Inactive Activism

I compared the League of Women Voters of the U.S. website to MoveOn.org and tried to determine whether or not I could see increased democratic action on the part of the users of both sites. In a lot of ways, the sites were similar to one another. Both sites had equally simple layouts, with navigation bars at the top where users could DONATE (which was always prominent), learn about the organization, and join. Given my research interests, I couldn’t help but notice that both had links to their Facebook pages prominently displayed as well.

One key difference I did notice regarding joining was that MoveOn.org provided little information in local communities. A user could input their zip code to be taken to a page that listed the closest “MoveOn Council Network,” gave how many members were a part of that network, and provided an ominous “Join Council” button. Sorry, MoveOn. I just learned about your existence. I’m not that keen on “Joining your Council” so abruptly without a bit more info than what you’re telling me.

The League of Women Voters, however, provided a way to “find a league” near you. Users could click on their state to find a list of counties, upon which you would be taken to that county’s website. Alachua county’s League of Women Voters site, while extremely barebones, was up-to-date and did include information about their activities and where to attend.

The difference between the two in aiding users to take action locally struck me because it was an important point brought up by Rohlinger and Brown. They stated that “the Internet… can buffer the risks associated with activism and, as individuals became more comfortable with speaking out in a hostile political climate, move individuals from the armchair to the street” (p. 134). MoveOn.org seemed more preoccupied with collecting money than from getting people on the street. And collecting money in a way that could totally be done from an armchair, I may add.

Rohlinger and Brown bring up the point about activism being potentially dangerous after 9/11 and talk at length about the “three risks” involved, including being seen as unpatriotic, legal and professional repercussions, and family safety (p. 141). However, I did not feel any sense of urgency or call to action from either MoveOn.org or LMV. There are some possibly explanations here, including a change in political climate or the fact that LMV is a self-proclaimed nonpartisan group whose main activities involve educating people about the election process.

While both sites do serve as hubs for those interested in learning (very) little about specific issues, I don’t think they live up to the full potential Rohlinger and Brown believe they should. They found that “MoveOn provided a free space away from the direct control of dominant groups in which they could articulate an oppositional point of view” (p. 143). I don’t see how this articulation takes place when there are no forums, no comments, and a very limited way to find local communities. LMV was a bit better in that last point, but they also didn’t seem to have much in the way of communication features on their site. For sites ostensibly designed to spark activity, the only thing both made me want to do was go to sleep.

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5 Responses to Inactive Activism

  1. chentingchen says:

    I agree with your point that without communication features on their website, I do not see any anonymouse way for challengers to participate, beside “DONATE” of course.
    On the other hand, you mentioned “MoveOn.org seemed more preoccupied with collecting money than from getting people on the street.” Although Rohlinger and Brown pointed out that the feature of the Internet is that it can “moves challengers from the virtual the the real world,” I am confused about the “risk” those challengers may face. Does it push challengers back to the risk they worry about by moving individuals from armchair to street? I think that moving them to street may go against the “participate anonumously” feature.

  2. I find your observations to be fairly congruent with my own. The home page for PETA, the group I looked at, had a lot of great community features, but they seemed more geared toward displaying that the organization is a community rather than easily inviting you to join the community yourself. I also saw a lot of Facebook connectivity on the PETA site. It may be possible that if we followed up on this avenue, we would find that the social networking channels the organizations used are their main approach for actual community building. Just a thought.

  3. Oops, wrong button. =) As I was saying, this is the direction I went with my blog post as well… that the Internet provides a location for debate and deliberation I think is arguable, at least to a degree. I think it depends entirely upon the type of site you’re visiting, and frankly what the motivation of the organization is. I examined the NRA, for example, and there was almost no opportunity for interaction among members. The sites primary links were “JOIN” (which costs money) and “SHOP.” It calls itself an educational organization, but the focus seemed to be on raising funds… and interestingly, I could not find anywhere on the site that broke down how those funds were used. More food for thought?

  4. Whew, that Alachua County League of Women Voters site as REALLY basic! I’m always surprised to see such an old-style site for an organization that is clearly using it actively.

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