The Peace, Justice & Environment Project now covers 50 states serving over 1,400 organizations. Our first fundraiser on July 4th was a success. Where do we go from here?
I began working on this project over three-and-a-half years ago. It started with my seeking a way to flip Moveon’s model by supplying local activists an ability to create actions and develop powerful lists with the potential to propagate those actions across wide areas from the bottom up. Marcia and I experimented with Moveon techniques locally. We were effective, quickly building an 1,800-person activist list, driving people to events, getting media coverage. Would it be possible to develop a system where the lists were shared by all participating organizations in a state?
Programmer Rod Homor and I worked out a web application that we were able to test statewide in Illinois with the new Illinois Coalition for Peace & Justice. It was well received. It was an online commons offering participating organizations an ability to form ad hoc coalitions with other organizations around the state. Organizations shared network resources (a central email list) when enough organizations voted support for one another’s projects.
I took the show on the road. First Minnesota, then Florida, then Pennsylvania came on board. I added states one by one. There was an average of 28 organizations per state. California came on with almost 100, Missouri with six. More and more activists joined us, conducting research, emailing local activists, answering questions and teaching local representatives for organizations how to use the system.
States without a facilitator, a person taking responsibility for keeping in contact with the locals by posting their actions and projects when they are overwhelmed, tend to lie fallow. The system needs encouragement. The community needs people that are engaged. A dozen of us are in phone and email contact with these 1,400 organizations. Still, the original goals of the project need adjustment. Finding volunteer facilitators has been difficult.
According to the original concept, these websites were designed to encourage local organizations to enlist support from other local organizations to receive access to a shared database of email addresses to be used to promote actions. When a 55-percent support level was achieved, a blast to all people in the database would occur. This has worked well in Illinois, the founding project, but it has not worked in other states. There seems to be three reasons for this.
First, to build the email list, it is necessary to have online actions such as petitions or eletters. Marcia and I design online actions to build the list. One petition got 1,800 signers. A boycott achieved 1,000 signatures. Those signers end up in the website database and receive email when another, different action, sponsored by a different organization, receives 55-percent support by other participating organizations. In no other state were there activists focused on utilizing online actions to build communal lists. Evidently, Marcia’s and my passion for the concept was integral to this aspect of the project. In other states where there were no local advocates for this frame of reference, local organizations continued to think in a noncommons, separated point of view.
Second, local organizations tend to keep thinking in a local way. There seems relatively little reflexive tendency to make available what they themselves are doing to organizers and activists across the state. Local organizations don’t tend to think in terms of allies for projects if other organizations are very far away. Many local organizations look at these websites as calendars, not as organizing systems or as places where they can develop online actions, build lists and drive media to events.
Third, over the last three-and-a-half years, there has been a profound empowering of activists across the country in the form of online social networking. The foundation premise of the PJEP project was to provide opportunities for local activists to feel empowered, offering them vehicles to accomplish goals. Many activists are taking advantage of Facebook to create and drive activists to actions. Facebook’s horizontal features offer much of what we were seeking to achieve with PJEP. Facebook has made the social-networking (see our social networking vehicle, SNAPAP) aspects of the programming we’ve developed relatively unnecessary. Though SNAPAP offers features not available in Facebook, the average age of the members of these participating 1,400 organizations is relatively old. At this time, it’s still mostly young people that live and breathe social media. Across the country, I observe young people behaving empowered by new media. Older folks, not so much. Nevertheless, they older folks are now using Facebook.
Working with Moveon as a volunteer national coordinator, I observed firsthand the power of numbers of protesters and cameras to make activists feel like they were having an effect. When a sizable number of activists attended an action and cameras and reporters arrived to chronicle the event, activists behaved like they felt their goals were being achieved. Building lists enhanced this process. Powerful actions helped build lists.
Seeking to plug this list building process into PJEP has not worked out. Building a commons that encourages activists to use one another to achieve their goals has worked only in Illinois. The fact that it’s working in Illinois has had a lot to do with Marcia’s focus on the concept.
So, where do we go from here? We continue to program new features into this network of networks. David is now programming online access to over 10,000 peace, justice and environmental organizations, access to alternative media from all pages of the sites and an ability for any participating organization to get its own free, robust, multifeatured website.
We seek funds to create support for local organizations. That support can come in the form of a person on staff that responds to every action with an offer to develop a media advisory and transmit the advisory to the local media. If we can help drive cameras to local events, we can help empower the local activist to make a difference.
We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I seek to empower the individual, encourage his or her creativity and make it easier for that individual to change the world. As each of us feels we can make a difference, creativity is enhanced and we transform.