Campaign life is brutal. I plugged away until 1am yesterday, got up at 7, and started all over again. 99 days left until V-day. 99. That’s a number that gives me anxiety for two reasons — one, because how the FUCK can we possible get everything done in only 99 days! and two, 99 more days of this!? Are you crazy?

The hours hurt, yes, and the neverending stream of work, well, it never ends. And I’m not 22 anymore. I feel the hours, the fatigue even more than I did 3 years ago, when I was on the Huffington campaign. That was 14, 16 hour days for two months, and yet I still felt young.

Now I feel … seasoned? No, that’s not exactly right. My job doesn’t allow for seasoning. It’s always new, always changing. Being the Online Organizer / Technology Director / Data Manager / Wait-What’s-a-Blog? Guy keeps you learning, constantly. My tactics and knowledge base have probably doubled since the ‘04 cycle. And I command only a fraction of the knowledge out there. There’s inherent pleasure in expanding one’s horizons, but can you ever feel in control — even a little — when the Web is growing changing constantly underneath you?

Ironically, we web strategist are the very victims of the information age — constantly swamped with brave new worlds to explore and exploit. There’s an expectation that the “web guys” are on top of every new trend. As if we all blog, and tag, and Digg, and cruise Myspace, and YouTube, and mash Googlemaps, and download whatever-new-trendy-web2.0-widget-that-comes-in-our-path. Yeah, right. When you’re trying to elect your guy, you’re usually forced back to the basics — raising money, bringing in volunteers, maybe pushing a little message.

So seasoned is the wrong word. But there’s a certain calm that comes with age and experience. The interpersonal dramas of a campaign affect me much less. I take everything less personally. The big picture is easier to see, and the hurt of losing an internal strategy debate (or even just a wording choice) heals over quick. Which brings me to my current struggles.

Those of you who’ve heard me spout campaign philosophy have inevitably gotten bored of the word “distributed.” As in distributing the power, access, and technology of a campaign out to the grassroots. It’s a philosophy that’s come back into vogue with the Web, but as a theory its been rattling around idealists heads for centuries.

The opposite model — command and control — almost completely dominates campaigning today. Campaigns run on central authority, and the most centralized campaigns usually win. This model leaves little room for distribution of anything other than check-writing capacity. Maybe a little phone-banking or stamp-licking slips in there, but otherwise, there’s not a lot of room for the grassroots. There’s certainly no room for IDEAS and INNOVATION to bubble up from the grassroots.

This has been my connundrum during my current campaigns. How can I convince my superiors to embrace an untested, fairly radical model when their only blueprints for success are the old model? No campaign wants to be the trailblazer. You only get one shot, the theory goes — better stick to what we know can win. Only doomed losers take big risks. Play it safe, or play it on the bus ride home.

Few of my fellow campaigners study the worlds of network-centric advocacy and distributed campaigning and the power of the edges. They don’t get the newsletters I get. They don’t read the books I read (except for one notable exception, Joe Trippi, who actually wrote one of the better books on the subject, and is working on the Hall campaign with me.) How could I possible expect to overturn decades of campaign strategy with a half-baked set of theories and unproven arsenal of tactics?

So, in the end, its back to 1.0 uses of the web — fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and maybe an online ad campaign. And I can’t complain, because I’m STILL learning, and more importantly, my candidates have damn good shots at actually winning. After all, that’s what counts in the end, regardless of process. Period. (Right?)

posted in Campaigning & Online Organizing