Political Activists Turn to the Web

Groups on the Right and Left Use Net to Organize Efforts

A screen shot of the RightMarch.com homepage. The conservative online organization recently launched a campaign in defense of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. hide caption

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From Web Activism to TV Ads

In January, liberal movement Web site MoveOn.org released a TV ad -- based on the infamous "Daisy" ad -- to oppose the march to war in Iraq.

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Howard Dean supporters meet in Flagstaff, Ariz.

A group of Howard Dean supporters participate in a Fourth of July parade in Flagstaff, Ariz. The group met and organized using Meetup.com. Courtesy Meetup.com hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Meetup.com

Politics and the Web

Read studies from the George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet:

'The Net and the Nomination': Tips for Democratic Presidential Hopefuls' (Adobe Acrobat required.)

'Privacy, Security and Trust on the Political Web' (Adobe Acrobat required.)

'The Virtual Trail': How Political Journalists Use the Web' (Adobe Acrobat required.)

One of the Web's great strengths is its sprawling nature. Anyone can use it for a platform. Liberals and conservatives have both tried to harness the Internet's diffuse energy to achieve targeted political goals. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on how both ends of the political spectrums approach the challenge.

Perhaps the most prominent Web site on the left is MoveOn.org, which began in 1998 as an effort to organize opposition to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. The site has since become a forum for organizing advocacy groups around specific issues, including campaign finance, gun control and the opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Eli Pariser, one of the leaders of MoveOn.org, describes much of the site's efforts as "populist" work — polling members and organizing petitions around specific issues.

William Greene, who runs ConservativeAlerts.com, says the right wing's online efforts tend to be more fractured, relying on multiple e-mail lists run by various groups. He and other online organizers are currently trying to consolidate some of those lists, combining forces to create a new site, RightMarch.com.

Online petitions and e-mail to legislators are the Internet-age equivalents of traditional techniques like direct mail and paper petitions. But Michael Cornfield, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University, says that blogs, chat rooms and other Web creations can generate their own grassroots energy. An example of this can be seen in former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Many of his supporters have used apolitical Web sites like MeetUp.com to link up with each other.

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