Blogger analyzes the evolution of activism

When Markos Moulitsas started The Daily Kos in May 2002, he had no idea that his small blog would become one of the most widely read political blogs on the internet. “It was 2002 when you couldn’t criticize Bush on anything because it was considered unpatriotic and treasonous,” Moulitsas said. “I was upset about the direction of the country after the Afghanistan war and prior to the Iraq war. The site was just my way of getting things off my chest. I never imagined it would be anything bigger than my little soapbox.”

What was once Moulitsas’ “little soapbox” now attracts over a million visitors each month and has hosted various acclaimed guest bloggers such as President Jimmy Carter and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Moulitsas has been writing about politics since college. “I went to Northern Illinois University and I wrote for the newspaper. I was editor-in-chief and had a column,” he said. “In law school at Boston University, I ran what was then the Hispanic Latino News service, which was a blog.”

Today, Moulitsas runs The Daily Kos, which favors the Democratic Party. Due to the upcoming presidential elections, the blog has extensively covered the presidential race. However, Moulitsas mainly tries to stress the importance of Congressional elections. “The Daily Kos is a blog about elections,” Moulitsas said. “It’s focused on getting Democrats elected. It’s very much a partisan electoral focused website . . . For so long, the media had been focused on the presidential race. So most of our work is at the congressional level.”

Despite the perception that current students are politically inactive and apathetic, Moulitsas disagrees. “Every generation whines that students aren’t active enough,” Moulitsas said. “They’re never active enough. Especially if you look at Baby Boomers because they think they invented activism. I don’t buy it. I think they’re full of crap . . . They’re thinking about [the] 1960s. They may not be out on the streets but they’re on Myspace and Facebook and blogging about issues. It’s not as in your face as it used to be but it’s there and the proof of it is in the election results.”

Moulitsas may be right. In the recent Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, there has been a dramatic increase in the student voter turnout. “In 2006 the youth vote was up double digit percentage points – the highest youth participation in 20 years. Now we see in Iowa and New Hampshire that the youth vote has turned out at the same rate as the rest of the population. It’s pretty dramatic.”

Although Moulitsas encourages getting involved in societal issues, he believes that people aren’t obligated to be active in politics. Rather, they should focus on things they are truly concerned about. “I think people should do what they’re really interested in,” Moulitsas said. “It doesn’t have to be politics necessarily . . . People should really focus on what they’re really passionate about and work on those things, even if it has nothing to do with politics. There are so many ways that people can make a difference. That to me is more important than forcing people to be politically active when it may not be their thing.”

According to Moulitsas, students are important to politics only if they are truly interested and have a drive to change the country. “Nobody is important to politics,” Moulitsas said. “But what happens is that those that get involved are those that have a say in the direction the country is headed. If you don’t care about the world, or what’s happening in it, then there’s no reason to be involved and politics will move on just as a happily. But if you want a say, then get involved.”

Schuyler Hall ’10, who is working for Barack Obama’s campaign, certainly recognizes the importance of student involvement in politics. “I applied for an internship back in the summer for the time around Winter Study, and so they got back to me in late October/early November to work on the details,” Hall said. “Basically I just coordinated with the state volunteer coordinator for New Hampshire and then the out-of-state volunteer coordinator out of their Portsmouth office.”

Hall’s work for the Obama campaign ranged from attending meetings to making phone calls on behalf of the campaign. “As a field intern, I was involved in regional and statewide conference calls to discuss relevant topics in the campaign, and events related therein,” Hall said. “The bulk of my work was voter contact, though. This amounted to about 400 phone calls, five days a week to voters, and then the other two days going door-to-door to speak with voters and persuade them. You get to learn a lot about the people in an area this way, be it for good or bad.”

Like Moulitsas, Hall believes that a true concern for politics is necessary for those involved in political processes. “Without a fundamental interest and investment in the political process it leaves me to question the future of our civic engagement,” Hall said. “I feel like being involved in the political system is the greatest stance you can take . . . As a student actually transplanted in the process, I know that the older generation is excited to see youth involved in the campaign and the election process because it gives them hope for the future.”

Jay Cox-Chapman ’09 was also involved with presidential primaries. “I was out in Iowa because my sister was working for presidential candidate Chris Dodd,” Cox-Chapman said. “I drove out with my dad to help her out and volunteer. I made a lot of calls and I spent three days driving the senator’s sister around Iowa.”

Despite his participation, Cox-Chapman does not consider himself particularly active, only intending on voting in the upcoming election and keeping himself updated on politics. “Voting is adequate participation. You’re kind of just meeting requirements at that point.”

Moulitsas believes that the youth of the country will determine its future. “Young voters skew heavily toward the Democratic party,” he said. “They are important to determining the direction of the country in the coming years.”

Going to the ballot box or staying politically active may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but then again, the immense impact of small incidents is never obvious. After all, what may start out as a “little soapbox” can in the end turn out to affect millions.