Crashing The Gate: The Trade-Offs Of “Netizenship”

Co-authored by liberal blogmeister Markos Moulitas Zuniga of and founder Jerome Armstrong (two of the most popular progressive bloggers in the country), the book makes a compelling and occasionally frustrating case for re-tooling what some say is the brain-dead Democratic Party for the Internet Age.

Wait a second, you may be thinking. Stop right there. Please speak in English. What’s a "blog," for starters?

Back up twenty years. Like any other new communications technology (think the telegraph, the radio, or the television), the Internet’s arrival during the 1980s brought with it the usual mix of hyperbole and hot air that accompanies the invention of the same. And, of course, during the first two decades (so far) of development, the Internet has moved from being a promising public forum for cutting edge electronic community discussion to an orgiastic corporate commercial sales vehicle. Anyone who uses e-mail or surfs the web is now confronted with the latest and greatest in pop up and banner ads touting everything from online porn pictures to penis enlargement procedures, while electronic "cookies" keep track of our every mouse click. Surveillance society indeed.

But Armstrong and Zuniga belong to that heady group of citizen activists who effectively have used the Internet to tap into Americans’ frustration with politics as usual. "Fueled by the new technologies – the web, blogging tools, Google – this new generation of activists helped spark some life into the Democratic Party establishment," they write, "and the online medium allowed a level of participation nonexistent in traditional media." To answer the question above: A "blog" (short for "web log) is an electronic journal, of sorts, that creates an online arena for conversation – individuals log in to a blog site, read people’s posts, respond with thoughts of their own, and voila – first an extended conversation, then a community, then a movement is born.

Or so the argument goes in "Crashing The Gate." And make no mistake – this is not a book about policy-making. (In fact, some reviewers have suggested the book might benefit from a more wonky flavor, though I disagree with this assessment). Instead, the authors have written a slim and accessible book about the process by which citizens engage in politics using the Internet, and Zuniga and Armstrong are our tour guides intimately familiar with the progressive e-landscape, having played central roles in shaping it.

After setting the stage by emphasizing the problems associated with the traditional Democratic Party approach to politics (at once too centralized, hierarchical and unfocused) and related fears about a well-funded and well-organized Republican Party machine, Armstrong and Zuniga recount their various battles with Establishment Democrats, and the successes they’ve had in creating electronic communities of like-minded progressive activists. "A whole new generation of reformers – from the online world of the netroots, to new multi-issue groups, to new labor, to new big-dollar donors – is engaged in a two front war," they observe, "battling to knock Republicans off their perch while jostling for control of the Democratic Party."

And this "insider’s perspective" makes for fascinating reading. Perhaps the best piece of advice Zuniga and Armstrong give is the need to build a progressive infrastructure – not the "sexiest topic," as they say – but vital to the long-term success of any political effort. And complicated by the fact that your average American, hustling to work several jobs in an effort to "put food on the family" (to quote the White House’s current occupant) doesn’t necessarily have the time, energy, money, resources, or interest in entering the "blogosphere" for extended conversations about how to "take back our country."

The e-alternative – the weekly bombardment of e-mail missives urging action on specific issues from the likes of such groups as (now with 3 million members) – has some utility in alerting and organizing citizens around certain issues – but, paradoxically enough, feels exhausting after a while.

While Zuniga and Armstrong have written a vital book about the high-tech promise of "people powered politics," then, we all might do well to remember the words of famed Boston Democrat "Tip" O"Neill: "all politics is local." The face-to-face conversation and organizing efforts that take place in pubs, schools, churches and communities have never been more important in an age where relationships are continually mediated. While "Crashing The Gate" offers a useful roadmap, then, it is but one part of a much larger 21st century political story all of us are authoring.

You can be sure that those of us in the peaceable secession effort – frustrated conservatives, progressives, libertarians, Greens, and liberals alike – will remember this moving forward.

Order this book from Chelsea Green.


Historian, media educator, and musician Rob Williams is the editor of "Vermont Commons" (, a monthly newspaper and multimedia web site (with a blog!) championing Vermont independence.