Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, Founders, MoveOn
Perhaps the most exciting lesson we’ve learned at MoveOn is that when people are given a real opportunity to make a difference, they step forward in huge numbers. So, to create this book, we asked MoveOn members to share their stories about how they personally have stepped forward. We were overwhelmed by the response—thousands of stories poured in, in just a few days.
Kate Cox, a 27-year-old New Yorker, described how she regained her balance and perspective after 9/11 by reading diverse sources of information more and watching TV news less. Susan Truax, a working mother in California, managed to make 380 calls (committing herself to 20 at a time) to get out the vote in the California governor’s recall election. Michael Fjetland of Texas found a novel way to force his congressional representative, Tom DeLay, to address issues he consistently ignored: Michael ran against DeLay in the Republican primary!
This book is a compilation of contributions—big and small—that MoveOn members have made to the political dialogue. It includes tips and resources, to give everyone the opportunity and knowledge to do more, write more, or speak out more. We have organized the stories into five sections:
- “The Power of Connecting” illustrates how individuals and communities who share ideas and commitment to action can start, sign, and circulate petitions on the Internet, email their elected officials, arrange to meet with their senators, create online media, and research and disseminate candidate information.
- “Every Vote Counts” gives examples of how to further one of the most important actions we take as citizens—by ensuring that our electoral process works, registering voters in innovative ways (including voters often ignored by politicians), and improving voter turnout.
- “The Many Faces of the Media” explores a crucial influence on our political system and public opinion. MoveOn members tell how to become informed media consumers, how to provide several kinds of input to the traditional media, how to counter the conservative spin, and even how to create our own media.
- “Political Action Is Personal” tells the stories of people actively involved in politics, whether supporting bills, starting initiative measures, volunteering in election campaigns, hosting political house parties, donating money, running for office, or developing a fresh campaign strategy.
- “Personal Action Is Political” introduces a broad array of creative steps that people have taken to contribute to the political dialogue, such as expressing political views through art or fashion, engaging in community service, choosing a job in politics, attending a rally or city council meeting, and forming a political salon.
This book is a logical outgrowth of an organization that started quite by accident. In September 1998, six months into the Clinton impeachment mess, we were increasingly frustrated by the paralysis of the government, particularly the failure of our elected leaders to get back to the business of governing. Nobody needed to be educated about the situation anymore. People had well-formed opinions, and the vast majority leaned toward “Get over it! Censure the guy, and get back to the serious business of running this country.” But the folks in DC seemed to be living in a parallel universe—one that didn’t put the needs of citizens above the advantage to be gained through partisan politics. In response, we sent out a one-sentence petition to fewer than 100 friends and family members: “Congress must immediately censure President Clinton and move on to pressing issues facing the nation.”
This was a message that we felt comfortable sending to progressive and conservative friends and family members alike. We asked them to sign and tell their friends about it. We all wanted the circus to stop.
Registering www.MoveOn.org, we set up a simple website and quickly learned what it meant for a message to become viral—more than 100,000 people signed our petition in a week! People were grateful. They had been watching a political drama unfold, as they sat by speechless and impotent. At last, they had found a voice and were moved to action.
The massive response put us on the spot. We felt a responsibility for creating this powerful coming together of people. We would certainly deliver the petition, but what next? We had much to learn.
In the following weeks we helped people send emails, make phone calls, and even set up meetings with their members of Congress. And when the House voted to impeach, the MoveOn Political Action Committee (PAC) asked people to support new leadership in Congress. By the time the impeachment fiasco was over, our member list exceeded 500,000 and the MoveOn PAC had millions of dollars pledged for good candidates in the 2000 election.
After that election, we expected to cease operations and leave online activism to established groups. However, our members very much wanted us to continue and made it obvious that our work was not done. So we kept going. Along the way, the MoveOn team has grown to eight incredibly talented and dedicated individuals. Members are familiar with the letters that come from us and Carrie, Peter, Zack, Eli, James, and Noah. Just as we are fortunate to have such passionate members, we are fortunate to have the hardworking and heartfelt partnership of the MoveOn team.
As we grew, we set out to learn what MoveOn members believed were the most pressing issues facing our nation. What were their concerns and hopes? We developed democratic processes for online participation, from email communication, surveys, and our Action Forum. We discovered what they cared deeply about, and our primary issues for 2001 and 2002 were campaign finance reform and the environment.
Our campaign to avert war in Iraq, led by Eli Pariser, propelled us onto center stage in 2002. Members had constituent meetings in Senate offices in every state of the union, delivering petitions asking for a diplomatic resolution to the situation in Iraq. The Win Without War coalition formed and became a strong voice for peaceful resolution of the conflict; it brought together more than 20 diverse groups—National Council of Churches, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, NAACP, NOW, True Majority, Working Assets, labor groups, and others. MoveOn members made phone calls, wrote letters to the editor, handed out brochures in public places, and marched. When we asked them to support our first ad, a full page in the New York Times headlined “Let the Inspections Work!” members knocked our socks off with their response. We were hoping to raise $35,000; we got $400,000, from more than 10,000 individual contributions. We’d shown that, working together, average citizens can do big things.
As of November 2003, we have almost 1.7 million active members in the United States. People who haven’t had time for politics are reading, talking, asking questions, and engaging. Even better, other groups are connecting online: the AFL-CIO presently has more than 1.2 million online activists; Planned Parenthood has more than 400,000; and the Natural Resources Defense Council has more than 600,000. As people connect with the political dialogue on issues they care about, it’s only a matter of time before our politicians will better reflect our values.
We set high standards for things we love. Because we love our country—our freedoms, our diversity, and our traditions—we strive to help our country be its best. We feel blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to speak out, the right to assemble, and the tradition of political action by ordinary citizens.
After hearing the more than 2,500 stories of personal action and paring the book down to 50 essays (boy, was this difficult!), we are in awe of our contributors and trust that their stories will dispel any foolish cynicism about public apathy. Whenever we feel overwhelmed, we read these narratives, and we are inspired.
Engagement in the political dialogue—large or small—breathes life into us all. Thank you for all you do.
You can read an essay excerpted from each section by clicking below: