March 9, 2008

Oregonian: HucksArmy.com blazes an Internet trail

Here is our column, published in the Sunday edition of the Oregonian -- as the front page piece in the Sunday Opinion section:

HucksArmy.com blazes an Internet trail
Teenage twin brothers from Gresham tell how they built a grass-roots Internet movement to support Mike Huckabee's surprising campaign

by ALEX and BRETT HARRIS

As first-time voters and teenage members of the Web-savvy Generation Y, we've been right in the middle of one of the clearest themes in the 2008 presidential primaries: More than Howard Dean in 2004, the Internet really does change everything.

From Ron Paul's impressive online fundraising and Barack Obama's slick social networks to Hillary Clinton's online "conversations" and the quirky CNN/YouTube debates, the Internet has played a bigger role in selecting our next president than ever before.

But none of these provide the best example of how the Internet is changing the political landscape. No, the true trail blazers of Election 2008 were the members of HucksArmy.com, an independent, national, grass-roots campaign for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the surprise candidate of the primary season.

More organized grass roots than grass-roots organization, Huck's Army built itself from the ground up starting last October, and by early 2008 boasted national campaign managers, regional coordinators and state coordinators in 49 states -- with hundreds of local chapters representing more than 20,000 active volunteers connected online.

For a candidate who started with little name recognition and who always operated with less staff and resources than his rivals, the impact of this new breed of grass roots was truly remarkable. It propelled Huckabee from his position as a political asterisk to eight primary wins, including a stunning upset in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and a surprising five-state haul on Super Tuesday. Four days later, he shocked the world again, trouncing McCain in Kansas by a 3-to-1 margin, winning the Louisiana primary and placing a close second in Washington state.

When all was said and done, the down-to-Earth governor outlasted party "savior" Fred Thompson, the once-presumed nominee Rudy Giuliani and millionaire Mitt Romney -- winning hundreds of delegates and the votes of millions of Americans. Ask him, and Huckabee will tell you that Huck's Army deserves a lot of the credit.

"Huck's Army is the secret weapon of our campaign," he told us at a fundraiser at Chuck Norris' ranch in January. "They've supplied the force and energy that nobody from the national media has fully comprehended and understood."

Inspired by an "authentic conservative"

So, who are these game-changing soldiers to whom the Internet gave a voice? We may as well start with ourselves: two home-schooled, evangelical 19-year-old twin brothers from Gresham, and co-founders of HucksArmy.com. Our story is a testament to the power of ordinary citizens, and especially young people, in this new political age.

Though politically active throughout high school, we paid little attention to what we felt was a disappointing slate of GOP candidates. That is, until we began watching clips of Huckabee online and read through the issues section on his Web site.

Here was an authentic conservative who knew how to communicate, lead and govern. Here was a conservative who wasn't "mad at anyone about it," who could trade quips with the best on late night television, and who had innovative ideas for bringing a polarized nation together to address real problems: things like education, health care, our tax system, energy independence and environmental stewardship.

Our excitement led to our sending an e-mail about Huckabee to several hundred friends, encouraging them to check out his Web site and a video we had quickly pulled together of clips from his performances in the presidential debates.

Unknown to us, our e-mail found its way to martial artist and actor Norris. He soon became Huckabee's most visible backer, recording a campaign ad that was an instant YouTube sensation, appearing at campaign stops and in television interviews, and crediting "two teenage brothers from Oregon" for getting him on board.

Around that same time, convinced that the grass-roots enthusiasm we saw building around our candidate needed a place to gather, we launched HucksArmy.com. As our ranks grew and Huckabee experienced a national surge in support, these two teenage brothers from Oregon began to receive national media attention. Suddenly the major networks, radio stations, and newspapers from The New York Times to The Oregonian were curious about what two teenagers from the Portland suburbs had helped create. We're still amazed ourselves. Even four years ago it wouldn't have been possible.

Huck's Army used Meetup.com to organize its local efforts, but that's where the similarities to past election cycles' Internet grass roots came to an end. Along with our national grass-roots campaign managers -- 23-year-old David Schmidt of Fresno, Calif., and 28-year-old Jimmy Morris of Joplin, Miss. -- we built a near-complete national campaign infrastructure.

Besides our regional, state and local coordinators, we had liaisons to each of the popular social-networking sites, had supporters in charge of TiVoing and uploading all Huckabee television appearances to YouTube within hours, and turned out rapid-response news releases from our public affairs team, led by veteran journalist Lucas Roebuck.

Our days were largely spent on the phone, sending e-mails and discussing strategy on the HucksArmy.com discussion forum. During the stretch run, we had nightly conference calls with Jimmy Schmidt and Morris to share ideas that had made their way up from local groups that day and then broadcast them nationally. Sarah Lai Stirland of Wired News described the Web site as "a nerve center through which resources and ideas can flow almost instantaneously."

Grass-roots movement

Needless to say, Huck's Army was so much more than just us. It was tens of thousands of ordinary Americans inspired to go all out for a candidate, many for the first time in their lives.

It was guys like Michigan truck driver Randy Bishop, who gave his first political speech to a room full of voters and elected officials and won the room over for Huckabee.

It was young home school moms like Andrea Aaron, raising money online to throw a pizza party for volunteers in Iowa, flying a HucksArmy.com banner over the USC-Clemson football game in South Carolina, and making 2 a.m. connections to exchange campaign materials with fellow Huck's Army members.

It was twentysomethings like Jack Somers, Chris Schandevel and Shawn Troxel, who crisscrossed states from Texas to Virginia to deliver yard signs and campaign materials for upcoming states in the primary calendar.

It was voters in their 40s and 50s who were inspired to hope again after years of disillusionment with politics. It was lifelong Democrats tired of partisanship and looking for leadership. It was preteens and high school students too young to vote, but who made hundreds of phone calls for a candidate they knew was honest and real.

In recent days we've been asked repeatedly what all this means. With Huckabee leaving the race after McCain clinched the nomination on Tuesday, was it worth it? Will Huck's Army be anything more than a curious footnote in the virtual pages of Wikipedia?

We believe the answer is yes, and we're determined that it will be. The Internet may have made it possible, but Huck's Army was more than just the Internet. Huckabee inspired a movement. His message and ideas captured hearts and minds alike. And we're still here.

Members of Huck's Army can articulate issues, principles and a positive conservatism. We're a new generation of conservatives who recognize that a consistent conservative philosophy can speak to demographics and issues where Republicans traditionally have failed.

Huckabee was opposed by the Republican establishment and ultimately fell short, but his ability to connect with the people cannot be denied. It reminds us of another candidate who failed in his first presidential bid -- 12 years before we were even born -- but who spent the next four years building a coalition that led to victory in 1980 and 1984: Ronald Reagan.

Huck's Army may well be the start of a similar coalition for the next Great Communicator. Huckabee's supporters are not disillusioned; we're resolved. We will work to make the Republican Party strong because we work to make it right. Some of our members will one day hold office, but all of us will stay engaged.

Call us young idealists, but it was worth it -- and it's not over.

About the Authors: Alex and Brett Harris are the teen founders of TheRebelution.com and serve as the main speakers for the Rebelution Tour conferences. They have been featured nationally on ABC, MSNBC, CNN, and NPR, and in publications such as Newsweek, Wired, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Their book "Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations" will be released April 15 by Multnomah Books, a division of Random House. They live outside Portland.

4 comments:

homeschoolers4huckabee said...

Great work guys! Look forward to working with you again in 2012:)

homeschoolers4huckabee

Anonymous said...

Those of you that know me know that I was and AM an avid Huckabee supporter. I came up with something rather interesting today. Check out my blog entry for today:


http://www.crunchyconservatives.com/

kim

Huckanut said...

Hey, I'm 16-year-old Huckanut blogger. Could you link to me on Hucks Army or this blog? I'd appreciate it.

Torin said...

I'm glad that you guys stuck up for what you believe in. I hope that we can support the same candidate in the next election, but in spite of the disagreement this year, I am inspired by your efforts and success. Thank you.