Activism at the speed of Skittles! #p2 and Ask the President (DRAFT!)

DRAFT! Work in progress, feedback welcome.

Final version to appear on The Seminal.

Lessons from Skittles for poets and activists described how Skittles’ Twitter-centric viral marketing campaign caught fire on Monday night, and led to huge media attention by Tuesday.  It also presented the first lesson from Skittles: Twitter’s a great place for creating buzz.  Mr. President, do you like Skittles? presented the Ask the President project, a site where people could submit and vote on their own questions.  This weeks lesson: things happen very quickly in the Twitterverse.

Ask the President kicked off on Thursday the 19th, and things were rolling by Monday night.  Would a citizen-written question be asked at that night’s press conference?  In addition to the “credentialed journalist” the Ask the President coalition was sending to the conference, NBC’s Chuck Todd had said he’d take a look at the output.  With people like Ana Marie Cox tweeting about the project, and Faiz Shakir and Jake Tapper soliciting input from their readers and viewers, it seemed like there was a good chance for a citizen-generated question at Obama’s nationally-televised press conference that night.

The Ask the President page on the #p2 wiki has a list of the questions various #p2 members were promoting.   Julie Roth had put a lot of time in improving the look-and-feel of the page to make it less overwhelming and help people advocate. Four of these questions were in the top 10 (including What are your plans and timeframe to Get FISA Right?).  This wasn’t primarily due to our efforts, of course; some of the quesions we were backing, including truthbites’ video about VA funding, weren’t actually doing all that well in the voting.  Still, it was an encouraging start.

Tuesday morning, I saw a tweet to AskPresident from bcreative2003:

@AskThePresident What does the President plan to do about all of the homeless veterans out there?

The @AskThePresident count responded rather unhelpfully, telling bcreative2003 to go file the question himself.  Many people find the communityCOUNTS site intimidating, and when you look at the home page it’s by no means obvious just how to file a question.  So I decided to help out by filing it on behalf of bcreative2003 — and then putting the promotional muscle of #p2 behind it.

Over the next several hours people including matttbastard, farra, myrnatheminx, annedougherty, UKProgressive, 1Struggle1Fight, maegancarberry, k_michael, and me tweeted about bcreative’s question — including me sending it to Jake Tapper.  It wasn’t helping much in the voting, though.  As I tweeted from the p2pt0 account in mid-afternoon:

student loan forgiveness: #1 in #askpres with 1200 votes. homeless veterans: 10 votes. please vote at #p2 #diversity

Meanwhile Ask the President was finally starting to get some traditional media coverage: a mention by Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post in the morning, an article from Katie Philips in the New York Times in the afternoon.  On Twitter, Rep. Steve Israel tweeted pointing people to Why Tuesday?’s video.  The big blogs of the progressive and conservative blogosphere continued to ignore the project, but it turns out that didn’t matter.

At 6:45 p.m., announced the return of their Open for Questions project — and an online town hall scheduled for Thursday morning.

w00t w00t!

Ask the President declared victory, and rightly so: it’s a huge victory for social media advocates.   Kudos to Ari Melber, The Nation, Washington Times, Personal Democracy Forum, communityCOUNTS, and all the coalition paterns.  The coalition’s press release noted the buzz on Twitter, and linked to the search feed as one of the places to follow the conversation, so it’s a huge victory for Twitter-based activism as well.

And White quickly posted the video of the March 26 online town hall on their site.  The blog post featured the President’s example to a question about veterans and unemployment, including this:

The homeless rate for veterans is multiple times higher than it is for non-veterans.  That’s inexcusable.  It means that we’re going to provide services for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that we’re going to provide services for Traumatic Brain Injury that are the signature injuries of these recent wars.  So we are going to significantly increase veterans spending.

… which certainly seems like an answer to bcreative2003’s question to me.

Score one for Skittles — from Twitter to a response from the president in 48 hours.  Which brings us to lesson #2 from Skittles:

Things happen very quickly in the Twitterverse

Up next

Next week we’ll shift our attention to 30 Poets/30 Days, a project being organized by my brother Gregory K for National Poetry Month.   Greg and I will be co-writing the next post in this series, cleverly timed for Tuesday … right before 30 Poets/30 Days launch on April 1.

For now, check out Greg’s announcement post on Gottabook — and follow @30Poets30Days and the #poetry tag on Twitter.