Online Activism


photo by tom brownI have to say, this was one of the highlights of my time at Netroots Nation. Larry Lessig is an amazing speaker, period. His powerpoint presentation was stunning, with individual words and phrases showing up on the big screens as he said them, and many funny and fascinating photos and videos as examples.

The overarching theme of Lessig’s presentation was “9%.” He even had us chant it – “nine per-cent.” After a few examples, he came out with it – 9% is the amount of people who believe that our government is performing its function to the best of its ability. This particularly had to do with the ability of our leaders to stay fair when money comes into the equation.

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Not much to say about Speaker Pelosi’s q&a session. Frankly, it was a bit lackluster. I heard a lot of people say they were disappointed by how lovingly people welcomed her, with a standing ovation every time she said something that they agreed with, but that she hasn’t really done anything about. There were some Code Pink protesters there, who got a little rowdy at the end, but other than that there was not so much pressure on her when she was answering the questions.

And of course, Al Gore showed up shortly after, and his speech was (as always) breathtaking. He began by equating drilling to solve our gas crisis with drinking a beer in the morning to cure a hangover, which I thought was hilariously awesome. And of course he talked a lot about the Alliance for Climate Protection, and their goal to recruit 10 million activists.

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Running a little late, so I’m blogging about yesterday’s sessions. (I know…so much for timeliness). Yesterday and today were very busy, needless to say.

First thought about this session? Wow, that’s a long title. 🙂 Many of these sessions have excessively long titles, but this session made up for it. I learned about a lot of interesting tools.

Andrew Hoppin started things off – he’s from the NASA CoLab, and has done a lot of work to bring more transparency within NASA. But quickly Micah Sifry took over. Sifry is with the Sunlight Foundation (who are VERY well represented at this conference) and the Personal Democracy Forum. We’ve worked with Sunlight before, and they’re a great organization whose focus is really to improve the legislative process by using the internet and the social web to “shine light” on what goes on in Washington.

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I attended this session, put on by Democracy for America, because I thought some of the techniques that they use to craft campaign messages for candidates just might translate to online campaigning. And generally, I was right.

“Republicans are consistently better than Democrats at campaign messages.” That’s how this session started. And I suppose I would agree, even though Republicans consistently use deception and cheap shots in those messages (which they talked about later).

The general idea for this session was that campaign messages should always answer the question, “What does this have to do with me?” and should identify why that particular candidate “gets it,’ (whatever “it” may be) and the other candidate doesn’t.

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OK, a random extra post between sessions. I walked around the exhibition hall this morning and stopped at some really great booths that are exciting, both for campaigners’ work at Care2, and just for the general public.

Perhaps the most exciting was MAPlight.org. I’m not sure if I just missed the boat on this before, or if it’s a fairly new thing, but either way, it’s exciting. What they do is basically pull data baout bills, financing, etc. and allow you to access the financial contributors, committees, timeline, history, etc. of bills, interest groups and legislators. Basically, this is a campaigner’s dream. There are lots of other websites out there like this, but this one pulls information together in a really nice, one-stop kind of way. For example: Care2 did a lot of campaigns on the recent Climate Security Act. Well, look that up on MAPlight, and it comes up with all kinds of info that is really valuable: check it out (particularly the “committees” and “history and status” tabs are useful for this bill).

Another great org’s table that I visited was National Popular Vote, Inc. This nonprofit is working to propose a nationwide popular election for the President. (We joked, “what a ridiculous idea!”) It wold basically reform the Electoral College so a candidate with the most poplar votes would be guaranteed a majority. It’s about time.

And of course, there were a lot of our great nonprofit clients who had tables, including 1sky, ACLU, Alliance for Justice and Public Citizen.

OK, lunch time.

While I wanted to limit the sessions I attended to those that featured more than just one presenter, I decided that hearing about the Obama campaign’s plans for 2008 would be pretty darn interesting. And it certainly was, although my concerns about hearing only one person speak were definitely valid…by the end I yearned for variety.

The presentation was by Parag Mehta, who was very upbeat and had the rah-rah dance down for the Democratic party, which was amusing. He talked a lot about how we need to support Democrats no matter what, which I think a lot of people in the audience disagreed with, including a woman in front of me who was mumbling under her voice during the entire presentation. But it was interesting that he addressed this fact – that Democrats tend to be much less forgiving with their candidates. Like with Senator Obama’s FISA vote, he lost a lot of supporters just from that one vote. He claimed that doesn’t happen so easily on the Republican side.

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I’m here in Austin for this year’s NetRoots Nation conference (formerly Yearly Kos) with progressive pundits, bloggers and normal folks who are interested in changing politics. And, like a proper political blogger (read: geek), I’m going to be blogging during as much of the conference as possible. I arrived Wednesday from San Francisco, checked into my hotel, had a grilled cheese at a local pub, and took care of all of my advance planning. I even walked down to see the spectacular feeding hour of the Austin bats! At that point, I found out that my camera battery is almost dead, which is a major bummer, but hopefully I’ll at least get a few good photos of Pelosi, Lessig and Dean.

Two hours ahead and waking up at 7 is a bit painful, but that’s how my Thursday started. First task – coffee. Okay, that’s taken care of. Scarf down my bagel, and rush to my first session. My first observation is inevitably the ratio of male to female – it’s got to be about 10 to 1, at least in this session. More to come…

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