User:Woozle/My Left Wing/Revolution 2.0 Outline RFC/resources/beefing

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Where's the Beefing?

The thing I find most frustrating about all the existing grassroots organizations is that they seem to see us -- their members and mailing list entries -- as being limited to the following roles:

  • money supply (from which donations may regularly be coaxed with the right emotional arguments)
  • petition-signer (sometimes they even let you add your own text or modify the boilerplate, but they rarely send you a copy... much less submit your edits for others to consider)
  • phone-caller (the organization has decided that this is the one thing we're outraged about today)

Note how none of these provide even the least bit of interaction between individuals; we are all expected to either agree with whatever the organization has decided, or just stay out of it.

To their credit, MoveOn does seem to have started polling their members -- occasionally -- about what priorities they should tackle next. This makes me think of an IBM PC configured with 16k of memory and a cassette tape for storing your BASIC programs: given what they could do, this is crippleware. Calling it a "toy" is giving it too much credit; it's a brightly-colored rubber squishy thing from the dollar store.

This is a very well-done video by MoveOn. It contains a lot of really useful myth-countering information about the US budget deficit, presented in an easily-graspable way without unnecessary frills. But where on their web site is all this information pulled together, preferably in both raw and cooked forms -- where's the data? Where are the forums? How are we supposed to come together and decide which budget items we agree should be cut and which should be maintained?

I put this page together in less than an hour, as a starting point for discussion and reference; why doesn't MoveOn have a page like that -- or even something much better than that? The New York Times created this tool2 for the previous budget battle -- it shows all the budget cuts which were then under discussion (whether "on the table" or just popular), lets you choose among them, and shows you how the budget looks as a result. Why aren't the grassroots orgs demanding (or building) tools like this for every budget battle?

Oddly enough, there seems to be very little overlap between the "grassroots org" sites and the "online petition" sites -- when you'd think that online petitions were a tool that grassroots orgs would want to embrace and extend. As far as I know, MoveOn has so far only considered putting such a feature on their site, though petition sites have been around for over a decade now.

Moving on from MoveOn and looking at online petition sites, though, where is the discussion?:

  • to determine the level of support for a cause (by itself or relative to other causes)
  • to subject the argument to scrutiny so it can be corrected, refined, and strengthened before it goes public
  • to see if there aren't other ideas that might serve the same ends even better
  • to see if there are other ways (besides petitioning) to accomplish the group's goals

Where is the library1 of factual information and discussion upon which petitions can build their case? Wiki software is free, easy to install, and easy to maintain. Why don't they use it? Why don't they have forums? IRC channels?

One of the key concepts of liberalism is that we don't work in a top-down way -- we don't all march in lockstep to orders from a central authority. Why is it that all of our grassroots organizations seem to think that we do?

Wouldn't we be more powerful, collectively, and better able to compete against the forces of authoritarianism (who do tend to work that way) if we had organizations that were designed to make better use of our energy as independent thinkers?

Even assuming that we agree with everything MoveOn or HRC or ActBlue or whoever decides (and of course we frequently do agree with them), what about the thousands of political arguments that we participate in every day on Facebook, LiveJournal, and other social venues? We could be much better advocates for the truth if we had some focused crowdsourced fact-finding tools, so we didn't each have to do our own research.


  • 1. Wikipedia certainly provides facts, but typically not in relevant chunks with their own URLs -- and it is not set up to encourage discussion. The same applies to most other wikis, including those dedicated to political issues. I could probably say a great deal more on this subject.
  • 2. Note, however, that it doesn't seem to work in Firefox on Linux, or maybe the problem is the Flash plug-in; I have an open-source Flash Player clone on Firefox but the original Adobe on Chrome, where it seems to work just fine. When I rule the world with an iron fist, certain open-source projects will receive adequate funding to actually finish up what they set out to do.