Online activism is booming these days, even though the mass e-mail campaigns that bombard politicians are increasingly being ignored. It turns out that the Internet is most powerful when it?s used as an organizing tool, getting us to write letters to our local newspapers, lobby our representatives, and take to the streets. The greatest challenge now facing many grassroots groups is to move people away from their computer monitors and back into the real world.
One group that?s showing how to do this is MoveOn.org. The San Francisco?based organization got its start in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment hearings when 500,000 people signed its Web petition calling for Congress to ?censure [the president] and move on.?
In September 2002, on the one-year anniversary of 9/11, MoveOn posted a petition against war in Iraq on its Web site. More than half a million people worldwide signed up to urge President Bush to cooperate with the U.N. on weapons inspections.
But MoveOn didn?t stop there. It grouped signers by state and zip code and sent out thousands of targeted, personalized e-mails asking them to get more involved in the antiwar effort. In the run-up to the Senate vote on the Iraq war resolution in October, MoveOn volunteers met face to face with every U.S. senator or a staff member and with many House members.
After the resolution passed, MoveOn urged its supporters to donate money to House and Senate members who had opposed the resolution and were locked in tight re-election races. The response was overwhelming, with nearly 31,000 people giving more than $3.5 million. While MoveOn lost the fight over the Iraq war resolution in Congress?and, tragically, its most outspoken ally, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone?8 of its 22 endorsed candidates won on election day. The group has laid a solid foundation of grassroots organizing, positioning itself as a central player in the growing antiwar movement.
MoveOn has recently added its support to Win Without War, a coalition that includes the National Council of Churches, NOW, NAACP, Veterans for Common Sense, the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Working Assets. When MoveOn asked for $27,000 to help pay for a Win Without War ad in The New York Times, the group received $400,000 in less than a week?showing the real power of the post?dot-com Internet.