An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Tech Organizing, More Than Just Email and the Web

Meetup.com has been hailed in the political world as a potentially transformative tool – a method to enable average citizens with an interest in the presidential elections to help get their neighbors organized on behalf of a candidate. In a New Republic article from November: Organization Man: Joe Trippi Reinvents Campaigning, Dean’s campaign manager the difference between the top-down presidential campaigns of at least the last few decades and a more grassroots, bottom-up phenomenon are explored. Meetup.com is, like online chat rooms, suggested as a new source of connectivity between the all-too-disconnected voters in a increasingly mobile world.

Of course, pundits keep announcing how technology is transforming campaigns all the time, and there have been a variety of other good ideas coming out of the IT sector. But what technology like Meetup.com (or friendster.com) does is more compelling, in that it draws upon the initiative of the average site viewer.

While the increasingly effective collection of data by Tony Sanchez’s Texas gubernatorial campaign illustrated in the Slate article, as well as more dynamic web sites and greater use of listservs are all innovations, Meetup.com has the potential to decentralize the organizing, thus using the initiative and power of the individual voter. The power of individual activists to do more than just carry out the orders of central authority is illustrated by recent campaigns by the Metropolitan DC Council, AFL-CIO's Street Heat program. They did a good job last month of providing materials and guidance, and turning people loose to make a difference.

This is something I'll be thinking about more.