Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Shot Across the Bow: Regionalization, Seth Williams, and the Philadelphia Machine: Part 1

I have spent the past two days going over the results of the Seth Williams v. Lynne Abraham battle, and I want to get this down on paper, and solicit your thoughts. What I am trying to get out is to examine the effect that bloggers and online activists had in this race, and what I think are some lessons and indicators for the future of Philly blogs and Philly politics.

This is the first of three parts.

As has been discussed elsewhere, (such as Tim Tagaris on Swing State Project and elsewhere, and of course in The Inquirer) many paid attention to what was happening in this race because it was a pretty unique event: bloggers from a specific geographic area uniting around candidates.

First and foremost, none of the regionalization that we saw in this race would have happened with out Philly Future. Karl and Matt have created a site that has helped make Philly bloggers, many of whom never would have met or read each other’s writing, extremely aware that there are many others out there just like ourselves. While we could have had some sort of Philly-wide blog effort, it would not have been noticed by as many eyes, and would not have included as many people, without a central site that Philly bloggers of all stripes can and do connect on. The awareness that it has raised set the stage for what occurred, pure and simple. I admire that, and admire what they have created (and continue to create) in a total volunteer effort.

In terms of the three days of action that we took together, I saw each day as having a unique effect. The first day, first and foremost created a buzz. As I proposed the first day, I don’t think any of us had any idea where this was headed. But, what became clear was that even the proposal for a coordinated day itself, got people excited. Some, like Chris from Rowhouse Logic, had already written plenty about Seth, others had not. However, what was clear was that as that first day progressed, bloggers had decided to better educate themselves, and their readers about the issues at hand. To this day, the best endorsement I have seen of Seth was Karl and Matt’s from Philly Future; better than mine, better than any union, and better than the Inquirer.

Seth said in his concession speech that it really meant something to him that bloggers, who actively looked into the real issues at hand, had given him his support. The Philly Future editorial is a perfect example of this. How many of us made personal attacks of Abraham? None. Instead, like the candidate we supported, we argued from facts and research. And, I think most of that research came from that first day, or from the build-up to it. So, with real, solid research, this was not simply a couple of bloggers directing each other to their home page. Instead this was a series of well-presented cases for a change in Philly politics. As posts went up, from Chris to Jane, it became clear that this whole thing was about a lot more than navel gazing.

And, simply put, the buzz was created in the first day. I know for a fact that various reporters read, at minimum, Young Philly Politics and Philly Future every day. There is no question that as this grew, and as they saw online activists uniting, we had an impact.

The buzz grew as Chris Bowers joined in from MyDD, and Tim Tagaris wrote about the day on Swing State Project. All of a sudden, this was not simply a Philly effort, but an organic test case for BlogPac, a group of high-powered, well-read national bloggers, who are trying to unite bloggers around local or regional issues. And so, the murmurs spread from Philly to California, and back again. What the hell was going on in Philly?

Of course, the day ended. That is when things got a lot more interesting. There were no real plans for anything in the future, and no real idea how to turn that day into something more. So, as a few people asked whether we had any planned in the future, we decided the best case was to simply strike again. This time, a coordinated day with a set goal for attracting volunteers, but, once again, to keep shouting at the windmills that in Seth, we had a candidate that Democrats had to pay attention to.

In a way, certainly with my post at least, there was a little bit of defiance with the second day. Because nothing would have been easier than to simply pat ourselves on the back for what we did, and call it a day. But, as posts started going up again, all over the Philly blogosphere, and back on MyDD and Swing State Project, it was clear that this was not an effort that was going away. In the blogosphere, a week is an eternity. And there was no question that our cute little story of a “Day of Action” was going to go away, if not for reuniting on the second day.

We may have been shouting, but clearly people started to pay attention and we were mentioned in the Daily News. We also, one week prior to their letter being published in the Daily News, we had a group of Assistant DA’s write us as to how important this all was. With that day, I knew we were really on to something. And with an Inquirer reporter calling us to try and get the story of what was going on, it was clear that outsiders were interested, as well.

Day 3, with the goal of collecting vote pledges, continued along, with possibly the most visibility of any of the days. (I will get into the vote pledge thing specifically, later on.) Did the campaign collect thousands of votes from our effort? Certainly not. But, the murmur kept growing, and became real loud when our effort landed us an above the fold story in the Inquirer’s metro section. That story, followed a few days later by the Inquirer endorsement for Seth, was really important. I will be interested to see the division-by-division breakdown, but I would wager that those two stories helped grab the attention of many of the Philly liberal elite (a group that pretty much slept through this election, from start to finish), and at least helped them identify that there was a very real, progressive thinking candidate out there, and that he was up for election in a couple of weeks.

We then went offline, with our happy hour and fundraiser the Friday before the election. And, whether they came because of our blogs, or email, or personal relationships, we turned out 40 or more people in 2 days, and raised a substantial amount of money. And, as many bloggers who had never met Seth beforehand got a chance to speak with him, and as we got to meet each other, we had a lot of fun. There was visible excitement in that room; mainly for this wonderful candidate, but also, at least from me, with the realization that there was some real hope for the future. Because while this race presented a stark choice which made our unification much easier, it was clear that this race was just one step. As our collective buzz grows, I realize that not only do we all have a growing audience, but we now have real, concrete allies. Each of which we must continue to grow, and use, as the fight for Philadelphia politics takes hold.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger ACM said...

I'd like to see the division break-down too -- does somebody have that info? Also, is there any way to know how much of the Williams vote was because of the candidate, versus because of his opponent? (in other words, to put it crudely, how many people would have voted for a rubber boot rather than Lynne Abraham, and therefore how many real Seth voters were added on top of that?)

If nothing else, the Powers That Be can't have failed to notice him, which means he'll be in the position to raise funds and backers the next time around...


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