MoveOn is working to bring ordinary people back into politics. With a system that today revolves around big money and big media, most citizens are left out. When it becomes clear that our "representatives" don't represent the public, the foundations of democracy are in peril. MoveOn is a catalyst for a new kind of grassroots involvement, supporting busy but concerned citizens in finding their political voice.
the worst and most vile form of political hate speech
-- Republican National Committe Chairman Ed Gillespie, concerning MoveOn.org
Democracy in Action
MoveOn.org is a political group in the United States that provides central organization and information distribution for like-minded people, currently estimated to number more than two million. The group was founded in 1998 as an effort to get Congress to "move on" from the impeachment proceedings of Bill Clinton, and has since grown in significance by taking a harsh stance against the war in Iraq. The group's primary goal in the 2004 elections is to unseat George W. Bush. Beyond this, MoveOn.org is seen as perhaps being a prototype for how political organizations may work in the future, with the internet providing a forum for volunteerism and discussion.
A Brief History
MoveOn.org was born on September 18, 1998 when Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, a husband-and-wife team who cofounded the entertainment software group Berkeley Systems, registered the domain name in order to organize people who were connected to the internet and wanted Congress to "censure and move on" with regards to the impeachment proceedings against then-President of the United States Bill Clinton. In this early state, the group was rather independent of any distinct political ideology other than to oppose those individuals (who happened to be primarily Republican) who wanted to impeach Bill Clinton.
When the November 1998 elections occurred, MoveOn felt that they had succeeded in their quest to halt the march toward impeachment, as several supporters of the impeachment movement lost their seats in the House of Representatives. However, their cause was given new life two weeks after the election, when the House voted to impeach Clinton.
In 1999, the group strove to establish itself as a political action committee (PAC) which would allow the group to collect contributions for political campaigns via the website; the group would go on to raise more than $2 million, which helped to elect four senators and five representatives in races against incumbents or seats vacated by those who supported the impeachment. The candidates that were supported by the donations were exclusively Democrats, which signalled the gradual move of the group to a somewhat leftist perspective.
The group also began to expand their work into realms unrelated to the Clinton impeachment: in April 1999, following school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, the group began to promote a "Gun Safety First" petition which encouraged lawmakers to adopt "common sense regulation" of firearms.
This move into additional political viewpoints beyond just a stance on the Clinton impeachment began to take real form in early 2000 with the launch of actionforum.com, a discussion forum interlinked with the MoveOn.org site which aimed to empower the members of the forum to state and share their opinions in a public fashion with accountability; all posts had to show the name and location of the person posting, and all posts were peer reviewed with only the writeups having the most positive consensus among forum users rising to the top. The forum was launched in order to be used in the municipality of Berkeley, California to allow the city government to have some degree of direct contact with the populace, and also to be used in the wider sense of national politics as well. The forum was both a success and a failure; the city of Berkeley abandoned using the forum in 2001, but it is an extremely lively source for idea exchange and promotion for the national MoveOn movement today.
The group helped to register voters for the 2000 election (and although they didn't support a candidate, they encouraged people NOT to vote for Ralph Nader because it became an implicit vote for George W. Bush). By 2001, the group had become a solid political advocacy group, and it began to employ a full-time director, Peter Schuman. The group also became much more politicized during 2001, actively working to support the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill and also protested energy policy in California by organizing a voluntary blackout.
MoveOn.org, 9/11, and Iraq
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, in the midst of the immediate anti-Arabic backlash in the United States, MoveOn began to adopt a "justice, not violence" stance which would eventually grow into an opposition against the eventual war in Iraq that developed from the situation.
In late 2001, the group primarily focused on the conflict in Afghanistan. While the group did not entirely oppose the elimination of the Taliban government, the group advocated a general policy of not harming any civilians in Afghanistan. Instead, the group pushed for a surgical removal of the Taliban regime.
As the Bush administration transistioned the "war on terror" into Iraq, MoveOn.org began to vehemently oppose the direction that the campaign was heading in. A key turning point in this tide in propaganda appeared in September 2002, when the group issued a bulletin entitled Selling the War on Iraq. The bulletin discussed the PR tactics that the Bush administration was attempting to use to promote the war and debunked them. The bulletin concluded that the cost of regime change would exceed $200 billion (a prediction that proved accurate) and that the middle class would end up footing the bill while those with ties to the oil companies, like Bush and Cheney, would get rich from the conflict.
This culminated in a series of anti-war protests throughout 2003, including a "virtual" march on Washington and the purchasing of print ads in major US newspapers. However, the political impact of MoveOn was just beginning to take shape.
MoveOn.org has played a pivotal role in the 2004 presidential campaign in the United States, from involvement in the selection of the Democratic Party nominee to active anti-Bush rhetoric.
The group sponsored a virtual primary in June 2003 among Democratic Party candidates, which was won handily by Howard Dean and which truly jumpstarted his meteoric rise in the presidential hunt. Beyond this, the group has raised approximately $10 million to aid campaigns of selected Democratic Party candidates for the 2004 elections.
However, the group has truly made its mark with their anti-Bush rhetoric. In January 2004, the group held a contest entitled Bush in 30 Seconds, an internet-based contest where more than 1,500 groups made political ads opposed to the Bush presidency, and more than 100,000 internet voters picked among the ads, selecting an ad entitled "Child's Play" (which depicted children working in factory jobs as a general critique of Bush's economic and war policies). The contest promised that the winning ad would appear during the Super Bowl, but CBS refused to air the ad, calling it "controversial." This, along with Republican allegations that some of the ads bordered on "political hate speech," caused a small political firestorm.
As the campaign has progressed, MoveOn became involved in countless fundraising activities for anti-Bush ads, and also became involved in the promotion of Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary, which is highly critical of the president. The group plans on producing frequent advertisements encouraging people to carefully re-evaluate Bush's job as president and encourage voters to consider another option (likely John Kerry).
Sources used in the above writeup include:
Darman, Jonathan. Newsweek. January 30, 2004. p WE. Censored at the Super Bowl
Von Drehle, David. Washington Post. June 5, 2003. p A14. From Screen Saviors to Progressive Savior?
MoveOn.org press releases for date verifications
MoveOn.org & The Future of American Politics: My Thoughts
Prior to the advent of MoveOn, political action committees were primarily focused on a specific issue (gun control, the environment, energy policy, and so forth) and thus almost exclusively attracted donations from people who agreed with the perspective addressed by that group on that specific topic. Although many people deride this sort of "special interest politics," it makes a lot of sense; people who agree on a specific issue pool their resources and numbers in order to make politicians pay attention to these perspectives.
There have been two major changes in the last couple of decades in America that have led to the creation of MoveOn.org. First, the proliferation of access to news and political perspectives has made it possible for people to be better informed than ever before about the state of the nation. One only needs to see the liberal slant of CNN and the neoconservative slant of Fox News to realize that not only are people better informed, but they are being provided with access to tools with which to outline various political perspectives. Even the radio airwaves are full of news and political perspectives, enabling listeners to hear a lot of different perspectives on issues from the liberal politics of Al Franken and National Public Radio commentators to the different breeds of conservativism espoused by such pundits as Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. The result of this massive increase in media influence and pervasiveness has led to a better informed - and more opinionated - electorate.
The second major change is the proliferation of the internet into the homes of the majority of Americans. The availability of countless services from shopping to information to entertainment has drawn millions upon millions of Americans onto the internet, and the discovery of the availability of discussion forums and other such communication tools - and the direct evidence that these forums are being paid attention to by others - has led many Americans to feel as though they had a voice that they did not have before.
The confluence of these two phenomena is this: Political access is being opened up to the middle class, which is going to bring about major changes in the long run. The majority of the approximately two million members of MoveOn are members of the middle class; the majority of donors to MoveOn.org are members of the middle class. The middle class now has the tools in their hands to communicate, congregate, and share resources in ways that were previously only accessible to those with tremendous resources to begin with.
This confluence of factors has even deeper ramifications than just the ability to affect the political process; these factors will make it possible to completely alter the political process; not only will groups like MoveOn have financial leverage, but they will have the political leverage of literally millions of voters and potential campaign volunteers willing to support candidates who share their ideology. The Howard Dean campaign was just the first example of this; there will be many more to come.