MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country: How to Find Your Political Voice and Become a Catalyst for Changeby MoveOn.org
When two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs launched MoveOn.org in 1998, they had no idea that they would be hailed as powerful and influential political activists or grow their online advocacy group to 2 million members in just a few years. Their simple missionfueled by passion for a more open and democratic nation, topnotch and timely information, and the
When two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs launched MoveOn.org in 1998, they had no idea that they would be hailed as powerful and influential political activists or grow their online advocacy group to 2 million members in just a few years. Their simple missionfueled by passion for a more open and democratic nation, topnotch and timely information, and the financial support of concerned individuals and organizationswas to jumpstart broad civic dialogue and enable ordinary citizens to effectively voice their political concerns.
In the spirit of simplicity and empowering the citizen, this book is an essential "how to" for becoming politically informed and involved. In this handbook for change, MoveOn members from around the country have written about what it means to be a responsible member of a democracywhat they have done in the past and what they are now doing to help make the United States more accountable, forward thinking, and a better place to live.
The 50 Ways range from simple ideas, such as "Tell a Friend about a Petition" to more dynamic suggestions, such as "Organize a Constituent Meeting," and the editors at MoveOn provided action items and resources for those who want to take inspiration a step further.
Read an Excerpt
50 Ways to Love Your Country
How to Find Your Political Voice and Become a Catalyst for Change
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 MoveOn.org
All rights reserved.
The Power of Connecting
Peter Schurman, Executive Director, MoveOn
We live in the third century of the world's most important political experiment: the founding of an American democracy "of, by, and for the people." The founders were well aware of the forces aligned against democracy — greed, avarice, ambition — so they designed an elaborate system of checks and balances to dampen these dark impulses and to unleash our instincts to work together and build a better future for our children.
Today, there are reasons for deep concern. Democracy is threatened by two forces that may swamp the dream of government by the people: the power of corporate money and the power of the media. But just as technology has created the modern media and the modern multinational corporation, technology has also given individuals an amazing new ability to connect to each other and take action together. This newfound ability to connect is transforming politics.
Connecting is the key. It's the only way we can preserve democracy. The Internet presents the best opportunity we've had in decades to make connecting easier, quicker, and cheaper. And the millions of people connecting through organizations like True Majority, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Natural Resources Defense Council, Working Assets, and MoveOn are proving that it works. Together, organizations big and small are winning more victories, stopping parts of the right-wing agenda in its tracks, and sometimes even passing visionary legislation like a new California law that can help the whole country curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Connecting online offers certain basic, compelling advantages. The contributors in this section describe how to use them, so I'll simply list them here. Online contact is:
Inexpensive: For example, when you set up an online petition, the cost for each new person is almost zero.
Effective: Thousands of voices can come together quickly online and count heavily with legislators, who often hear nothing from constituents but a lot from paid lobbyists.
Motivating: Once you take the first step of forming connections online, you can build relationships online and off and take increasingly powerful actions.
We've got to remember to reach outside our circles of comfort. Especially on the Internet, it's easy to isolate ourselves in like-minded communities and to pay attention to only news sources that confirm our beliefs. In a polarized society like ours today, it can be difficult to remember that we must engage in respectful dialogue and build on our shared values with those who disagree with us on some issues.
I have traveled across the country a couple of times, and, wherever I've gone, I've met people who shared certain basic values: civility, optimism, a commitment to do the right thing. I've found these values just as often in states considered "conservative," like Indiana and Idaho, as in "progressive" states, like Massachusetts and California — or even more often.
America is held together by an overwhelming majority of people who share a basic belief in leaving a better world for future generations and who are willing to fight for it if given an opportunity.
Connecting online can provide that opportunity. Like the contributors in this section, we can connect with others and together turn our country around.
Create an Effective Online Petition
Dorothy Keeler, 51, Anchorage, Alaska
The wolves of Denali National Park were in danger, and we had to spread the word fast.
As wildlife photographers, my husband and I have worked with the Toklat wolves in Denali since 1990. The Toklat and Sanctuary wolves had been seen and enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year inside the park. They were remarkably accepting of humans at close distances, making them unique among wild wolves. However, during the winter, both packs would leave the safety of the park on hunting forays, where they were routinely trapped and killed. Near the park entrance, the entire Sanctuary pack was killed by trappers. The Toklat family dropped from a high of 18 members in the early 1990s to just 2 in 1998. Luckily, the 2 were an alpha male and alpha female, which are the leaders of the pack, who mated and had pups the next year. When the Sanctuary pack was killed off, a nearby group, the Margaret pack, moved into their territory.
In 2001, our friends at the Alaska Wildlife Alliance submitted a proposal to the Alaska Board of Game (the wildlife-policy decision maker) to create a no-kill "buffer zone" adjacent to the park, covering the areas the remaining packs were known to frequent. The Board of Game would decide the fate of the buffer zone at an upcoming meeting, and the hunting lobby was already using heavy-handed political pressure. Though more than 80 percent of Alaskans were wildlife viewers, the Board of Game was composed entirely of hunters and trappers, who were dead set against additional hunting restrictions.
Facing such odds, we had to show massive support for protecting the packs. With the Board of Game meeting just a week away, I created a simple website that included a summary of the issue and photos showing why the wolves deserved special protection. I then established a petition on www.thepetitionsite.com, asking signers to answer questions in order to personalize the petition.
With only a week's time, I had to jump-start the word-of-mouth process. First I sent the e-card to everyone in my address book. Then I sent it to the leaders of every environmental group I could find in Alaska. Next I wrote a short press release. Finally I composed a letter to the editor that summarized the issue and included the URL of the website, and I sent that to every newspaper in Alaska.
Almost 1,000 people signed our petition, from every state in the union and more than 36 countries. I called the local newsrooms to say I'd be wheeling boxes of signed petitions into the Board of Game meeting on a hand truck. We made the six o'clock news, and the petition helped convince the Board of Game to create the buffer zone. At the moment, the wolves are protected by the buffer zone, thanks in part to all those wonderful people who signed the petition. However, there are still pressures against wolves and the environment in Alaska, and we're standing by.
Spread the Word about Online Petitions
Bich Ngoc Cao, 21, Los Angeles, California
In September 2001, California Assembly Bill (AB) 25, a comprehensive domestic partners bill, won passage in the legislature through a statewide grassroots campaign using foot soldiers and mouse clicks. I had the pleasure of helping the campaign gain momentum, and, when I received the news that it had passed, I thought jubilantly, "Something great just happened, and I got to be a part of it!"
Just a year before, I'd been furious at the success of the Knight initiative, which legally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Since gay marriage was not a legal option before the initiative, I felt the additional legislation served only to divide Californians.
Equal rights proponents fought back, and I joined the campaign. On the ground, civil rights organizations and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) community groups organized people to attend festivals, concerts, farmers' markets, and other public gatherings to garner voter signatures on a petition urging the legislature and Governor Gray Davis to pass AB 25. On the Internet, volunteers like me gathered signatures from their friends by email. I appealed to my friends' sense of equality, telling them about the basic — not special — rights that the bill would confer on domestic partners, such as the right to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner.
It was the first time I had reached out to friends and family members on a hugely controversial issue, so instead of mass emailing everyone I knew, I looked into my address book and wrote personalized emails asking people to sign the petition.
To my surprise, I received about 60 signatures within a few days, mostly from friends whom I hadn't envisioned as gay rights supporters. My own brother, who'd always mocked my passion for politics, even forwarded my email to his friends. I just couldn't believe the response.
Of course, I got some flak, too. The funniest response was, "You're not gay. Why do you care?" I had to repeatedly tell people that I didn't need to be gay to care about LGBT rights, since AB 25 dealt with basic rights that all people should have.
Overall, people understood and empathized with our message of equality. When Governor Gray Davis signed the bill into law in October 2001, ACLU spokesperson Christopher Calhoun reported, "For the first time in California's history, there were more letters, phone calls, emails, and faxes in support of an LGBT civil rights bill than in opposition." Of course, the far right hadn't stopped opposing gay rights — our campaign had simply mobilized the people who care about civil rights.
I was enthralled that I had helped pass a bill by using the Internet. It had been easy and quick, even though I'd written emails one by one. Since then, I've emailed my friends dozens of times about various political issues, but I might not be so bold if I hadn't tried it that first time and succeeded so overwhelmingly.
Sign A Petition
David Lynch, 45, Asheville, North Carolina
Until a year ago, I'd never been very active politically, even though I'd spent most of my life unhappy with the status quo. I voted religiously and wrote the occasional letter to the editor, and I never imagined I'd ever be more involved in political affairs.
That all changed when I signed MoveOn's antiwar petition to avert war in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, MoveOn contacted me via email and asked me to lead a delegation to present the petition's state signatures to Senator John Edwards's field office in North Carolina. The whole process of arranging the meeting and organizing attendees was new to me, but I stumbled through, and in the end brought more than 35 concerned citizens and the thick MoveOn petition of more than 3,400 North Carolina signatures to Senator Edwards's desk. We were covered by the local newspaper, too.
I walked out of his office feeling empowered. I had tapped into personal talents and capabilities I didn't know I had. The end of that meeting was a beginning for me. That day I had lunch with other local activists — and I've worked with many of them frequently ever since. I was invited to the Western North Carolina Peace Coalition meetings. The next thing I knew, I was involved.
I attended two Washington, DC, antiwar protests, helped organize peace rallies in my hometown, and joined with another MoveOn delegation to protest the war at the local office of our congressional representative. Local newspaper, TV, and radio media began seeking me out for interviews. I kept writing editorials, many of which were published in our local paper; and one piece I wrote made it onto the website www.alternet.org. I also used my professional graphic design skills to create posters, flyers, banners, and handouts that helped bring unprecedented numbers of people to our peace rallies.
I feel like I'm giving back to my community and my country in ways I didn't know I could. Though I expected no personal return for my efforts, this glorious work has brought me closer to the people around me and given me a sense of connection I've never before experienced. I may not have changed the world just yet, but I've made the important first step: I changed myself.
Share Informed Political Recommendations
Michael Rosenthal, 48, Fairfax, California
Some 25 years ago I got tired of the political action committees (PACs) to which I had been contributing. I felt that they weren't putting my donations to the best use. They supported many candidates who were virtually guaranteed to win the election. They also attempted to maintain a bipartisan veneer by endorsing some Republicans. I wanted my money used where it would do the most good: for progressive Democrats involved in close races.
In 1982, I did some research and picked two Senate races that I felt met my guidelines. I made modest contributions directly to the Democratic candidates in those contests. Lo and behold, one of my candidates won in an upset! (The candidate, Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico, is still in the Senate today. His voting record is tremendously better than that of the right-wing Republican he defeated.) Now, I'm not claiming that my meager financial contribution made the difference, but this was more like it.
Buoyed by this success, I decided to expand my research and provide recommendations to like-minded friends who might want to support such candidates, too. I published the first "Progressive Election Alert" in 1980, and I've put out a new one every election cycle since. It highlights several key Senate races across the country in an easily digested form, and it's helped raise money for more than 100 candidates so far.
But the contributions generated are only a small part of the story. As a result of the "Progressive Election Alert," people started asking me for voting recommendations. In California, our ballot sometimes contains so many candidates and initiatives that the official Voters' Guide comes in two volumes! Figuring out how to vote can be overwhelming, even for those of us who consider ourselves well-informed. So I began researching election issues, printing my own ballot recommendations, and distributing them to family, friends, and acquaintances.
The response has been tremendous. Friends have been incredibly grateful. "I don't know what I'd do without your picks!" is a typical comment. I know for a fact that many people take my list to the polls with them; some even distribute it to their friends.
I still put out the "Progressive Election Alert" every two years, though I'm convinced its offshoot, "Mike's Picks," has a far greater impact. The easier we make it for people to access the information they need to make intelligent choices, the better the turnout will be on Election Day, and the better the election will turn out.
Speak Out Online
Michael Tulipan, 33; James Linkin, 52, New York, New York
When James and I started developing OutrageRadio, our online liberal talk radio program, we knew we'd be facing pretty stiff challenges. Liberals don't listen to commercial radio. The Internet is dead. This president is unbeatable. We'd heard it all. It seemed the odds were stacked against anyone who might criticize or disagree with the president, but we were both looking for a way to stand up, especially to the media conglomerates.
Then, independently of each other, we both found MoveOn. I heard of the antiwar campaign and was very impressed by the response, especially the amount of money raised on the Internet. James was intrigued by the effectiveness and the sheer elegance of use of the Internet to bring intelligent people of conscience together.
One day, in the middle of early planning for OutrageRadio, we each received a notice that Al Gore was going to speak to MoveOn members at New York University on August 7, 2003. I RSVP'd immediately and added James as my guest. Coincidentally, James had done the same, and we were double-booked! Surprisingly, we had never talked about being MoveOn members until that day. Needless to say, we went to the speech and were heartened to see that dissent was not dead in America.
From that point, inspired by MoveOn's grassroots success and with new faith in the Internet's power, we redoubled our efforts to launch www.OutrageRadio.com. For most of the year, we developed the program at a sound studio in New York City. Finally, in October 2003, we launched a preview website with an audio trailer. The response to the site was immediate as we received press, coverage in the blogosphere, and emails wishing us well from across the country. The next month, we launched an upgraded version of the site complete with the first program, "Homeland Insecurity." In our first two months, www.OutrageRadio.comreceived more than 80,000 hits.
As we promote ourselves and build our audience, we view MoveOn's success as a recipe that we, and really anyone, can follow. The first thing is to develop a clear message, and then publicize it and manage it as it builds through public awareness. Use every tool you can to get the message out — that's our motto.
Excerpted from 50 Ways to Love Your Country by MoveOn. Copyright © 2004 MoveOn.org. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Evidently, 'Dave,' a self-described 'hard-working American,' has conservative leanings. Although the people in the stories may be working toward goals that Dave would not share, the book is about self-empowerment and how to take an active role in the form of government we have, which people such as Dave love to brag about, but which cannot succeed without the active participation of its citizens. I'd suggest you re-read the book without the filter of your own political views, but I doubt you could do it. I, for one, am sick of the mindless flag-waving and 'We Support the Troops' stickers that do nothing but support the companies that manufacture the stickers, Dave. And I'd bet you have one or more on your vehicle.
This is a very biased book from a very biased organization, MoveOn. As usual, they make simplisitic generalizations that the poor and liberal are so much smarter and better than the middle-class (eveyone who is not 'poor' must be rich apparently) and conservatives. Their view, and the book's view, is that you either agree with them or you're wrong. It's time for MoveON to stop their whining and lying to the the American people and MOVE ON!
The stories of regular people in this book--not celebrities or politicians--will make you feel that your voice counts and that you can indeed make a difference. Reading the 50 different essays draws you into each person's world, and you end up cheering them on loudly. The practical tips at the end of each essay offer you something to 'DO' rather than just sit as an armchair citizen. It's hard not to feel excited and empowered reading this book. And it makes you feel proud to be a progressive person who wants our country to be its best. Three cheers for MoveOn and this book!