I first heard of MoveOn in March 2003 when I particpated in a candlelight vigil at Meiji Shrine in Harajuku protesting the looming war in Iraq. The vigil was quite moving, and I felt pride at this welling up of anti-war sentiment in my usually somewhat apathetic adopted city. I had been invited by a friend, who later told me that the event had been planned by a group called MoveOn, formed in the wake of Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings to urge the country to “move on” to more pressing issues. I remember feeling vaguely disappointed that it hadn’t really been a spontaneous grassroots event, but glad that there was a progressive organization that seemed to be making its voice heard.
Fast forward to Spring 2004. About once a week my inbox greets me with a new missive from MoveOn HQ, instructing me on how to do my part as a footsoldier in the battle for the free world. I usually scan these and delete them. I was somewhat surprised to see that danah was grouping MoveOn in with MeetUp as a “networked political organization”—as far as I can tell it is as hierarchical as the RNC. Sure, they are doing a masterful job of organizing volunteers and leveraging the power of the masses—but is this really a “grassroots” organization? Or is it just a new political organization independent of its less nimble forerunners?
The Bush in 30 Seconds contest is often cited as proof that MoveOn represents a new wave of unmediated political participation through the Internet: the people are speaking through video! But really MoveOn just realized that the tools for creating professional-looking video are cheap, and that they could get a lot more bang for their buck by outsourcing their creative team. After the contest, MoveOn concentrated on getting the winner shown during the Super Bowl: hardly a peer-to-peer communication channel. A true revolution in unmediated political participation would involve people spontaneously making videos or music or games or whatever and forwarding them around to one another, not a centrally planned contest to produce content for broadcast.
So, is MoveOn bad? No, not at all. I fully support them and I’m glad they’re around. I actually don’t think that the “direct democracy” model in which every citizen is a politician sounds good—in fact, I think it sounds like a nightmare. I’d like to not have to think about politics, except maybe on a very local level. Yes, the horror of the current administration forces politics into my consciousness on a daily basis, but I’d like to think that that is a temporary phenomenon. Ideally, there would be a well-run, technologically savvy organization that knows how mobilize voters and that represented my political viewpoint. Then I could send them checks, and spend my time thinking about all the other things in life. MoveOn is doing a good job of becoming that organization.