Wednesday, October 27, 2010

298 / Time For An EPIC Rematch?

A recent article in The Nation Magazine discusses the "campaign of the century" (that's the 20th Century we're talking about). The almost forgotten EPIC campaign was Upton Sinclair's 1934 crusade to be elected Governor, and to "End Poverty In California."

There were two important features of the EPIC campaign that are worth mentioning. First, spontaneous grassroots political action characterized the campaign (and was almost successful): "I, Governor became the bestselling book in the state. EPIC clubs kept popping up like mushrooms, funded largely by bake sales, rodeos and rallies; and a weekly newspaper, the EPIC News, reached a circulation of nearly 1 million by primary day in August 1934." Second, according to historian Carey McWilliams, the campaign kicked off "a new era in American politics—government by public relations."

In effect, this campaign was a showdown between grassroots politics and the emerging idea of using "advertising" and "public relations" techniques to achieve electoral victories (and not just to sell merchandise). At the time, that was something new. Now, it is taken for granted that politics at the state or national level is inevitably based on raising the money necessary to do saturation advertising, and (with Meg Whitman as a possible exception) he or she who has the most ads wins.

The result of politics by public relations is obvious. Can we figure out how to mobilize ordinary people, once again, to make real change? After all, what other chance to we have?

I think it might be time for an EPIC rematch.

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