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What 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: (inactive) (inactive)

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