It Doesn't End With the Internet

Amalia Anderson on old-fashioned organizing

MoveOn.org and Howard Dean proved that the Internet can be just as powerful a platform as any on-the-road campaign trail. Even so, according to Amalia Anderson, we've got major connectivity issues. DSL may be here, but the days of markers, poster board, and nonvirtual town hall meetings don't have to die. And they shouldn't. If we're not careful, the Internet could even be dangerous for democracy.

"I think Internet organizing and online outreach is a mixed bag," says Anderson, the 30-year-old Guatemalan-born, Minnesota-raised activist who worked to increase political participation as organizing director for Latino voters with National Voice during the 2004 election. She now works for the League of Rural Voters, where she continues to focus on building civic involvement in Latino communities via on- and off-line activism.

"On the one hand, the speed at which people can communicate, share information and resources is astounding," she continues. "On the other hand, there is a great deal about Internet organizing and online outreach that remains detached and impersonal. There will never be, in my opinion, a substitute for 'real-time,' in-person, face-to-face relationship building."

What about communities that rely heavily on oral tradition? And what if you can't even afford dial-up? It's not exactly Jim Crow territory, but issues of discrimination could arise if overreliability on the Internet gets too high. Turning a critical eye toward the complications of power and accessibility might be the first step toward improving online grassroots efforts.

"There are huge power dynamics at play that are rarely if ever mentioned when it comes to Internet organizing," says Anderson, who believes that organizing – especially by "low-income communities, communities of color, and/or start-up organizations" – is born from a need to survive. "The Internet has really become yet another system. It does not exist in a vacuum and is vulnerable to all the forms of oppression that other systems manufacture and enforce. ... To truly use the Internet in promoting and protecting democracy would mean that it was used in a way that was accountable to the community and in culturally appropriate ways."

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