Profiles in Bad Online Organizing: Part 1 (DSCC)

by: AdamGreen

Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 01:07


Working for MoveOn from 2005-2008, I wrote lots of emails inviting people to take action.

At Change Congress and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, my two hats these days, I still do.

I know as well as anyone that some emails that you expect to work simply flop. Others that you expect to be par for the course go gangbusters -- inspiring droves of activism. Innovation and creativity are key, so I'll never fault anyone for trying weird, wacky new things -- even if they fail.

With one caveat: Every activist email must have a plausible "theory of change." People should see some concrete theory about why taking action could lead to a desired result.

But some people choose to inflame people's passions just to get their email addresses (and, more likely than not, to fundraise from them -- as opposed to later engaging them in quality activism). This sullys the online activism process for the rest of us.

That's why getting emails like this one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recently was both insulting and maddening:

Dear Adam,

First they counted the votes. Then they recounted them. Then they painstakingly went over every disputed ballot by hand. It was the most thorough and exhaustive recount process Minnesota has ever seen.

It's time to give it up, Norm. President Obama needs Al Franken in the Senate. It's time to concede the race. Click here to add your voice.

First the bipartisan canvassing board declared Al Franken the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.

But Norm Coleman didn't like that result, so he took it to court. And now when even his own lawyers are predicting he'll lose, Coleman's threatening to keep appealing to more and more courts.

How many more recounts does Norm Coleman want? How many more delays? How much longer will the Republican Party hold Minnesota's Senate seat hostage?

Coleman can end it today and give Minnesota the two Senators it's entitled to. But he's not going to give up unless we convince him to act. So let's speak with one voice and tell Norm Coleman it's time to go.

Tell Norm Coleman to pack it in, give up the endless court battles, and concede the race so Minnesota has its full representation in Congress.

It then links to a page with a "petition" to Norm Coleman. If you sign, you land on a donate page. If you scroll to the bottom of the email, you also see a donate button -- and a tell-a-friend button, so the DSCC can get your friends' emails.

Nowhere in the entire email is there a theory for why a DSCC petition to Norm Coleman will make any impact.

And, if you think about it, why on earth would Norm Coleman listen to the DSCC? Can you think of a less credible messenger than the DC committee whose sole role is to defeat Senate Republicans like Coleman?

I'm not saying the DSCC has no role to play in getting Coleman to step down. I'm just saying they should play an honest and effective role.

Imagine if the DSCC's email said:

AdamGreen :: Profiles in Bad Online Organizing: Part 1 (DSCC)

 

Dear Adam,

Republicans in DC are bankrolling Norm Coleman's continued court challenge in Minnesota and are encouraging him to drag this thing out forever. 

They know Al Franken won. But for them, it's worth it to keep shelling out money to block the seating of Senator Franken.

Put simply, the incentives are all wrong. So let's set the incentives right.

Today, we're launching "Norm's Democratic Dollar A Day." We're asking people across the country to donate $1 to the DSCC every day that Norm Coleman refuses to concede (up to 100 days max, in case he's completely delusional).

Click here to sign up!

Think about how this would change the game. If 1 million people signed up, and Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2010 saw the committee charged with defeating them getting $1 million each day that Coleman is obstinate, what do you think would happen?

First, they may be in denial. But after a couple days, you'd have Republican Senators, operatives, strategists, and lobbyists all calling Coleman saying, "Your time is up. Concede!"

Together, we can make that happen. And all it takes is a dollar a day -- can you sign up today? Click here.

Here's the ironic thing: Unlike the DSCC "petition" to Coleman, I'd probably pass that email on to my friends. And, instead of a thinly veiled fundraising attempt, I'd (for one of the first times ever) be genuinely psyched to give the DSCC money.

This concludes part 1 of a new series: Profiles in Bad Online Organizing.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

Awesome idea (4.00 / 5)
I love the $1 a day idea.

So, um, why don't you go ahead and make that a thing? (4.00 / 1)
Set up an ActBlue page for it and everything. Have all of the major liberal blogs get involved. I'm sure Daily Kos readers would be a major force here.

It sort of exists now. (4.00 / 1)
ActBlue lacks the proper functionality for daily recurring payments. I'm not sure what else there is. At any rate, here's the ActBlue page I set up. Just like the scenario, money goes to the DSCC.
http://www.actblue.com/page/do...

[ Parent ]
3 points... (0.00 / 0)
1) Awesome that you took the initiative.
2) This particularly idea doesn't work if it happens small or in a vacuum. Republicans need to hear about it, and it needs to be big. DSCC starts with a big name and a presumably big number of people to start from but...hmm...
3) In general, I'll try to offer constructive counter-ideas when calling out "bad online organizing"...I won't always have time to actually run the campaigns for the people I'm talking about. But, in this case, again...hmmm...

[ Parent ]
ActBlue Functionality (0.00 / 0)
Could not ActBlue, with some minor tweeking, accept pledges of a dollar a day but only sweep every ten days to collect them?  In essence, it would be a recurring pledge of ten dollars every ten days, but it could honestly be sold as a dollar a day.

[ Parent ]
Online petitions are stupid (0.00 / 0)
Of course, the implied theory is that if you get enough names, that Coleman will tremble in fear at the numbers amassed against him and give up.  That's not really a theory that I believe in, so I tend to think that signing an online petition is a waste of time that only morons gladly participate in.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

You're wrong (4.00 / 2)
Anthony,

Sorry. You're wrong on this.

Online petitions, used by good online organizers, are great.

Example: At MoveOn, 10 local citizens often show up at a member of Congress's office to do a media event holding them accountable on some issue. 10 citizens alone are not usually newsworthy. 10 local citizens delivering petitions on behalf of 3000 local citizens -- newsworthy. It works over and over. And media stories are a great form of pressure.

Also, petitions are a great way for people to signal their interest in participating in a fight -- so organizers can then give them follow-up actions that will help move the ball down the field. (Like, delivering petitions to local congressional offices.)

But, what this takes is people RUNNING the petitions with a plan to win. (A theory of change, and a willingness to implement that theory.)

You're right: The DSCC petition sucked. It was dishonest -- or incredibly amateur. There was no real plan to win. And what I hate most about it is that it gets people like you to say, "Petitions are stupid" -- sullying online activism for the rest of us who actually want to do good-faith advocacy that is effective.

Adam


[ Parent ]
You're wrong (0.00 / 0)
Anthony,

Sorry. You're wrong on this.

Online petitions, used by good online organizers, are great.

Example: At MoveOn, 10 local citizens often show up at a member of Congress's office to do a media event holding them accountable on some issue. 10 citizens alone are not usually newsworthy. 10 local citizens delivering petitions on behalf of 3000 local citizens -- newsworthy. It works over and over. And media stories are a great form of pressure.

Also, petitions are a great way for people to signal their interest in participating in a fight -- so organizers can then give them follow-up actions that will help move the ball down the field. (Like, delivering petitions to local congressional offices.)

But, what this takes is people RUNNING the petitions with a plan to win. (A theory of change, and a willingness to implement that theory.)

You're right: The DSCC petition sucked. It was dishonest -- or incredibly amateur. There was no real plan to win. And what I hate most about it is that it gets people like you to say, "Petitions are stupid" -- sullying online activism for the rest of us who actually want to do good-faith advocacy that is effective.

Adam


[ Parent ]
Of course, online orgs are not the only ones (0.00 / 0)
What about the mainline organizations organizing via Direct Mail.  I'm talking about the ACLU, Amnesty International, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, OXFAM, etc.  I give to all of these but they make me so angry with their goddamned monthly (if not more frequent) mailings that I throw out.

It's not as if all this mailing does any good.  I give once a year and that's in December.  I give what I'm prepared to give and the mailings influence that amount not one bit. That's all.  I would happily give more if there was any way to make the mailings stop.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


Let's Drill Down a Bit (4.00 / 1)
Your critique of the bloodless DNCC "petition" is excellent, but your alternative proposal is sheer genius.  There is a weapon concealed in your proposal that is both elegant and highly potent.  In its dark side lives a form of blackmail, and its emotional appeal is a kind of weaponizing of progressives.  Progressive money just keeps piling up for every day the RNC continues its spending on this charade.  

Every participant is made to feel a contributor to Coleman's political demise, and comes away with a deep sense of satisfaction when Coleman finally capitulates.  This is the essence of intelligent activism.

And by the way, we own intelligence.  Why aren't we using that as a point of mobilization?


USER MENU

Open Left Campaigns

SEARCH

   

Advanced Search

QUICK HITS
STATE BLOGS
Powered by: SoapBlox