Micah L. Sifry kicks out a fantastic summary of the current shifts in advocacy strategy and approaches to organizing on AlterNet.
Network-Centric politics is on the rise for 2 reasons.
1. Failure of leadership to listen and engage the public.
2. The rapid "wiring" of the public.
Since you can't ever listen too much and there is no sign of society slowing down the march of connectivity the question is then when will you realize it is time to change your strategy? Is the movement waiting for a particular event? Are our leaders and key funders waiting for a further decline in political power? More proof that online organizing works? Proof that it is possible to raise money online?
To the first point:
They were replaced by a proliferating array of professionally run, top-down advocacy organizations, like the AARP and Natural Resources Defense Council. "America is now full of civic entrepreneurs who are constantly looking upward for potential angels, shmoozing with the wealthy," Skocpol writes, rather than talking to people of modest means.
But it is also true that insiderism and elitism have recently come under heavy attack, as everyone from Trent Lott to Dan Rather can attest. And it's not just Congress and big media whose hierarchies are being challenged; nonprofits and interest groups are feeling the ground shift too. "Members Unite! You have nothing to lose but your newsletters and crappy coffee-cup premiums," read the title of a recent post on WorldChanging.com, a blog devoted to fostering this movement. New web-based tools are facilitating a different way of doing politics, one in which we may all actually, not hypothetically, be equals; where transparency and accountability are more than slogans; and where anyone with few resources but a compelling message can be a community organizer, an ad-maker, a reporter, a publisher, a theorist, a money-raiser or a leader.
To the second:
Consider these harbingers:
* About two-thirds of American adults use the internet, and more than 55 percent have access to a high-speed internet connection at either home or work.
* More than 53 million people have contributed material online, according to a spring 2003 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
* More than 15 million have their own web site.
* A new blog, or online journal, is created every 5.3 seconds, according to Technorati.com, a site that tracks the known universe of these easily updated web sites. As of Nov. 1, there were almost 4.3 million blogs, a million more than three months before. More than half of them are regularly updated by their creators, producing more than 400,000 fresh postings every day.
* A well-written blog, Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo, gets more than 500,000 monthly visitors – as many as the entire web site of The American Prospect, the magazine where Marshall used to work, at a fraction of the cost.
* Of the approximately 400,000-500,000 people who attended a political meeting through the social-networking site Meetup.com this election season, half had never gone to a political meeting before. 60 percent were under 40.
*Attendees of Meetups for Democratic Party presidential candidates reported making an average of $312 in political contributions last year.
*A two-minute political cartoon lampooning both Kerry and Bush, put out by JibJab.com this past summer, had 10 million viewings in the month of July – three times the number of hits on both presidential campaign web sites combined – and has since been viewed another 55 million times.
Really the only question to "professionals" that remains is a question about how your resources, talents, expertise and wisdom will participate in the new system of advocacy that is evolving. Are you going to continue to keep your strategy based on the "pull them off and make them members" or shift to a "push our talents and tools out to empower people who are connecting on their own?" Are your sending staff to existing meetups to embed them within a larger group or are you starting your own smaller meetup? Have you asked how many of your members Blog? Ever asked them to coordinate a post on a story or topic? Are you taking viral marketing seriously or do you think it is "brilliant" but really do nothing to experiment with it in your work?
The trends and trajectory are easy to see over the business world and now in political campaigns when we connect our off line bricks more effectively with our online presence as a movement? When will we truly network the movement and adopt network-centric strategies?
Kudos to Micah