Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 16th, 2009
The “Ideas for Change” contest / idea run-off / social networking experiment run by Change.org ended yesterday at 5 p.m. — and “Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties” was among the top 10 vote-getters. Our fifth place finish — woo-hoo! — earned a place in the listing to the right at a press conference today. In addition, change.org pledges that
Over the next week we will be working with nonprofit sponsors for each idea, including 1Sky, Healthcare-NOW!, and The Peace Alliance, to craft national campaigns around each idea.
Change.org’s Ben Rattray said part of the idea will be to have activists document the unfolding of the campaign themselves, using “Flip” video cameras provided for the purpose.
I’ll allow myself another “w00t!” about this, since I was part of an interesting (and surprisingly intense) “Get FISA Right” vote-hunting operation masterminded by veteran social networker and FISA activist Jon Pincus: contacting facebook groups, sending personal emails, collecting endorsements, and the like.
All of that was helpful, no doubt, but probably the single most helpful things for us had to do with alliances with other groups — first and foremost, it seemed to me, the venerable Democrats.com site. After a straw poll indicated strong support among “Get FISA Righters”, we and Democrats.com co-promoted the “Get FISA Right” and “Appoint a Special Prosecutor” ideas. In the event, this alliance and similar ones with “DREAM” and GLBT marriage equality activists may well have kept the FISA reform/PATRIOT repeal vote total in the top 10. Unfortunately, the “Special Prosecutor” idea fell just short, although it remains posted at the same page in a second tier of ideas garnering 2500 votes or more.
Having said all this, I freely acknowledge I don’t know exactly what it’s all worth; I think the main message it sends is that the FISA issue is still very much alive and kicking among the “netroots.” In other cases, though, the message was “there are way more of us than you dreamed of,” for example in the case of a strongly supported call to “Save Small Business From the CPSIA,” the heartfelt wish of thousands of toy makers and other craftspeople blindsided by new federal product testing requirements after the Chinese tainted toy scandal of a year ago.
Change.org press conference, National Press Club
in downtown DC, 1/16/09. The press conference
was held to announce the top 10 vote getters in
the “Ideas for Change” event.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew
In his introductory remarks, founder Ben Rattray hit many of the right notes in emphasizing how new groups can come together online at sites like change.org, and be empowered to find a voice and their own strength in numbers. Somewhat oddly, the event then featured a high-powered panel (Joe Trippi of Howard Dean fame; Chris Hughes the myBarackObama.com phenom) talking at the crowd, rather than highlighting any of the social networking activists who had attracted the “656,991 votes for 7,847 ideas,” or asking what worked and what didn’t.
Nor was much time wasted on discussing the various so-called “niche” ideas — to use the somewhat unfortunate term Rattray repeated a few times. There’s nothing really “niche” about any of the top ten ideas: sustainable economy … drug policy … small business survival … a secretary and department of peace … health care … higher education for the children of immigrants … marriage equality … civil liberties … more health care … green, non-carbon-based energy grid.
To be sure, I had to leave before the question and answer period, and meanwhile Trippi, Hughes, and the other panelists had plenty of the right experience and plenty of worthwhile things to say. But the event seemed to illustrate how the medium of social networking is sometimes a little more top-down than advertised, and how it can sometimes seem more important to its practitioners than the messages it’s being used to convey and amplify.
But those are quibbles. It was good to prove civil liberties, privacy rights, and rule of law have a lot of committed supporters; it was educational to see what brought out the greatest numbers and best organizing elsewhere, and it was great of change.org to provide a place for all of that to happen. Thanks, very much.
UPDATE, 1/17: Be sure to visit a similar effort at the Obama transition team’s “change.gov” web site: Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act and restore our civil liberties. The deadline for voting is Sunday, January 18, at 6 pm.