, if we release everything into the public domain, this development work will qualify as an activity under the requirements of the 501(c)3 statute that governs charitable foundations. I know that Zack Rosen and Joe Trippi are separately considering forming such a foundation. However, these things can take time to form and staff up and have an operating organization that donors feel comfortable supporting. It would be far better to find an existing organization that can take this on immediately. If so, this is what they ought to be thinking about:
The Open Republic (“OR”)
The Dean campaign galvanized the world by demonstrating that a community can be built around a campaign for change, and that such a community is more interested in giving money and time than politicians thought was possible.
With the acquiescence of Governor Dean, the many software developers and projects he inspired are gathering their forces and going to work for other candidates and movements.
I propose a simple structure that is capable of exemplary results due to the nature of political software writers in particular and of open source contributors in general.
Over the last year, political software writers have demonstrated their willingness to put other activities aside in order to make their contributions. Their idealism would have seemed unlikely if it hadn’t been demonstrated so broadly. They will respond to the need for a particular feature rapidly and will cooperate spontaneously with strangers to meet a deadline.
It’s well known that open source code contributors are motivated by the attention and credit they receive from the open source community.
Relying on those characteristics, it should be possible for OR to galvanize the political software space by praising great work, promoting its use, and by paying professionals to add to the body of political organizing tools.
A Three-Stage Process
Therefore, I propose a three-stage process as the operating mode for OR:
This structure will be most manageable if it is simple, so I suggest that each activity should be conducted by a small committee of volunteer experts, each committee meeting monthly. They may generate their own recommendations or they may hire contractors to do all or part of their work.
By this means, OR will maintain a current list of the best resources to quickly launch a campaign, whether it’s for a President, a Representative or for a general purpose such as campaign reform or health care. Jeff Jarvis suggested yesterday that Howard Stern is organizing a movement and would be a candidate for the kinds of tools OR would be promoting.
OR would maintain a current list of proposed improvements to its current recommendations, with RFPs seeking responses and grants outstanding, pending completion and acceptance.
OR would constantly review and accept or reject submittals in response to its contracting work.
All tools funded by OR would be released into the public domain under a best practices license to be determined. OR would encourage developers of political software to adopt such a license.
The Hard Part
I’ve made such a proposal to a candidate organization which was enthusiastically received until the issue of leadership came up. Surprisingly, the opportunity to have a positive effect on the American Experiment is not in itself enough to manifest the perfect leader for such an effort.
It had never occurred to me that I might be that person. I spoke with Doc, David Weinberger and John McCarthy about this, and they expressed their support by saying that of course I’m the right guy. Presumably, they’re easier on new hires than I ever was. David was kind enough to suggest that, if I didn’t see the fit, I needed to take a course on self-esteem. This led to the obvious banter about pots and kettles.
So I’d like to open the floor for comments, wondering if the OR approach seems practical and fundable, and if it’s an urgent enough project that I might lead the effort until the perfect candidate comes along.