is the Shape of the Activist Web?
April 11, 2002
By Jim Mooney
Ernest Partridge set up a good framework for soft-speaking
but hard-truth web activism in his excellent article - "Don't
Just Get Mad, Get Smart." But what should be the shape
of the Activist Web? I'm running a coalition website in Arizona
("for everyone left of the radical right") that is trying
to bring together reasonable people, even Republicans, and
I keep pondering how to do that even as I try to rein in my
sharp leftist tongue.
I did enjoy my own season of rant after the "Selection" and
even came up with the slogan "Hail to the Thief." But I can
see it is time to put away the things of a child and harness
the flames of passion to useful ends.
Oddly enough, I feel the Activist Web must take a page from
Rush Limbaugh. He started out by entertaining with jokes and
music and then sucked in the dittiots for his rant. Similarly,
we need more than dead-on-arrival all-politics sites.
Activists are usually among the most creative and intelligent
of people and at least some of their sites should be replete
with Attractions besides politics. Only a certain portion
of our citizenry will pore over a purely political site.
A much larger class of voters will go to a site that also
has regularly refreshed and highly interesting art, jokes,
music, stories, non-political information, useful tips, topical
skits, free software, flash animations, local connections,
slick design and so forth. Heck, maybe even a Democratic Dating
Service or some tasteful cheesecake.
Study the net, see what attracts people to the highest traffic
sites, and do likewise -- with the politics segued in. Content
is king and liberals are prolific writers and prolific readers;
but some tend to scorn graphics as not serious enough. Yet
slick or amusing graphics do draw people in. Especially if
they carry a link and are so clever that people repost them.
The same with really smart stories or sayings. Not everyone
who votes likes to read encyclopedias.
There are also a lot of very high traffic sites out there
that like freedom and don't like what the current administration
plans to do with it. Beg them for links and keep on begging.
They may be willing to link to softer, only partially political
sites where they would have hesitated previously.
A site or sites such as this means it will take more than
a solo webmaster to provide a high volume of changing and
interesting multimedia content and integrate it all. There
is so much information on the flaws of the Bush administration
coming out every day that it's really hard simply to avoid
page-creep, clutter and incomprehensible navigation. But as
I said, there are a lot of creative liberals. So it means
getting them to work together in a creative web-coalition
- a hub web with common data and a bunch of categorized and
specialized child webs, perhaps.
Of course, none of this will be easy since the Right is monolithic
while the Left is prone to shooting each other in the foot.
But it's worth a try. And organization is especially important.
Unlike rightwingers who can spend all day generating propaganda
since they are working for Scaife-fed millions, most activists
have day jobs and can only afford to put in part-time. Which
means more hands in the pot. And more hands absolutely demands
better organization or a breakdown of tasks.
I know -- it's hard for creative people to focus and we loathe
compartmentalization; what an unruly bunch we are. But then
if we were naturally organized we'd be tight-assed conservatives.
So we'll have to try harder.
We already have plenty of low-graphic, high-content sites
that the more entertaining draw-sites can point to, and this
will take the load off posting Every article about Administration
malfeasance. The popular doorway sites should also have content,
but perhaps on a softer or "primer" level. Something more
reasonable, simple, and more diffuse for people who are sitting
on the fence.
The big sites preach to the choir but we need to bring them
into the church. We need more than simple Bush-bashing. We
need to explain why a million men getting a dollar is better
for the economy than one man getting a million dollars. We
need to resurrect Roosevelt and put the lie to Reaganism.
We need to show why "priming the pump" works better than draining
the pond. And that unions are there to help people get higher
wages, not a Communist plot as is thought in much of the South.
We need sites replete with appealing and memorable quotes,
slogans and phrases alongside memorable graphics -- even unto
the dreaded sound-byte.
And I know we can be more entertaining than Rush Limbaugh.
He's not funny; he's just mean and people think he's funny.
But for all his flaws he knows how to draw a crowd.
And we should too.
Jim Mooney is webmaster of: