The Moveon Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy

By David Karpf | Go to book overview

5
Netroots as Networks—Building
Progressive Infrastructure

“To respond to the challenges of elite entrenchment,
countermobilizers must develop… an ‘alternative governing
coalition.’ An alternative governing coalition is composed of
intellectual, network, and political entrepreneurs, and the patrons
that support them.”

—Steven Teles, The Rise of the Conservative LegalMovement1

The organizational layer of American politics extends beyond membership associations. Along with the netroots generation of political organizations discussed in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, a rich tapestry of non-membership advocacy organizations (NMAOs) has emerged in the past decade. These NMAOs were founded in the midst of progressive counter-mobilization; the electoral and policy losses of the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections prompted calls for new ideas, new strategies, and new organizational arrangements within the American Left. Reacting to a perceived infrastructure deficit in comparison to conservative media, policy, and electoral efforts, the progressive donor community engaged in a concerted effort to build new supporting institutions. New think tanks, training organizations, data vendors, and backchannel communications networks were all forged in this time period. These infrastructural endeavors drew upon the new media environment and the changing needs of Internet-mediated advocacy organizations. The netroots’ institutional capacities are shaped both by online technological affordances and historical circumstance. This chapter extends our scope of analysis beyond membership-based organizations, adding various types of netroots infrastructure organization into the picture.

This chapter serves three purposes: first, it provides a historical backdrop to the emergence of the political “netroots” in the first decade of the 21st century. The new political associations among the American Left developed not only in response to the changing communications environment, but also in response to perceived

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