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Daily Kos founder: How you can take on the system

In a digitally democratic era, fans, bloggers, and activists can bypass traditional gatekeepers and bring about real change.

By Markos Moulitsas Zúniga / October 28, 2008

Berkeley, Calif.

You can't change the world without conflict.

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Whether you want to change Capitol Hill or Capitol Records, the corporate tower or the ivory tower, conflict must precede change, because in most of the big institutions of our society, we have too many entrenched elites who refuse to give up power without a fight.

Traditionally, these self-appointed and unaccountable gatekeepers have purported to operate in the public interest, but they are grossly out of touch with the public. Rather than empower people, they designed rules to keep the rabble out of the inner sanctums, where our ideas wouldn't infect their decisionmaking process. Whether it was record-label executives; Hollywood studio moguls; editors and producers in the media; or the clubby D.C. politicians, consultants, and lobbyists, many built walls to protect the sanctity of their turf.

The results? A sick body politic and a homogenized culture; a disengaged citizenry, cynical and despondent over its inability to effect change; and a powerful elite unhampered and unchallenged in the dogged pursuit of its own interests over those of society at large.

But all that is changing. Technology has unlocked the doors and facilitated a genuine democratization of our culture. No longer content to sit on the sidelines as spectators, a new generation of participants is taking an active role in our culture and democracy.

The changing media landscape offers this generation new challenges but also new opportunities. Chief among them is the mother lode of modern activism – the ability to dislodge "conventional wisdom" on any given topic.

Conventional wisdom refers to ideas and explanations generally accepted as the truth by the public, the gatekeepers, and the decisionmakers. Effecting societal change often requires changing the conventional wisdom on issues, especially when the "wisdom" isn't so wise.

For instance, the conventional wisdom on the stock market says that Republican administrations are good for the market, while Democratic ones are not. Yet since 1948, Democratic administrations have delivered 15.25 percent gains in the market compared with 9.53 percent for Republican ones, according to Jeremy Siegel, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Clearly, the information has been accruing for more than half a century that Wall Street flourishes under Democratic administrations, yet so powerful is conventional wisdom once set that it often takes cultural or political upheaval to dislodge it. Thus, there is an inherent advantage in being the first to define the "truth," because whoever does so controls the terms of the debate.

Once the exclusive province of elite gatekeepers – media pundits, political party operatives, think tank denizens, lobbyists – shaping conventional wisdom is becoming a far more democratic affair, thanks to the networking nature of the Internet.

While activism was once predicated on influencing those gatekeepers, we can now create infrastructure that bypasses those gatekeepers, meaning that to stay relevant, they either have to be more responsive to the public, or risk losing their relevance.