I went to Netroots Nation in San Jose this year. The most interesting panel I attended was on “tracking” where someone from one political campaign follows around a candidate at their various public events and records what they do and say.  The various members of the panel spoke about how powerful some of these videos can be citing examples from early hits with George Allen’s “Macaca” to Romney’s “the 47 percent.”  I knew this happened but I was unaware of just how sophisticated the process had become at the national level.

I was glad that they were getting video but I still felt the entire process was far too passive.  If you know anything about me and The Spocko Method, you know I don’t just wait for something to happen, I actively work to make it happen, and I want the action to have an impact.

I told some of the panel members that I attended “James O’Keefe University” last year to see how he did what he did.  My goal was to understand his actions and figure out how to use some of his techniques legally and ethically.  It would be much easier to use some videos against the right because there are more corrupt people and institutions on the right and some are filled with racists and thieves. We wouldn’t have to fake the corruption with dishonest editing like O’Keefe did with ACORN or edit existing video like Breitbart to create the illusion of racism with Sherrod. We just need to be prepared, know the law and “show our work.” 

I asked, “Do you know of anyone doing similar tracking programs for key players in organizations or corporations?”  The panel members said they were mostly focused on political campaigns and cited all the various hurdles when it came to recording people who weren’t politicians.  Things like:

  • Their schedules weren’t public
  • They aren’t always in public venues
  • Tracking cameras aren’t tolerated in that realm as they are in the political sphere.  

And last, and not least, the unstated reason, nobody was paying for that kind of tracking.

I’m always trying to figure out how to develop actions that have an impact. These videos have had a huge impact on political careers.  We know the power driving politicians is corporate power. So rather than track the politicians they purchase er I mean donate money to why not track the power?

Now because I’ve been on the defensive side, I like to understand how to be offensive with activism. I’d like to look at how you might use digital video to battle a corporate political power grab (for example Charter School Movement with Michelle Rhee.) You need to prepare in four key areas.

1) Strategy

2) Tools

3) Action

4) Reaction and follow up to their reaction.

As I said, I found the tracking actions way too passive. They wait for the schedule, send someone to record, wait until they say something stupid then, Alert the media! (BTW, the trackers at the national level shoot HD because they want to be able to feed it directly to The Daily Show. Smart move!) The good news is that politicians are always saying something stupid. The bad news is they also have professionals following behind them covering up. Hence the terms, “Walking that back.” He “misspoke.” It was “taken out of context,” and “What the Presiden meant to say was…”

The mainstream media goes out of its way to ensure that the politicians or authorities have the last word if someone delivers damaging video. When I went to “James O’Keefe University” I learned  the Right Wing Media does not bother to give the politician a chance to comment. They count on the spread of a video via their own channels so that when it gets to the mainstream media the response is weak. The damage is already done.  One right wing radio host was begging the newly minted “Citizen Journalists” to send him audio clips of liberal politicians saying something stupid. He bragged about playing a snippet over and over again until the politician called and explained. He knew it was out of context and didn’t care.

Strategy 

If I was designing an action (for example focusing on Michelle Rhee and the pushing of Charter Schools) I would first figure out what I wanted her to say, who I wanted her to say it to and how the person she says it to will respond.  I would select the tools to get the video and then tools to prepare the video for the public. Next I would prepare the people doing the questioning for the mainstream media since they always go to someone like Rhee to get her take of the video. It is critical to not let someone like Rhee have the last word.  She is slick and prepared.  Unlike O’Keefe’s subjects, we don’t have to fake viewpoints. However we have to be smart about how we capture the video, who is asking the questions  and what they say. We also have to be prepared with full context of the video for examination.

Example: I want her to say how wonderful Private Charter Schools are and how they are like a super hero that will help your child achieve success.

She normally speaks to parents and school boards in parts of the country where private Charter Schools want to open. The more dysfunctional the current schools the better.

Who *I* want her to question her are the parents of children from failed charter schools in other states.  For example the Liberty City Charter School in Florida started by Jeb Bush.

Rhee is expecting parents who don’t have kids in charter schools but want them there and parents who are unhappy with local public schools. The organization that is sponsoring her might even bring video of parents of kids who are happy with the charter schools.

The people against charter schools might send teachers or parents who are happy with their public schools. However if teachers question Rhee they are seen as resistant to change. Imagine if a couple of parents stand up and say, “What assurances are you going to give these people that this Charter school won’t simply suck money out of the community and fail to deliver a good learning experience?”

Rhee will provide her platitudes, ‘Blah, blah, blah, incentives for teachers, we fire bad teachers, remote learning blah, blah, blah.”  The response from the parents, “You know it’s funny, but that is exactly what we were told 10 years ago in Florida when we sent our son and daughter to Jeb Bush’s Charter School. The same school that proceeded to get a D in Florida’s  own self mandated report card. It was so bad they shut it down in 2008. I don’t want the parents here to fall for the same line of bull that we were fed. So I’m telling you, parent to parent. Stay away from these for-profit Charter Schools.”

Tools

Now someone in the audience could be sitting there with a quality camera taping the entire exchange.  This is probably not going to be a TV news channel and even it there is a news channel they might pick something else they see as relevant. They DO like when “hecklers” are hauled out (ACTION!) but they almost always dismiss the “heckler”  and go to the authority figure for final word on “the outburst.”

But, since sometimes “public meetings” are held on private premises the organizer can kick people out. They can say, “No cameras!” So if I was designing the action other people in the audience would have their phones ready to record the video, as it is happening. It’s just like, ‘OMG! Nobody expected this! Let me whip out my camera and film it with shaky cam.”  Now I’m not really a fan of shaky cam, but they do have the benefit of immediacy and that is important. However, just because you know you aren’t going to have an HD camera doesn’t mean your iPhone footage should look like it is shot with a potato.

There are several programs for shooting video and there are also external attachments for better microphones. I have three separate  microphones that plug into my iPod Touch and 4 different audio and video programs of various degrees of quality and stealth that I can use.

And speaking of stealth tools, let’s say that you don’t want to be too damn obvious that you are taping someone.We all know that when someone has a camera or phone shoved in their face they suddenly get circumspect. The same kind of rant that they made two seconds ago might start being backtracked. So I direct you to the third person in the audience (or the questioner themselves). Did you know that you can buy multiple HD recording devices that fit into a pen, a key fob or glasses for under 20 bucks?   Buy direct from China in bulk for about 7 bucks a piece.

Now this week I’m not going into too much detail about the tools, editing and responses because I’ve already talked too much. I want to hear what you think.

Have you had experience that you wished you had recorded something?

Have you been in a situation where you were recorded and you didn’t know how to respond?

Have you been frustrated by the lack of understanding of the law and what you can or can’t do when it comes to recording people?

Have you ever been part of a team that is doing this kind of work?

Was it successful? Why or why not?

Does the whole idea make you feel dirty?

Have you thought about ways that this can be more successful or defended against?