“New Media” Pioneer Behaving More Like Old Media

Immensely popular grassroots activism group MoveOn.org’s leadership refuses to put a vote to its members on whether or not to oppose the occupation of Iraq.

2005.03.10

Two years after the invasion of Iraq, the online powerhouse MoveOn.org — which
built most of its member base with a strong antiwar message — claims a network
of more than 3 million “online activists.” The organization has blazed a trail
through cyberspace by using new media to educate and mobilize for progressive
change.

But MoveOn’s leadership is now opting not to oppose the American occupation of
Iraq. In recent months, MoveOn hasn’t used any of its action alerts to address
what Americans can do to help get the U.S. military out of that country.
Likewise, the MoveOn.org website has continued to bypass the issue — even
after Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and two-dozen cosponsors in the House of
Representatives introduced a resolution in late January calling for swift
removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.

That resolution would seem to be a natural peg for the kind of kinetic activism
that established MoveOn’s reputation. A movement serious about ending U.S.
military activities in Iraq could use the resolution as a way to cut through
political tap dances and pressure members of Congress to take a stand. Down the
road, generating grassroots support for a get-out-of-Iraq resolution has
potential to clear a congressional pathway for measures cutting off funds for
the war.

Yet, tragically, MoveOn’s leadership is having none of it. “We believe that
there are no good options in Iraq,” MoveOn.org’s executive director, Eli
Pariser, told me. “We’re seeing a broad difference of opinion among our members
on how quickly the U.S. should get out of Iraq. As a grassroots-directed
organization, we won’t be taking any position which a large portion of our
members disagree with.”

Early in the 2004 primary campaign, MoveOn committed itself to endorsing any
Democratic presidential candidate receiving more than 50 percent of the
Internet ballots cast by its activists. (Howard Dean fell shy of a majority, so
there was no MoveOn endorsement.) Now, if MoveOn.org were willing to submit the
House get-out-of-Iraq resolution to MoveOn’s rank-and-file in an up-or-down
vote, the chances of a substantial majority would be excellent. Too bad the
leadership of MoveOn.org is currently unwilling to find out.

The 29 members of the House sponsoring the resolution are hardly radicals. They
recognize the kind of grisly consequences of equivocation that occurred during
the Vietnam War: Refusal to speak forthrightly about the urgent need to end
military involvement only fuels the war’s deadly momentum.

War in Iraq requires continual funding, of course, so President Bush’s new
supplemental boost of $80 billion in war appropriations has been moving through
Congress in recent days. Tacitly accepting the war’s continuation, MoveOn
declined to take a stand against the essence of congressional backing for the
war — the money that keeps paying for it.

When a large progressive organization takes the easy way and makes peace with
war, the abdication of responsibility creates a vacuum. Ironically, a group
that became an Internet phenom by recognizing and filling a void is now
creating one. During the past few years, MoveOn mastered cutting-edge digital
techniques while effectively reaching out to constituencies repelled by
Republican rule. But MoveOn is now pulling back from challenging the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. And other groups are bound to emerge to fill the gap.

Among the emerging organizations is Progressive Democrats of America
(www.pdamerica.org), a fledgling national group with an activist focus on the
Iraq war that is laudably straightforward. “We’re organizing a new campaign in
every Congressional District we can to call for the end of funding for war and
occupation, and for the transfer of reconstruction assistance to Iraqis
themselves,” says Tim Carpenter of PDA. The group is putting the Internet to
good use — but what’s compelling is the message, not the medium.

MoveOn.org deserves credit for pioneering the use of new media — particularly
email and Web technologies — as creative tools to advance a political agenda
for progressive change. But now, the MoveOn agenda about the Iraq war has
tumbled into the shallow depths of the Potomac. If MoveOn continues to abandon
its antiwar base, that base will get the picture — and move on.

Author: Norman Solomon

News Service: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

URL: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2467