The Emergence of Color Of Change, Powershift, and the Next State of New Politics

by: Matt Stoller

Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 19:03


With Markos chiming in, it's worth putting some stats up on the growth of African-American politics on the web.  ColorOfChange.org has 400,000 members, which is 80% of the size of the NAACP in a few short years.  I expect that the group will outgrow the NAACP within the year, based on its savvy strategy of picking media fights and engaging in elevating clear examples of institutional racism along with steps that individuals can take to fight it.  I wrote about the growth of black internet politics in July (before the Jena 6), and it's something we should factor into our strategic calculations.  It's based on some very simple trends.

The ''Home Broadband Adoption 2007'' study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that high-speed Internet usage among black adults soared from 14 percent in 2005 to 40 percent this year. By comparison, home broadband usage among whites rose from 31 percent in 2005 to 48 percent this year.

That's around 10 million African-Americans who are in the process of radically changing their information habits.  Broadband usage changes the game more than dial-up, since broadband users are much more likely to become content creators, and begin the process of self-empowerment (which leads to political empowerment).  That's an opportunity to build power for the progressive movement, to begin the process of institutional reform.  10 million people is a lot of power.

The intersection between black radio, black institutions, black blogs, and online organizing continues to fascinate.  It reminds me of the mutual distrust and overlap between the wonkosphere of the Nation, the American Prospect, and the New Republic fighting and working with Moveon, single issue groups like NARAL, and the newer activist blogging set.  It is surely true that complaints along the lines of 'there's no multiracial dialogue' within the progressive movement are no longer valid.  Perhaps this was true two years ago, but it's not true anymore. 

The emergence of newer political groups shouldn't be a surprise.  In January of 2002, Pew found that 'a broadband elite' of male technophiles was largely responsible for most user-generated content.  That period corresponds to the rise of the early blogosphere, which was composed of a broadband elite of male technophiles, a group from which the Dean campaign drew heavily from 2002-2004.  In 2006, that trend had reversed such that "users living in households earning under $50,000 in annual household income are slightly more likely than those in higher-income homes to say they put content online - by a 46% to 41% margin."  Much of this change was youth-oriented, as youth use the internet for content sharing and have lower incomes.  Still, user-generated content has broadened outward from its early technophilic group.  It's also worth noting that this new generation is much more diverse, so the internet is naturally remapping itself around multi-cultural groups.

Similarly, Power Shift and Step It Up, launched by Bill McKibben, are remapping the environmental movement around a new internet infused generation.  The largest environmental protest since Earth Day in 1970 was planned entirely online, with 1400 marches.  They did it again this year, and the goal of 80% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 - a truly radical proposition - is now conventional wisdom in policy-making circles. 

This process of new political formation of civic structures is only going to accelerate as the expertise spreads outward throughout the population.  McKibben learned from the blogs before launching StepItUp, just as Color of Change emerged from Moveon before innovating around its niche.  The entire campaign infrastructure of the Democratic Party is about to move online within the next few years, down to the Mayoral level, and an entire activist generation has learned how to fundraise online.  From Moveon in 2000, the expertise of how to pitch has just spread everywhere, and that's moving outward to other groups that want to have a political impact.  Even simple things like how to read a poll, or how to make a political argument to strangers, have diffused.  In a few years, walk lists and phone banks will become commodities for anyone who wants one, and progressives will figure out how to engage in labor disputes using online communities.

Other demographic chunks coming online in large numbers are rural citizens, Latinos, and those with lower incomes.  These are traditionally less empowered within the political system, but if the trend of empowerment and knowledge diffusion continues, that should change.  Remapping our broadband universe has profound political implications, as it opens up space for new blogging and organizing communities.  Many, though not all, are progressive, since progressives have been underrepresented in traditional media channels.

For political, strategic, and ideological reasons, building out a universal high speed infrastructure will should be a core policy goal of the progressive movement.  It helps create the conditions where the public can operate as a collective of citizens instead of consumers, and will help accelerate the creation of new political structures in time for us to handle the climate crisis, pandemics, and the resource wars that are coming.

Matt Stoller :: The Emergence of Color Of Change, Powershift, and the Next State of New Politics

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"Many, though not all, are progressive" (0.00 / 0)
This thought frightens me.  I don't think there's much to be done about it, and certainly don't endorse regulation around it, but I do worry about certain groups increasing their organizational abilities and membership.

Specifically, I've heard before that white supremacists and Neo-Nazi groups were drawn to the internet early because of the anonymity it provided and the ability to find others with fringe positions. I think to some degree these groups have been appeased by a decade of Republican insanity, but I can only imagine what will happen if our next President is black or a woman, and pushes an actually progressive agenda.

A lot of anti-Arab and anti-Latino rage has been stoked by the Right Wing talking heads, and Megan Williams' rape or the incident with the Jena 6 show us that anti-Black bigotry is still alive in America, and still murderous.

I think these groups will find the internet a powerful tool because like us (though for different reasons) they find themselves largely without the support of mainstream institutions, but have a single-minded and dedicated constituency to advance their goals. I just doubt that they'll try to do so through electoral politics...

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.


I am a member of Color of Change (4.00 / 1)
but I am white.  I imagine many of their members are white. They've done an amazing job.  I've never once felt they were solely addressing African American issues.  They are addressing human rights/civil rights issues and that benefits people of every skin color, ethnicity, etc.

Robin Hayes lied, Robin Hayes cried and  thousands of folks lost their jobs.

same here (0.00 / 0)
I got involved with them while they were doing community work related to Katrina. It seems to be a good organization that gives people a voice in the process.

Good review and update (0.00 / 0)
Good post Matt.  You highlight important and encouraging trends (I wasn't aware of the 14 to 40% jump) and conclude with a reminder of the importance of expanding the availability, capability and openness of the Internet infrastructure, which is key to enabling these trends to continue and expand, which in turn will help us collectively address the problems you cite.

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