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Opinion

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.

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Consider the British band Arctic Monkeys. Like most bands, they labored in obscurity, without a record label to promote their work. Yet they quickly built a passionate local fan base, which took on those promotional tasks for themselves. Without the band's involvement or permission, they set up a MySpace page, uploaded songs, and got the word out about their work. Word spread quickly. The buzz was so intense that record labels begged to sign the band. And when it finally signed with a small independent label, their first single debuted at No. 1 in Britain.

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Record label executives no longer get to decide who succeeds and who fails. People are taking that job over for themselves. And as the Arctic Monkeys example shows, they could bypass not just the record labels, but even the band itself.

It's not just music. New empowering technologies are allowing "amateur" filmmakers to use inexpensive video and editing equipment to create content, then post it on sites such as YouTube free of charge and instant worldwide distribution. Bloggers can launch online publications for the cost of a domain name (about $10), building publications that rival their traditional media counterparts in the celebrity, political, and technology worlds. The media gatekeepers no longer get to decide who can participate in the conversation.

Nowhere has this impact been more noticeable than in politics. In the 2006 election cycle, Jon Tester of Montana and Jim Webb of Virginia were propelled to the US Senate by an energized online grass-roots network that fueled the two outsiders to victory – despite primary campaigns against well-funded and establishment-backed opponents, and difficult general election battles against entrenched, well-funded incumbents. In fact, Mr. Webb defeated Republican George Allen, who in addition to being a political legend in his state was also the then-front-runner for the GOP nomination for president.

The old gatekeepers in Hollywood, D.C., and New York can no longer determine who will lead us, what we can watch, what we can listen to, and what we can read. The age of seeking permission from authority figures is passing, and those who seize the opportunity offered by new technology to speak, act, create, and connect will be the men and women who change the world.

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com), one of America's leading online political communities. This essay was adapted from his latest book, "Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era." Copyright by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, Inc., 2008. Printed by arrangement with Celebra, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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