Email as a tool for campaigning

by Ed Schwartz,

US activist and community networker Ed Schwartz recently wrote a book on the use of the Internet for campaigning (NetActivism: How Citizens Use the Internet, O'Reilly, 1996).

In Ed's view the most basic Internet tools are the most useful.

He comments: 'The heart of political organizing and advocacy is communication. At any given moment, we need to be able to reach one another and to speak out to the people in power. Up to now, we have to do rely on snail mail, telephones, and fax machine. All are expensive and limited in their outreach. Only large organisations or movements with sizeable budgets could make full use of them.

'Email now adds a powerful new resource to the list. It is not simply a "me-to-you" broadcasting system. It is a powerful "we-to-us" communications system. It is this system that permits people from all parts of the world to connect simultaneously with one another quickly, easily, and at minimal cost. This is the system that holds the greatest for the Internet in politics.'

Email is also be useful in the day to day work of organisations, says Ed.

'We can use email to develop online, to establish ongoing discussions within our civic and political organisations, thereby strengthening the relationships among group members and attachment to the group itself. The hardest problem facing any organisation is securing attendance at its meetings, especially now when both parents in families are likely to work and need their evenings to spend time with their children.

'It's rare for a group to get together more than once a month and even these occasions involve only a small portion of the membership. The result is that boards and committees end up doing most of the work, which is then conveyed to the membership via a newsletter.

'A group that established an email list for its members, however, could conduct business every day. There would still have to be "real time" meetings, of course. Even ongoing electronic communication is no substitute meeting face-to-face. Nonetheless, a list would permit those who could not attend regular meetings to offer suggestions online in their absence. It would enable members to see drafts of proposals prior to meetings and offer feedback before formal discussion began.

'People could even "sign off" on final drafts of proposals and resolutions without having to wait a month for the next meeting. If citizen activists and political organizers had asked the telecommunications industry to develop a new technology just for us, they couldn't have found a better one. '

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