I think the Internet has been the best thing to happen to advocates and advocacy as a practice. You hear criticisms of slacktivism or clicktivism or whatever the term is, and the fear is that people will sit on their couch instead of going to publicly demonstrate or whatever the preferred action is. At the Obama campaign we found quite the opposite.
That first click is a door opener for people and makes them want to do more and more stuff. We were really clear that the most important thing we wanted our volunteers to do was to go knock on doors if they could – and some people can’t.
The second most important thing was to make phone calls. It was way, way less important to share and retweet and open our emails. If you did that, though, it was a pretty good sign that you were a good prospect for going to go knock on doors.
And so we thought of that as a great lead generation mechanism and not as a threat to the actual offline organizing that we cared about. Now that being said, what the Internet and what social media is doing is it’s making the voices of ordinary people impossible to ignore. For instance, 90 percent of Americans support background checks for gun purchases and the Senate decided not to heed those voices.
Now, that’s not great and that sort of thing has to get better and I suspect it will. But there was a time ten years ago when we might have not even known that 90 percent of the people in the United States supported background checks. There would have been nothing they could do. If they got called by a pollster, great, then they could make their voices heard. But otherwise there was nothing they could do. And now absolutely everybody if they want to can be engaged in the act of participating in conversation and trying to influence their friends. There’s lots of different ways to go about that but nothing is really as powerful as just the simple act of letting your friends know where you stand.
People really care what their friends think and Facebook and Twitter give us these incredibly powerful public forums in which you can say “I’m for gay marriage.” I don’t think anybody thinks that the gay marriage issue could have moved as quickly as it did over the past ten years without the Internet. Or “I’m for background checks.” These platforms are an increasingly important part of how policies get set.
Now we still have a government that doesn’t always perfectly reflect the wishes of our people and many smart people are working on changing that. But now everybody who voted no on that bill knows perfectly well and all their constituents know perfectly well that they acted against the will of their constituents. And that’s going to be an increasingly important part of their decision-making process going forward.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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