We were all warned; the revolution will not be televised. Back in 1971 when that song was released, we couldn’t have known that the revolution would be tweeted.
In 2016, there is something very interesting going on in the battle for nomination between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The traditional authoritarian establishment politics of divide-and-conquer has one candidate losing; and no, it’s not the old white guy.
It used to be all about manufacturing the image, beating the slogan to death, wedging out your opponent, and having deep, deep pockets. But this election cycle, all four of those strategies have exactly the opposite effect on voters. Because, Internet. Let me show you how.
There were early signs beginning in April 2015. A new app came out making it possible to find out how many fake followers on the various social media platforms had been bought by users.
It’s possible to buy thousands of followers for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter fairly cheaply. But, they’re fake accounts, and they’ll never tweet or poke you. They are zombies with no-one at the wheel.
Everyone started running different celebrities through this app, and Hillary Clinton did not fare well. According to the app, she had bought 2 million of her 3.4 million Twitter followers.
It was a clue to her top-down style of campaigning. This was a candidate who was willing to manufacture the image of someone with a lot of support.
As her campaign got started, rumors dogged her about hiring “shills” to work for her. Shills are people hired to push the agenda of the people who are paying them in social media sites like Facebook. People were saying that they’d been offered 30 cents per post supporting her. For many Hillary supporters, it was a nice income stream for something they were going to do in a small way anyway. It was interesting to find out what they were asked to push, though. Leaked details showed they weren’t asked to give strident, stirring rebuttals of Bernie’s main points and heart-felt endorsements of Hillary’s policies like you might expect. No, they were just asked to plant hints of suspicion. Instructions include alluding to Bernie being sexist, or question the intent or intelligence or credibility of Bernie’s followers, or just simply to marry his name with the word “unelectable.” Subtle stuff.
There have always been stories of Hillary’s fondness for push polling, a tricky, scripted cold-call technique where you lead the receiver to believe they are being neutrally polled, but the questions are designed to cast shade on your opponent. You can hear one in action here.
There’s been the heavy ad campaigns, the public meetings with the usual rent-a-crowd of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, the paid speaking engagements to powerful stakeholders, the support of her party and the super delegates, the announcement of the awe-inspiring amount of money generated by the super-PACs, and the highly-visible mainstream media attention.
This is all the usual stuff. In short, she’s run a very strong traditional campaign. In the past, with her massively impressive super-PACs and being the darling of the mainstream media, Hillary would have had this sewn up by New Hampshire.
But, it’s a whole new world now. Take the example of the super-PACs. It wasn’t that long ago that generating huge amounts of money from corporate interests inspired awe in the common people. Now, it inspires distrust.
Much of what Hillary is doing right now, is creating the wrong reaction in people, and it will continue to do so. The “s/he who pays enough people to get their message out there wins” style of politics is over. For good. And any more movement in that direction for Hillary is more movement away from the Presidency.
Compare this manufactured approach to the organic grassroots campaign that has sprung up around Bernie Sanders. In fact, the argument could be made, that Bernie Sanders was pushed into the race by a groundswell movement that started way back with the Occupy movement. It wasn’t personal ambition with Bernie; it was the simple fact that someone needed to step up. Over dinner at Denny’s with his wife Jane, when a veteran tearily came up to Bernie and thanked him for all he’d done for the veterans, Jane conceded that, despite the sacrifices ahead and the work that needed to be done, they had to do it. “I guess I give up — you have to do it” she reportedly sighed.
He considers himself a public servant; that is, a servant to the public. Hilary Clinton is a bucket-list candidate. It was always her ambition to be President, and she’s gone about finding out what she needs to do to achieve that. Bernie Sanders is the opposite of that. He was pushed to the front by the people.
Consequently, Bernie’s campaign has pieced itself together organically, cheaply, and the many people he inspires press “follow,” gladly re-tweet, make memes from their favorite quotes, get involved in groups and chat rooms to talk about him and to collaborate with others and generally act as a giant, unpaid but passionate online campaign.
Bernie’s Twitter followers are real people. Every person who phones to tell you about him is a volunteer. No scripted push-polls for Bernie, just people talking from some guidelines and their heart. You can’t buy that kind of passion. There’s nothing manipulative about it. The only instruction from Bernie if voters say they’re voting for Hillary is to wish them a nice evening. No wedging allowed.
And it’s working. At the time of this writing, Sanders has taken the lead nationally. Everything in the old playbook doesn’t work anymore. Even the support of the mainstream media with its suspicious blackout, and derision of Bernie Sanders has worked against Hillary. As promised, the revolution was not being televised, but that just made people more determined to get the word out through social media.
Every effort in that direction makes Hillary look more and more like the establishment that she insists needs overturning.
Every little piece of dirt the Hillary campaign seizes upon him makes him look better. It’s weird. For example, John Lewis came out last week to say that he “never saw Bernie” being involved in the civil rights movement, however, he does remember his good buddy Bill being there. And Hillary. He was vague on where exactly Hillary was.
Suspicion was cast on Bernie.
Slam dunk for Hillary, right? Acturally, no. That’s not the way the world works anymore. In the not-too-distant past, all of this information would have been fed out the televisions of the good people of America, and that would have been that. Any dissent would have been not nearly as newsworthy or sensational, so would receive lots less air time, if any at all.
But, it’s 2016. And straight away, the Internet was pulling up photos of Bernie at all sorts of sit-ins and meetings.
It couldn’t be going worse for Hillary. The internet is now alive with all these wonderful images of Bernie as a young man at all these great civil rights moments. People from all walks of life are inspired to tell their personal stories of Bernie and all the great things they witnessed him do in the name of civil rights as a young man. People are falling over themselves to prove that he was not only there, but he was doing exactly as he does now — he was unequivocally fighting for the rights of ALL people, not just the chosen few.
In effect, people have come out of the woodwork to sing his praises and attest to his authenticity. Inadvertently, they are campaigning for him. You couldn’t have stage managed it better.
Washington Post op-ed writer Jonathan Capehart came and doused the flames.
It started to look really bad for Sanders when Time Magazine asserted that a famed photo of Bernie was not in fact him, but another guy, too.
That was when Danny Lyon, the photographer who took the picture in question, cue to come out of the woodwork to refute their claims. He confirmed that it was Bernie Sanders all along. He backed it up by supplying more fascinating photos of the man of the moment at various civil rights events.
And the Internet came back stronger than ever.
Even Lewis was forced to come back and mitigate his statement, saying that although he didn’t meet him, it didn’t mean he wasn’t there. He also pointed out that he didn’t exactly say that he’d met Bill Clinton, either. It was a humbling backpedal for one of the most esteemed movers and shakers of the civil rights movement.
Nowadays, every wedge is a wedge away from the Presidency. When the people are uniting, the wedgers naturally wedge themselves out.
The old politics of calling in favors, greasing the wheels with some well placed cash, shelling out big bucks for huge ad campaigns created by smart young things in hipster glasses – those days are done and dusted.
Real people with real passion are making the real moves now. We’re talking about the difference between tens of thousands of memes created by Facebook users, compared to carefully crafted advertising made to appeal to focus groups; the difference between volunteer “phone banks,” compared to call centers of minimum wage employees reading from scripts; from swathes of people swarming conference centers, to lukewarm rent-a-crowds. Authenticity has a flavor to it that money can’t buy.
In 2016, you just can’t fake image anymore. The Internet is watching you.
And the old guy has all the new moves. This is not an old school battle between two candidates and their campaign teams. It’s between the ambition of one candidate, and the will of the collective. Between politics, and art. Between money, and inspiration. Between the old patriarchal world of the many being told what to do by the few, and the new internet-driven democracy of collaboration.
This, my friends, is the revolution, tweeted out in 140 characters or less. What a time to be alive.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]