The MoveOn Effect
Disruptive Innovation in the Interest Group Ecology
of American Politics
“Membership as we know it is a myth of the past.”
—Interviewee comment, Monitor Institute “Disruption” Report, 2010.
I first encountered MoveOn.org unexpectedly, in the spring of 2000. I was the National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) and, like so many of my Sierra Club colleagues, had developed a healthy dose of skepticism toward the assorted attempts to apply dot-com era enthusiasm for all-things-digital to political organizing. While attending a national conference on youth civic engagement, a colleague and I happened upon Peter Schurman, a former SSC staffer. We spent 20 minutes in conversation discussing politics, organizations, and individuals. I had to sublimate my reaction to his new job, working with some startup organization that had launched an e-petition around the Clinton impeachment hearings. As Peter talked about combining technology and politics, engaging supporters online, and learning from successful tech startups, I nodded politely and said little. But as he walked away, I turned to my colleague and muttered, “e-petitions… what a joke. That organization will never amount to anything.”
Six years later, while conducting background research for my doctoral dissertation, I ran across another reference to Schurman. His organization, whose name had promptly fled my memory, turned out to be MoveOn.org. Peter had served as their first Executive Director. The subtitle of this book is in part a reference to that early conversation. The use of the Internet by political associations has changed from the time I was an advocacy professional to today. Groups like MoveOn played a central role in facilitating that development, and neither political practitioners nor political scholars were quite able to see clearly as the change unfolded. Unexpected transformations indeed.