So I was angry. Watching TV news over dinner -- turning my attention from scandals in the UK to those here and frankly welcoming the distraction from the tragedies in Norway -- I listened to the latest from Washington about negotiations over the debt ceiling. It pissed me off. I'd had enough. After dinner, I tweeted: "Hey, Washington assholes, it's our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it." It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel).
That's all I was going to say. I had no grand design on a revolution. I just wanted to get that off my chest. That's what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: "FUCK YOU WASHINGTON." Then the mellifluously monikered tweeter @boogerpussy suggested: ".@jeffjarvis Hashtag it: #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON." Damn, I was ashamed I hadn't done that. So I did.
And then it exploded as I never could have predicted. I egged it on for awhile, suggesting that our goal should be to make #fuckyouwashington a trending topic, though as some tweeters quickly pointed out, Twitter moderates topics. Soon enough, though, Trendistic showed us gaining in Twitter share and Trendsmap showed us trending in cities and then in the nation.
Jeff Howe tweeted: "Holy shit, @JeffJarvis has gone all Howard Beale on us. I love it. And I feel it. Give us our future back, fuckers. #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON." He likes crowded things. He's @crowdsourcing. He became my wingman, analyzing the phenom as it grew: "Why this is smart. Web=nuance. Terrible in politics. Twitter=loud and simple. Like a bumper sticker. #FuckYouWashington." He vowed: "If this trends all weekend, you think it won't make news? It will. And a statement. #FuckYouWashington."
And then I got bumped off Twitter for tweeting too much. Who do the think they are, my phone company? Now I could only watch from afar. But that was appropriate, for I no longer owned this trend. As Howe tweeted in the night: "Still gaining velocity. Almost no tweets containing @crowdsourcing or @jeffjarvis anymore. It's past the tipping point. #FuckYouWashington."
Right. Some folks are coming into Twitter today trying to tell me how to manage this, how I should change the hashtag so there's no cussin' or to target their favorite bad man, or how I should organize marches instead. Whatever. #fuckyouwashington is not mine anymore. That is the magic moment for a platform, when its users take it over and make it theirs, doing with it what the creator never imagined.
Now as I read the tweets -- numbering in the tens of thousands by the next morning -- I am astonished how people are using this Bealesque moment to open their windows and tell the world their reason for shouting #fuckyouwashington. It's amazing reading. As @ericverlo declared, "The #fuckyouwashington party platform is literally writing itself." True, they didn't all agree with each other, but in their shouts, behind their anger, they betrayed their hopes and wishes for America.
@partygnome said: "#fuckyouwashington for valuing corporations more than people."
@spsenski, on a major role, cried: "#fuckyouwashington for never challenging us to become more noble, but prodding us to become selfish and hateful... #fuckyouwashington for not allowing me to marry the one I love... #fuckyouwashington for driving me to tweet blue."
@jellencollins: "#fuckyouwashington for making 'debt' a four letter word and 'fuck' an appropriate response."
@tamadou: "#fuckyouwashington for giving yourselves special benefits and telling the American people they have to suck it up or they're selfish."
@psychnurseinwi: "#fuckyouwashington for having the compromising skills of a 3-year-old."
I was amazed and inspired. I was also trepidatious. I didn't know what I'd started and didn't want it to turn ugly. After all, we had just witnessed the ungodly horror of anger -- and psychosis -- unleashed in Norway. I've come to believe that our enemy today isn't terrorism but fascism of any flavor, hiding behind anger as supposed cause.
But at moments such as this, I always need to remind myself of my essential faith in my fellow man -- that is why I believe in democracy, free markets, education, journalism. It's the extremists who fuck up the world and it is our mistake to manage our society and our lives to their worst, to the extreme. That, tragically, is how our political system and government are being managed today: to please the extremes. Or rather, that is why they are not managed today. And that is why I'm shouting, to remind Washington that its *job* is to *manage* the *business* of government.
The tweets that keep streaming in -- hundreds an hour still -- restore my faith not in government but in society, in us. Oh, yes, there are idiots, extremists, and angry conspiracy theorists and just plain jerks among them. But here, that noise was being drowned out by the voices of disappointed Americans -- disappointed because they do indeed give a shit.
Their messages, their reasons for shouting #fuckyouwashington and holding our alleged leaders to higher expectations, sparks a glimmer of hope that perhaps we can recapture our public sphere. No, no, Twitter won't do that here any more than it did it in Egypt and Libya. Shouting #fuckyouwashington is hardly a revolution. Believe me, I'm not overblowing the significance of this weekend's entertainment. All I'm saying is that when I get to hear the true voice of the people -- not the voice of government, not the voice of media, not a voice distilled to a number following a stupid question in a poll -- I see cause for hope.
I didn't intend this to be anything more than spouting off in 140 profane characters. It turns out that the people of Twitter taught me a lesson that I thought I was teaching myself in Public Parts, about the potential of a public armed with a Gutenberg press in every pocket, with its tools of publicness.
* * *
For an excellent summary of the saga as it unfolded on Twitter, see Maryann Batlle's excellent compilation in Storify, as well as Gavin Sheridan's Storyful. CBS News Online's What's Trending was the first in media to listen to what was happening here. David Weigel used this as a jumping off point for his own critique of Washington and the debt "crisis" at Slate. Says Michael Duff on his blog:
Everybody knows you guys are running the clock out, waiting for the next election. But you can't have it both ways. You can't go on TV to scare the shit out of us every day and then expect us to wait patiently for 2012.
You can't use words like "urgent" and "crisis" and then waste our time with Kabuki theater.
Either the situation is urgent and needs to be solved now, or it's all just an act that can wait for 2012. This isn't 1954, gentlemen. The voters are on to you now. We know you're playing a game and we know you're using us as chess pieces.
That's why #fuckyouwashington is trending on Twitter. We're tired of being pawns.
Every politician in Washington needs to pay attention to this outrage, and remember who they're working for.
And then there's this reaction from no less than Anonymous: "@jeffJarvis you've started a shit storm. Nice going."