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Sorting out the current situation. (Flickr CC image by woodleywonderworks)

New Left

March 17, 2010 | Leave a Comment

Category: 10-Activism, Activism, PJEP

We’ve been mulling over the relationship between the American Left and the new communications technologies. Integrally involved with this process is our role as co-facilitators of PJEP and its network of 41 statewide or multistate websites, where we are constantly seeking ways to empower small local organizations. The network sites provide them access to easy ways of communicating with allied organizations while building their effectiveness and contact lists through online petitions, eletters, boycotts and fundraisers. For example, right now we’re posting demonstrations surrounding the 7th anniversary of the US led invasion of Iraq. Actions are occurring across the country, appearing in the 40 networks, to a central position on the home page of pjep.org that lists over 120 actions around the country. The question we keep asking ourselves is: What other vehicles are there, that not only share information, but also offer opportunities for organizing?

There are, of course, the various national Left organizations that endorsed the protests that occurred the day after Obama announced he was sending additional troops to Afghanistan such as the United for Peace and Justice, Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Peace Action, the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, National Assembly, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, Pledge of Resistance, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and World Can’t Wait. They supported the actions by sending out emails to the activists on their lists. This is not a particularly creative or innovative way to use online technologies. The American Left is still firmly positioned in Web 1.0. We’ve not seen evidence that encouraging these organizations to behave differently, embracing some 2.0 upgrades, for example, would make a difference. They are almost without exception dramatically underfunded, and they have a mindset mired in one-to-many communications.

One of the problems limiting national organizations is that they don’t usually think in terms of encouraging collaboration at the local “grassroots” level, letting their local chapters work with other organizations’ local chapters within their communities. Such relationships would provide an ability for local chapters and activists to create and initiate their own projects tailored to the circumstances and needs of the community. They could be provided with funding, technical support or other resources. Such results do occur, but haphazardly instead of as part of a larger strategy. The use of new technologies to integrate local chapters of different national organizations is almost nonexistent, other than mentions on one another’s websites.

There are the aggregator websites, like Democraticunderground.org, which provide a place to congregate, converse, post content and share opinions. These sites have not been built to serve as tools for organization, though some of the blogs have crossed that line. Whereas Talkingpointsmemo.com is pretty much pure centrist story posting, Dailykos.com offers powerful organizing trajectories in addition to opinion sharing. Powerful voices there rise to the top, voices expressing unique interpretations of the political landscape and offering effective calls to action. Nevertheless, Dailykos is seen as a support site for the Democratic Party, not a Left venue.

Counterpunch.org, Alternet.org, Truthout.org, Commondreams.org, Buzzflash.com and Truthdig.com, are curator sites displaying and archiving news from a Left perspective and don’t push specific activist interventions or lobby for particular actions. TheNation.com, Motherjones.com, Progressive.org, and Inthesetimes.org, the independent political media, also are not action creation and execution forces on the Left. Click here for an overview of these types of publications and websites.

Perhaps inspired by Glenn Beck’s success last September in getting tens of thousands on the D.C. mall, in November, the popular webcast and radio producers, the young Turks at theyoungturks.com called for health care demonstrations in L.A., N.Y. and Atlanta at the offices of CNN. Turnout was small, but it was an interesting experiment. Other than the large immigrant rights demonstrations, has another video, cable or mainstream TV vehicle used its platform to get activists onto the streets? This is again, a one-to-many communication, hardly 2.0, but it sets an interesting precedent if the origin of the action emerges out of, for example, social networking tools.

Candidate Obama’s campaign, of course, used 2.0 tools with maestro-like finesse, empowering local organizers in ways unheard of by providing access to real-time information on campaign supporters which could be used in support of focused projects or to orchestrate local events. The Left has nothing like those kinds of resources or a central message. What might the Left take from the Obama campaign that the Left can use?

Facebook seems to be central to almost all the horizontal, spontaneous demonstrations occurring around the country. Responses to Prop 8 and then the Israeli-Gaza protests were integrally tied to Facebook use, which helped to bring out activists from all demographics. The radicals of the 1960s finally awakened to social media. It feels likely that new organizing tools or techniques are going to emerge in a context of Facebook or Twitter integration. We’re still watching for a large, Twitter-inspired/directed protest to occur in the U.S. as occurred in Dresden, Germany earlier in February where twitter was used successfully to thwart a planned neo-Nazi march.

Though there is a seamless integration between individuals within local organizations posting Iraq War demonstrations to one of 40 networks across the country with all that content appearing in a single spot (pjep.org home page), with over 1500 organizations accessing information about the accumulation, what could enhance this process of individuals within local organizations feeling empowered by awareness of the larger whole?

Please share your thoughts with us regarding the Left, social media, new organizing technologies and effective new strategies and interventions. What exactly do you see happening? How will these technologies be utilized?

-Marcia Bernsten & Andrew Lehman


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