by John Hawkins | September 22, 2011 6:44 am
Obviously, I’m not a big Kos fan. I don’t agree with him on the issues and I don’t think he’s much of a writer, has a great understanding of politics, or is much of a political analyst. He’s also…well, kind of an amoral creep. That being said, I do admire his talent for organization and community building. That’s the one place where he’s an absolute rock star and he’s written a book on the subject called Taking on the System: Rules for Change in a Digital Era.
The impression I got from reading this book is that this is Kos’s attempt to create his own version of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for a new generation of activists. Maybe it’s the political geek in me, but I actually enjoyed reading Kos’s book. There were actually some insights in it, not just into organizing, but into the way that people like Kos think. That being said, note that I DO NOT agree with all of these quotes. Some of them are included because it gives you a window into the ugly little soul of Kos and people like him.
But everywhere I turned, I ran up against gatekeepers. You know them. In media, they are the editors and producers. In politics, they are the party machinery and establishment elite. In music, they are the music label executives. In film and video, they are the Hollywood hierarchy. In the book world, it’s the publishing houses. If you wanted to be an active agent in our culture, it was impossible to do so without one of those gatekeepers annointing you with their approval. And most of the time, these gatekeepers saw you as a nuisance. Who needs young whippersnappers shaking up their cozy, safe, predictable worlds?
The comfortable and established are more invested in holding their positions in privilege than in risking new ways of writing, thinking, innovating, exploring, and governing. Hence, we have been cursed with a system that doesn’t always reward the greatest talent. It is mostly a cultural and political aristocracy, not a meritocracy. Forget trying to change anything, because to change the world, you had to be a “somebody.” P.3
No one should ever tell people what to believe. I don’t. That is the old “top-bottom” view of activism that I categorically reject. People can determine for themselves what they’ll work for, and once they’ve found something they’re passionate about, whatever that might be, they now have the tools to be effective advocates for change. — P.7
And here we arrive at a foundational rule of this book: Without the media, little can be accomplished. If you cannot influence the flow of information, you cannot effect change on any substantial scale. That’s not to say it’s absolutely impossible to make a difference without media attention, but to foster radical and long-lasting change, activists must be seen and heard widely and be part of the public discussion. — P.15
Whoever defines the “truth,” the conventional wisdom, controls the terms of the debate. — P.19
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. — Peter Daou, P.20
Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more important, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. — Peter Daou, P.21
Directly challenging existing gatekeepers does not necessarily mean they are destroyed and disappear. It means they bleed influence and power. To make that happen, you need to evaluate your target gatekeeper and determine the source of its power and then supplant it. For the DLC, it was the ability to deliver easy corporate dollars to candidates and elected officials in exchange for fealty for the organization and its business friendly ideology. For the New Republic, it was its influential group of readers. In both cases, the grass roots and the netroots dislodged the gatekeepers and filled in the gaps. — P.39
Effective leaders draw people into their cause by creating powerful stories, with clear distinctions between good and evil, hero and villain. Instead of bemoaning the fact that Americans love their entertainment culture, political activists need to borrow Hollywood’s proven methods to structure gripping narratives and compelling communication strategies. Making politics and causes participatory, exciting, and fun is key to sustaining citizen involvement. — Chapter 3
Emotional connection moves us. Statistics do not. Unlike “facts,” we process values at the gut level, not by using reason. — P.109
In a fragmented media environment, cutting through the noise requires a clear and simple message. — P.128
When your enemies begin to notice you — and attack you — you have arrived. Instead of avoiding confrontation with gatekeepers and opponents, embrace it and feed it. Stoking the flames of controversy brings visibility to your issues, raises your profile and effectiveness, and begins a cycle of ever-increasing attention that you can use to your advantage. — Chapter 5
Media outlets started calling me up, treating me as a source for political stories. Book agents were emailing me interested in representing me. In short, I was suddenly on the media radar. And I realized that the more my political opponents attacked me, the more they credentialed me as someone who should be taken seriously. Traffic to my site skyrocketed, from about 4.5 million page views in March 2004 to 5.8 million the following month — a 29 percent increase in a single month and a record for the site despite an otherwise slow news period that falls between the primaries and the earnest start of the general election. “The ‘screw them’ remark is how I first heard of you and Daily Kos,” wrote Barb Morrill, now a Daily Kos contributing editor. “I was a regular on the Kerry blog and there was a big discussion when the Kerry campaign pulled your link, so I came over to check it out.”
As I gained a ton of readers, every advertiser I lost was replaced with new ones within days. Because I gave no refunds to the fleeing advertisers, I ended up making double ad revenue for those ad slots. That April wasn’t just my best traffic month until that point, it also ended up being my most financially lucrative one, an unexpected windfall I directed towards beefing up my site’s infrastructure. — P.161
The notion may seem absurd and counterintuitive, but inviting attacks suggests you’re a force to be reckoned with. And when your enemy takes you up on the invitation, it is evidence that your efforts are drawing blood. — P.165
If you’re getting hit from above, by all means hit back. Hard. And often. If you’re less known, you might invite further attention, and in the worst case you remind observers that those above you fear you. But if you attack those below you, especially those below you in terms of name recognition, you’re helping elevate their status, something you always want to deny your enemies. Furthermore, you risk looking like a bully. But obviously, it’s not always simple and formulaic. — P.166
If the cause is just, then the goal should be victory. All reasonable options should be on the table. Anything less is simply unilateral disarmament, and unless you care little about the eventual outcome of your efforts, such disarmament is the height of irresponsibility. It’s vital to focus on what tactics will best help accomplish the results you seek, and proceed accordingly. Similarly, when evaluating the work of your allies, don’t criticize effective tactics merely because you find them distasteful or feel they have crossed your own self-defined ethical lines. — P.175
But the only issue when considering a legally permissible tactic is whether the action will help further your cause. Efficacy, and not morality, is the governing principle. The opposition will stop at nothing to make you fail. You need to use everything in your bag of tricks to ensure they don’t get that satisfaction. — P.176
When you live in a media-saturated world, it takes clarity of message and specialization to cut through the clutter. If you find a niche that resonates with a wider audience, a niche where you find yourself being effective, exploit that niche. Extend from that niche carefully, mindful that such expansion may cost you the audience that initially empowered you. — P.194
Permanent change is created only through long-term effort with small gains leading to larger achievements. Resist the lure of notching up quick and easy conquests that may harm long-term goals. On the other hand, small, well-planned skirmishes leading to incremental advances can hone strategies and skills while rewarding activists with occasional, welcome victories. — Chapter 7
Some battles are worth fighting to force rapid change, and choice and civil rights certainly qualify, but the fact remains that the most desirable pathway to change is slow, steady, and incremental, a process that can bring whole societies along. — P.214
Given the myriad entertainment options available to people today, the ability to build a movement is directly proportionate to the ability to make activist efforts entertaining. If people aren’t having fun, they’ll quickly move on to other pursuits. — P.235-236
No matter how important your cause or how earnest your efforts, you have to realize that building the crowds necessary to effect mass change requires entertaining your troops and allies. Few might share your passion, but more will come along for the ride if organizing incorporates a social aspect. — P.237
The most effective activists are those who understand that to operate successfully in a given landscape, you have to stand out from the landscape. — P.253
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