The void that Chavez has left

A powerful man that I despised died today. His power has left a void. We all need to stare at that void for a while to understand how it was possible and to what extent, ONE  man was able to define the lives of almost 25 million people for 14 years. No matter what ideology, what agenda, what ‘social goodness’ is behind a desire to change things, when power is gained for so long, it always corrupts. And we, as citizens, are responsible for giving up that power. Let’s not let that happen again. It has cost us so much.

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Oh, my country! From the distance.

“To prevent frogs from jumping out of the pot, first put them in cold water and then warm up the water slowly until it boils.” 

The Tower of David – unfinished building invaded by organized squatters. Anderson writes about this in Slumlord. Photo by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

This my mother told me. She was’t trying to teach me how to cook frogs, she was reflecting how people didn’t see where Venezuela was going under the Chavez regime.

Last night I read the eloquent and brave article Slumlord in the New Yorker by the amazing Jon Lee Anderson. I say brave because to tell this story from the inside-out, Anderson went (and spent time) into the slums and in the midst of an invaded, unfinished building run by criminals: equivalent to going into a war zone without wearing a bulletproof jacket. Also, his article also, bravely, crystallized what no news analysis could do and only story can––the complexity of the failed Revolucion socialista and the uncertainty over Chavez’ future.

In his article Anderson referred to the ‘glorious’ past of Caracas, his lines conjured in me nostalgic memories of my childhood and I thought to myself that perhaps that is the reason we middle class expats react so viciously to Chavez––he destroyed our image of progress, stability and prosperity.

I broke off to watch a video of Tambores (drums) to cheer myself up, but I was struck with how foreign it all seemed, like I was watching a video of a country I’ve never been to and was trying to understand their strange customs. Yet the scent of coastal towns came roaring into my mind, the sensations of heat and crowds. I could imagine the jokes (Venezuelans are all comedians) off camera. But it all seemed like a long trip I had taken a long time ago. Fourteen years in the United States while Chavez has been in power has given me the foreign eye. A distance from which I can comfortably read articles, get Facebook updates, have phone conversations and cry for the deterioration of it all. Even my visits to Venezuela have become increasingly uncomfortable, fearing for our safety, the scarcity of basic goods and the blondness of my daughter; and yearning o return ‘home.’

My husband said, after reading the article, “decay can happen so fast.” I thought to myself, estrangement can happen so fast.

A Digital Ecology: Yes we can!

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As political analysts pour over reasons that led the Obama campaign to victory, one fact reveals itself: he better understands the role of the Internet as the predominant medium for reaching and activating the populace.  More than a convenient way to fund raise and present his message in a readable (brochure ware) format, he really understands the active, engaging ideas of SOCIAL MEDIA. In recent weeks as his opponents and pundits tried to slander him as a socialist, they weren’t far off, but they were still thinking of the word ’socialist’ in 20th century terms. If anything, Obama’s team makes a great case for redefining the term.  Social (media) -ist might best describe this involvement in terms of leveraging the nodes along our digital ecology (see previous posts) into active organization of a movement.

 

From Facebook organized ‘groups,’ ‘events,’ and ’causes’ to Obama’s status as the ‘most followed on Twitter’. Note here, number two on that list is Kevin Rose founder of Digg, which is no surprise.  For Obama’s campaign, bridging the generation gap to the younger voters wagered this strategy: get the word out everywhere online and let it self-propagate via the networks.  This means: be as active as the top players in the field, such as Mr. Rose.

 

In case you haven’t already, peruse his website’s statement on technology, and take into account these several statistics from the campaign. These statistics do not present that large a portion of the 50-60 million voters that cast their ballots yesterday, but that’s really not necessary.  At nearly every large point in the campaign, whether a speech, debate, crisis, or attack, social networks were ablaze with activity, people were creating art, music, clothes, organizing, donating.  Actions, via tools (iPhone’s Obama ‘08 app. is one example, Facebook apps another) engaged and enabled users to USE the Obama message daily, instead of passively receiving a message. This is the key difference here, the use of the message allowed it to continually regenerate beyond the campaign’s control or power to do so. Obama’s message became a living ecology.

 

The immediate effect was that the buzz spreading through social media networks coalesced into production: designers made posters, musicians published songs, and participate in the effort by.  This took the campaign’s points of discussion and crossed over from one node of digital media (see graphic from two posts earlier) to the next: into emails, conversations over the phone, call-ins to radio and TV talk shows, music videos, gigs at clubs, activating channels across what could be considered the greater digital ecosystem.

 

It’s difficult to ascertain everything that this election’s outcome will influence, but it’s certain that the socialists (media socialists that is) played to win — and did. Yes, indeed, we can!