Thursday, March 26, 2009

Peer production

"We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing it." —Rick Santelli in his February 19, 2009 "rant of the year" on CNBC

It has never been easier to find a conservative place to party in the Twin Cities than in 2009. The reason is a buzzword called "peer production." Wikipedia defines it as "a new way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome."

Thanks in part to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Ning, and ever-lower costs of producing and sharing audio and video programming, people of all political stripes are discovering that they don't have to wait around for political parties or even special-interest groups to organize and act.

A prime example is the national "tea party" tax protests, inspired by Rick Santelli's remarkable rant on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. Protesters are sending tea bags to their elected officials and holding rallies to protest bailouts and runaway spending. The protests are local and only loosely related. The Twin Cities area tea party will be held on April 15 at the State Capitol.

Peer production can be a little rough and amateurish, and can ruffle the feathers of more established groups. Organizers of the annual Tax Cut Coalition rally, established by talk radio host Jason Lewis, were a bit miffed at being bumped this year from their customary April 15 event on the Capitol steps by the upstart tea party group. The Lewis event will now be held, in an expanded format, on Saturday, May 2 at the Capitol. The former friendly rivals are now cross-promoting each other's events.

Even before Gov. Sarah Palin established her political action committee this year, web sites, Facebook groups, and other small groups sprung up across the country to support her and their shared values. There is at least one effort to coordinate these groups, but they will probably remain independent communities engaged in peer production.

Another example is the Citizens Campaigning Against Renegade Legislators (CCARL), a completely nonpartisan group that originally organized to protest the then-proposed taxpayer subsidy of the Minnesota Twins professional baseball stadium in Minneapolis. Their current target is Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who is lobbying for, guess what, a taxpayer subsidy for a professional football stadium.

The group blog True North, run by volunteers and unfunded by any outside group, aggregates posts from dozens of right-leaning blogs every day. It is visited daily by activists, elected officials, and media.

Young conservatives (not a contradiction in terms) will have a chance to meet and greet tonight at O'Gara's in Saint Paul, thanks to a new Facebook group with over 200 members called Red, White and Brew.

Although many individuals in these groups will participate in partisan activities as election season gears up again, conservatives in 2009 are finding new ways to connect and work together as peers to advance principle over party.

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