a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

We’re Number 5! We’re Number 5!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 16th, 2009

Top Ten List
(photo link); click here for the list.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

The “Ideas for Change” contest / idea run-off / social networking experiment run by 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, 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.’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 site.  After a straw poll indicated strong support among “Get FISA Righters”, we and 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. press conference announcing 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, 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 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 economydrug policysmall business survival … a secretary and department of peace …  health carehigher education for the children of immigrants … marriage equalitycivil liberties … more health caregreen, 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 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 “” 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.

11 Responses to “We’re Number 5! We’re Number 5!”

  1. jon Says:

    Great post, Thomas, very insightful observations. Like I said in email to the group, I wish every one of us could have been there, and I’m glad at least one of us was! Did you have a chance to meet any people supporting other ideas?

    And yeah, despite its billing, this wasn’t actually an event about the Ideas for Change. I had asked Ben whether we could use it to launch our video “President Obama, please get FISA Right” – which is all of 25 seconds long – but the agenda was already set. Disappointing. I agree that Trippi, Hughes, Jose Antonio Vargas et al have plenty of interesting things to say, but they have plenty of other places to say it. It’s something to learn from moving forward.

    Excellent point about how democratizing technologizes like social computing and social media can also be used in a top-down and power-reinforcing way. In fact I think that’s the natural tendency: these systems are generally created by relatively-privileged people with others like themselves in mind (e.g. Facebook for Harvard undergraduates). Also, from a gender HCI perspective, the software engineers and business people are typically primarily male and analytic-thinking and this gets embedded in the software and systems we use. etc. etc.

    Still, deeper understanding of the tools can allow us to use them more effectively. This is something where all the Ideas for Change — not just the top 10 — have a shared interest so it’s certainly one of the most leveraged places to start …

  2. jon Says:

    Also a belated response on the help we got from our allies.

    I wasn’t tracking precisely, but … Bob and help was huge and on Tuesday (as our voting was going on) and the last few hours Thursday our numbers largely paralleled his: the final surge that carried him to #11 also carried us to #5. And on Wednesday (or maybe early Thursday morning, can’t remember) I remember noticing our numbers were rising in parallel with DREAM Activists, which probably reflected us reaching a largely-new audience. LGBTQ and peace activists impact was harder to single out so I’m not sure … and once again these are largely-new audiences.

    In the end we made it into the top 5 by only 5 votes, so it was the combined contribution of each of these allies put us over the top.


  3. Nell Says:


    ‘Niche’ ideas: like prosecution for torture, eh? Hm.

    Well, I’m still in a mellow state after crying my eyes out in several spots during the ‘We Are One’ concert. Broke down completely when Pete Seeger led the crowd in the ‘niche’ verses to ‘This Land is Your Land’ right after Obama’s speech… ;>

    Free on HBO at 7:00 if you have digital cable.

  4. Time to celebrate! (and Ideas for Change update) « Get FISA Right Says:

    […]’s press event on Friday featured some great speakers and got some nice press, for example Diego Graglia’s Immigrant Students, DREAM Act Supporters Hoping Obama Will Take Up Their Cause on Feet in 2 worlds, Nancy Scola’s Ideas for Change Settles on a top 10 on techPresident (which has the vote totals for the top ten finishers), and Prerna’s Undocumented Students Raise Voices Online for DREAM Act in New American Media (a great description of how our allies the DREAM Activists approached the competition).  Get FISA Right’s Thomas Nephew was there in-person and discussed it on in We’re Number 5!  We’re Number 5! […]

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks Jon and Nell! (Had to google gender HCI, and learned HCI stands for human-computer interaction, and that “gender HCI” “focuses on the design and evaluation of interactive systems for humans, with emphasis on differences in how males and females interact with computers.”)

    Re meeting others: I got a business card from the “Department of Peace” supporter sitting next to me, which is buried in my satchel somewhere now. But I arrived with minutes to go before the press conference part started (stupid Metro), and had to leave early (stupid work :)). Everybody else’s job appeared to be “be at a press conference from 9am-11am.” So I didn’t get to do much networking/meeting people.

    I suppose I’m coming around to a more social-networky outlook as I’m exposed to what can be done with it. Plus in some ways it’s not that new: I think there’s an element to it, at the basic level, that’s kind of like yard signs: “this is what I think” facebook displays, that often bring in friends and acquaintances: “Huh. Why does he think that? I’ll check it out.” I know that around here, he/she who wins the yard sign race often wins the election. There’s a chicken/egg aspect to that, but yard signs definitely make it easier to imagine supporting the candidate. Online “yard signs” have the added benefit that these yard signs are clickable, and can lead straight to organizations and/or knowledge about/of issues.

    Missed the concert, Nell, but you make me think I shouldn’t have. Yes, the “niche” stuff bothered me a bit. It could seem like he didn’t “get” his own brainchild. The groups that rise to the top of this kind of thing may well have geographically and/or demographically diffuse, diverse support bases — but that makes it all the more remarkable that they can attract the level of support they do. It’s not “niche” so much as “not being listened to, yet, but quite sure they’re right, and quite sure there are more like them” that seems to sum up the group’s memberships to me. Assuming they are right and keep growing, “niche” is one of the last available ways to ignore them before they sweep over, around, and past you.

    Note to both: comments are displayed in the order received, but comments are also held for moderation for new commenters. Sorry about the delay, Jon.

  6. Congratulations, President Obama. Please … get FISA right. « Get FISA Right Says:

    […] cool is that?  All the more so because our top-five finish in’s Ideas for Change in America (details TBD, latest update here), which means […]

  7. What would we like to ask President Obama? « Get FISA Right Says:

    […] is the kind of stuff that Get FISA Right has done well in the past, for example finishing #5 in’s Ideas for Change in America.  As well as resuming our dialog with President Obama, If we can get somebody to ask a […]

  8. Ideas for Change 2010: how you can help! « Get FISA Right Says:

    […] Nephew’s We’re Number 5! We’re Number 5! and Time to celebrate! recount Get FISA Right’s excellent performance in last year’s […]

  9. Get FISA Right Update & Retrospective « Get FISA Right Says:

    […] to conceive and fund 30 second TV ads through SaysMe.TV, taking part in the Ideas for Change, and making sure that our language was adopted as part of the Netroots […]

  10. Quora Says:

    Are social networks the new platforms for social activism?…

    Excellent points. Totally agreed on the missing pieces today. One thing I’d say though is that despite existing social networks limitations, they can be effective ways of sending a message to legislators (a Get FISA Right petition got a Senat…

  11. Liminal states :: Patriot Act renewal: Time to make some noise. Fortunately, there’s an app for that! Says:

    […] of you who worked with us on in summer 2008 or in’s Ideas for Change in America in early 2009 already know the drill. The basic strategy comes down to “make it easy for […]

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