A Supernova of Online Advocacy in the Post-Election Struggle

The prolonged struggle over who won the 2000 presidential election proved to be an enormous boost to online activism. With voter interest piqued, traffic to political web sites spiked to their highest levels ever. And with partisan passions running high, millions of Americans wrote essays, poems and parodies and posted them to the web, entered chat rooms, discussed the election and forwarded e-mail.

Zach Exley, a former union organizer, says he “accidentally” sparked a nationwide election protest movement via the Internet through e-mail and a web site called Countercoup.org. His web site and online discussion group helped organize demonstrations in 40 cities, involving more than 10,000 people, against the premature presumption that Bush won the election.

Some protests organized through the site drew sizable crowds; attendees say there were 400 demonstrators in Boston and about 250 in Washington on Nov. 11. But some smaller cities didn’t fare as well. An activist in Eau Claire, Wis., wrote that only five protesters showed up. In Washington on Inauguration Day, January 20, the largest “counter-inaugural” demonstration since the Vietnam War occurred, organized largely over the Internet. No one person or organization was soley responsible for organizing these demonstrations. Using traditional means, Exley said a staff of dozens working for months with a budget of millions of dollars would have been required to organize these demonstrations. But the Internet facilitates the almost spontaneous self-organization of political movements, he noted. .”Something huge is taking place” in grassroots political organizing, Exley asserts, “and it’s going to change history.”

Brian Buckley of FreeRepublic.com doesn’t agree with Exley on much politically, but he does agree with him about the political power of the Internet. Conservative activists who frequent Free Republic organized and participated in demonstrations in 35 cities during the post-election period. One of their members digitally altered the Gore-Lieberman campaign logo to read “Sore Loserman”. Visitors to Free Republic’s web site downloaded the logo, hundreds placed it on plackards and bumper-stickers. “Sore Loserman” plackards were particularly visible in demonstrations in South Florida, where Free Republic members boast that their protests helped to end recounts that might have unfairly favored Al Gore.

Freelance cartoonist Mike Collins, 26, became an instant celebrity after creating a cartoon about the infamous “butterfly ballot” showing a straight line from Bush’s name to his punch hole but a mess of squiggly lines leading to the punch holes of other candidates’ names. He innocently sent it to 30 friends, who quickly forwarded it to their friends, who ultimately forwarded it to millions of people. He received congratulations from readers the world over. Collins initially made no money off the cartoon, but translated his instant fame into some instant t-shirt sales featuring the cartoon.

Through a web site, Vote With America.com, Citizens for True Democracy generated thousands of e-mails to electors urging them to vote for the winner of the popular vote.

Trustthepeople.com offered blank affidavits for Florida voters to sign if they believed their ballot was confusing. The site, set up by Democrats.com, which bills itself as “the first online community for America’s 100 million Democrats” but is not affiliated with Democratic National Committee — collected more than 5,000 affidavits. Democrats.com raised $20,000 online in just 36 hours for its campaign in Florida. Members are vowing not to forget the “stolen” election, and to demonstrate against Bush throughout his term.

“There has been a burst of activity comparable to the explosion of a supernova,” observed Juan Williams, host of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation. His show devoted an hour on November 28, 2000 to discussing the burgeoning role of the Internet in political activism.

“We’ve seen a big burst in activity since election day, especially in the number of ‘citizen web sites,'” observed Steve Schneider of Net Election.org, a web site funded by foundations that monitored political web site activity throughout the 2000 election season. “The post-election actually galvanized people more than the election did,” Schneider said. “2000 was a breakthrough year,” he said. “We’re seeing the rebirth of interactive politics,” harkening back to the 19th century before mass media gatekeepers controlled the ideas that permeated the political process.

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