The Moveon Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy

By David Karpf | Go to book overview

7
Innovation Edges, Advocacy Inflation,
and Sedimentary Organizations

“Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.”

—Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology1

What then are we to conclude about the MoveOn Effect? A new generation of netroots organizations has emerged. Those groups take a variety of forms, but all share similar membership and fundraising practices. They tend to be issue generalists, mobilizing citizen support around the pressing issues of the day. They are sedimentary organizations, developing their member lists by riding waves of public interest and offering an outlet for citizen action. They have developed a culture of testing that yields passive democratic feedback, keeping them abreast of membership sentiments. Their advocacy work extends well beyond “clicktivism,” engaging supporters in large-scale, sustained collective action. Their work routines and campaign strategies are built around the Internet—these organizations would be impossible without e-mail and the World Wide Web—but they are far different from the “organizing without organizations” often heralded in public discourse.

The skeptical reader might venture a challenge: “Is that really all?” The field of political advocacy is changing, but the new groups are not necessarily more effective than their legacy peers. MoveOn did not stop the Iraq War. The PCCC pressed hard for the public option, but the Affordable Care Act was passed without it. Most of DailyKos’s legislative and policy goals remain unfulfilled. What’s more, the organizational layer of American politics is a relatively small patch of real estate. A small number of major organizations make up the bulk of the political netroots’ force. Compared to the national electorate, MoveOn’s 5 million members are less than 2% of the population. From the perspective of the average American citizen, a shift from ignoring direct mail to ignoring e-mail may appear to be little change at all. And from the perspective of elected officials,

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