A Wistful Look at Email Campaigns Past

Commentator Andrei Codrescu laments the declining vigor of email political activism. The things being forwarded to him lack the verve of earlier years.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Andrei Codrescu is a poet who believes in the power of written language, but he's not so sure about its power when it's forwarded in an e-mail.

ANDREI CODRESCU:

Has anyone noticed the degradation of political activism as reflected in the quality of e-mail forwards? During the election, when this country was in the grip of political passion, the Internet hummed with outraged forwards explicating and excoriating the current snake pits and malevolence of public policy. Every citizen in possession of a computer--and that's every citizen; some citizens have several, one in every color for every mood--forwarded madly his or her opinions.

These forwards, judging by volume and pitch, were not just opinions. They were expressions of the forwarder's innermost soul, as radical in their way as the anti-war demonstrations of the '60s. E-mails, for instance, calling on a mass uprising of poets against the war in Iraq by means of writing an anti-war poem that was then guaranteed to be forwarded to at least a million people who were of the same opinion and were simultaneously engaged in writing their own anti-war poems nearly choked my Internet traffic, because I just couldn't keep deleting them fast enough to get on with my business.

When John Kerry--Remember him?--showed up on TV at a podium with his Web site splashed all over it, the forwards from his site went ballistic, as did those from the people supporting him in other ways, through movie forwards, slogan forwards and cartoon forwards. During the political season, I kept looking back with nostalgia at the days when the only e-mail forwards were jokes, idyllic age, bygone days. The forwards of the electoral frenzy were not brief, but they somehow opened the way for the forwarding of vast attachments of immense articles about everything from foreign policy to densely reasoned philosophical tractive proving something or other.

It was bad enough in this country, but it's the World Wide Web, God help us, and the forwards started originating in other countries as well, first a trickle, then a flood. From Romania alone, there came into my groaning mailbox hundreds of brilliantly argued attacks and defenses, ad hominem and ad canem, ad hoc and ad absurdum, about issues felt passionately in Bucharest. Between the passions of forwarding Americans and the passions of forwarding Romanians, I felt like a vast field on which demonstrators for every cause marched and directed barricades, made speeches, raised fists and fluttered flags and handkerchiefs.

The infinite dumping ground for forwards that my computer had become soon reached a critical point, and I hired two people to delete them as fast as they arrived. The folks who found their mission in life through the radical act of forwarding didn't stop. They were now addicted to this form of citizenship, and they continued to forward, but the temperature of their passions and the obviousness of the rightness of their cause diminished considerably. From forwards calling for the heads of our leaders, we are down now to calls for supporting people who talk their heads off in filibusters. It's been a long decline in forwards from a revolutionary fervor to muted growling. Let's face it, forwarding protest isn't as satisfying as being arrested for it. Forwarding is not the same as bleeding.

SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu teaches at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

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