Taking OUT The System


My parents kind of get what I do. They have a sense of what blogs are and how they interact with the larger world of politics, though they don't read blogs (and definitely don't have user accounts). They have a sense, gleaned from the occasional New York Times article or conversation with one of my peers, that technology is tearing down barriers. But they probably haven't heard or used the term "gatekeeper" very often.

So Markos, thank you for writing a book for them.

Markos's new work, Taking On the System, is an exploration of how all of us have just been handed power...if we decide to grab hold. We can change media narrative by becoming our own media through blogging. We can become our own campaigns with simple cameras and free video hosting sites.

And it's not just in politics. Markos quite consciously weaves stories of other industries, most notably the music business, among his anecdotes from Senate campaigns, the anti-war movement, immigration rallies and other political efforts. In doing so, he creates an argument that doesn't just appeal to the political junkie but to anyone who wants to understand entrepreneurship, idea-generation and anti-authoritarianism in the digital era. He also does it in a well-written, fun, and at-times inspirational style that is full of examples and lessons, which are helpfully broken down into "rules."

My parents will understand the progressive movement -- and these times -- much better when they read it.

But it's not only aimed at the newcomer to these discussions. Marching through experiences from '06 -- including the Webb, Tester and Lamont campaigns -- and through other achievements of the Left -- changing the perception of Fox News -- Markos provides activists with a compelling narrative that suggests we are accomplishing things.

Sometimes in this line of work, that affirmation is important.

He also doesn't shy away from challenging us. Markos describes why Cindy Sheehan's heart-felt, authentic (and media-friendly) protest in Crawford was more effective than a half-million protestors in the streets in affecting the coverage of the anti-war effort (he criticizes the large-scale marches for being unoriginal, off-message and somewhat disorganized -- compared with the very effective, surprising and disciplined immigration marches).

He then turns on Sheehan, arguing that she lessened her impact as she veered onto other topics, changed her demeanor in the company of flashier activist groups and -- Markos argues -- allowed herself to be used...by players ranging from Hugo Chavez to Code Pink.

I instinctively stand to Sheehan's defense and thus found this section provocative. Markos wasn't out to tell me what I already believed -- he was willing to spark an argument. In the context of his "rules for radical change," he lays our a very compelling case that Sheehan did squander her capital. That's not to say that she didn't have the right to speak out on other issues as an individual; but as a symbol -- and so much of how we affect the world is through symbols -- she lost her way.

She has reason to be disappointed in Democrats, I believe...but I also came away agreeing with Markos that she's not as effectively focusing that frustration as she did her grief and anger in the summer of '05.

But this book -- and this review -- is not about Cindy Sheehan. Rather, I want to point out that Markos is at his best when he's unapologetically willing to stir up disagreement, but staking out an argument and sticking with it -- whether it's his arguments against the right-wing, his debates with other Lefties, or his battle against the "gatekeepers" throughout this book.

One of his teachings (not to make him sound too Jedi Master-esque) is to "target your enemy." If the title of his book doesn't tell you that the "System" is that enemy, then his frequent references to bypassing, influencing and "crushing" the gatekeepers make it clear who he stands against: those who would use their authority to limit participation, squelch dialogue, defund creativity and stand in the way of progress.

With the success of DailyKos, he has bypassed some gatekeepers. With the Penguin Press publication of Taking On the System, he has influenced others.

Now...let's get back to the crushing.

Markos will be speaking at the Living Liberally Convention Watch Party on Thursday, September 4th, the evening of John McCain's address -- at The Tank @ DCTV, 87 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan.

His book will also be available in September through the Progressive Book Club -- get your first 3 books for $1 each when you become a member.