De-Centralized Organizing

Glenn Reynolds looks at the "Tea Party" phenomenon, which seems to have spread virally among grumpy middle class types who are unimpressed with the endless bailouts and rescues they have been asked to underwrite. It all has a whiff of the Ross Perot moment in 1992. Maybe, this time, the politician who grabs this tiger won't flame out so spectacularly. Tax Day Becomes Protest Day

So who's behind the Tax Day tea parties? Ordinary folks who are using the power of the Internet to organize. For a number of years, techno-geeks have been organizing "flash crowds" -- groups of people, coordinated by text or cellphone, who converge on a particular location and then do something silly, like the pillow fights that popped up in 50 cities earlier this month. This is part of a general phenomenon dubbed "Smart Mobs" by Howard Rheingold, author of a book by the same title, in which modern communications and social-networking technologies allow quick coordination among large numbers of people who don't know each other.

In the old days, organizing large groups of people required, well, an organization: a political party, a labor union, a church or some other sort of structure. Now people can coordinate themselves.

Meanwhile, Thomas Frank is no longer mocking  the Tea Parties - he actually attended one - and seems persuaded that it's not a Rovian-Fox News driven plot. But he wants you to know that there is some kind of BS GOP angle to all of this: Here Come the Plastic Pitchforks

But how could anyone be surprised? The populist style -- in which average people square off against self-important snobs -- has been with us for decades. It saturates the culture. It fills our advertising, our management books, even our personal finance guides. It defines the language of our politics.

The question is how to direct those "mindless" populist sentiments to more productive ends.

The fashion industry has been doing it for years by identifying itself with trendy leftish heroes and causes. It was ready for the downturn -- just look at the new ad campaign from designer Kenneth Cole that seeks to move nondescript threads with phrases like "In tough times screw the banks" and "Our back's against the Wall St."

The conservative movement, too, has long been a master of this maneuver. From the days of Richard Nixon to those of Sarah Palin it has described itself as a rebellion of Middle America against elitist liberals; as a nation of Joe the Plumbers rising against interfering bureaucrats.

What Nixon has to do with this, or Sarah Palin, is beyond me, but Republicans are being discussed so Nixon must be lurking somewhere. 

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