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A wiki, saving democracy?

But what about the votes that don’t count? What about the systematic attempts to erect barriers between voters and the ballot box? What about voter suppression?

In order to educate, document and mobilize action, I’m excited to introduce the Voter Suppression Wiki.

— Baratunde Thurston, Announcing The Launch Of The Voter Suppression Wiki – Learn, Report, Act on Jack and Jill Politics

In May, I was on a panel on e-Deceptive campaign practices at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, and all the panelists agreed that with partisan feelings high and the polls likely to be close, this election would be particularly nasty from a voting rights perspective. Sure enough, potential issues are already cropping up: absentee ballot applications sent to voters with the wrong return addresses, a lawsuit in Wisconsin likely to cause incredibly-long lines at the polls, another suit in Ohio attempting to prevent people from voting when they register, misleading warnings from county officials in Virginia with the apparent purpose of discouraging college students from registering, and apparent plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters in Michigan that’s sparked a lawsuit from the Obama campaign.   And it’s only September!

Many forms of voter suppression* revolve around voter registration: voter caging and other ways of purging legitimate voters from databases, discouraging or preventing people from registering.  Others focus on preventing registered voters from actually voting: spreading false information about polling places, not providing enough ballots, intimidating rumors such as “you’ll be arrested if you have any outstanding parking tickets,” and poll workers not respecting voters’ rights.

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Constitution Day: Can we please talk about it?

ACLU's I'm a Constitution Voter button

Constitution Day has arrived without major statements from Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain on the need to restore this country’s commitment to the rule of law.

— John Nichols, Constitution in Crisis, Candidates in Denial, The Nation

At the risk of showing my age, I grew up with the impression that the Constitution was supposed to guide us 365 days a year … ah well.  Times change.

In Get FISA Right: on the air in St. Paul I lamented the lack of discussion of Constitutional issues in the election campaign.  Turns out that Dahlia Lithwick and I weren’t the only ones who are disturbed by this:

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Get FISA Right: on the air in St. Paul!

Get FISA Right logoDuring the past 8 years, the Bush administration listened to Americans’ phone calls and read their emails without a warrant. If elected President, John McCain would do the same.*

Get FISA Right ad, scheduled to air on Fox News in St. Paul today

Update: check out Nick Juliano’s Anti-FISA group targets GOP delegates in St. Paul on The Raw Story

We’ve got at least 9 Get FISA Right ads scheduled to air on the cable news networks during the Republican National Convention. With the live documentation of journalists in handcuffs and demonstrators teargassed and pepper-sprayed in St. Paul, a prime time Fox News ad defending the Constitution for only $123 feels like money very well spent — a great chance to reach all the media looking for convention stories to cover as well as the personal satisfaction of bringing up an issue I know none of the speakers will touch. I know it’s been said a lot recently, but SaysMe.tv’s ability to let individuals air cable ads is really a game-changer.

For Against
Republicans 46 1
Democrats 5 44
July 9 Senate vote on telecom immunity

It’s been a really difficult 8 years for civil libertarians, and although there’s a sense of change in the air and I’m increasingly confident that we’ll win when the FISA battle resumes early next year, nobody at last week’s Democratic National Convention seemed to want to talk about the damage that’s been done to the Constitution. Is it really possible that issues like the Fourth Amendment, the rule of law, and the underlying Nixonian Article II/”unitary executive” theory aren’t going to be on the table this election? It’s appalling on at least a couple of levels. As an American, I really feel like we should get to vote on whether or not we continue a slide into fascism. And as an Obama supporter, how can an otherwise-intelligent campaign throw away such a huge potential advantage?**

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Get FISA Right gets partisan!

Get FISA Right logoThe new ad stars the Constitution as the main player, with the visual featuring a pan over founding documents. One version of the ad takes aim at the Republican Senators, who voted unanimously to extend the powers of government to listen to Americans’ phone calls and read their emails without a warrant; another highlights John McCain’s strong endorsement of the Bush Administration’s wiretapping policies over the last eight years.

— from Get FISA Right Directs Fire at McCain, GOP

Even though I push back on the media’s framing of civil liberties as a partisan issue — libertarians, greens, and “classic” conservatives value the Constitution just as highly as progressives — there’s no denying the Republican party’s party-line vote on FISA and McCain’s enthusiastic support for the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping efforts. With the conventions signalling a shift into high gear in the campaign, it seemed like a great time for Get FISA Right to complement our earlier non-partisan Don’t let our Constitution die ad.

As the discussion threads on the wiki page show, there were a lot of different ideas for what we might do. There was a tight deadline in order to get things ready to air by the RNC, so we wound up going with a very simple visual; and after some discussion, chose a couple of different voiceovers. We got the usual stellar help from saysme.tv, and I’m really happy with how the ads came out. Here’s one of them:

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One Million Strong: this week’s “other” convention

facebook logoEven without corporate sponsorships or prime-time coverage, the One Million Strong for Barack Facebook group’s online convention this week is a fascinating complement to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver.

Nobody’s quite sure how many of One Million Strong‘s 625,000 members are currently active, probably a few thousand. Unlike a lot of Facebook groups, there’s very active discussion: links to news, dissection of media and bias, and great real-time commentary during debates and speeches. There’s also plenty of socializing, off-topic Olympic threads, occasional trolling and rickrolling, and the longest-running group orgy I’ve ever been a part of — 2122 posts and counting!

The group’s main purpose, though, is action. During the primary campaign, the group focused on phonebanking, getting out the vote, and “know your rights” work. One of our most dramatic successes was during the confusing Texas primary/caucus where Monte got a call from somebody on the floor telling us how the information we had forwarded had saved the day. Another was when the group encouraged Matt, a 23-year-old, in a successful effort to become a delegate to the DNC, defeating a long-time party insider in the county caucuses.

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Evan Bayh: “Facebook me.” Progressives: “Sure!”

Written jointly with Ronit Aviva Dancis

Evan Bayh's stock price on the Intrade prediction markets

“Evan Bayh for Democratic VP Nominee” on Intrade Prediction Market

The last time we heard from Senator Evan Bayh was early July when he voted with the Republicans against all three amendments to strip telecom immunity from the FISA legislation. A month later, here was Max Bernstein’s Can Progressives Derail Evan Bayh’s VP Train via Facebook? kicking things off on Max and the Marginalized (“a band and a blog”):

At about 2am last night after a gig in Austin, we launched 100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP on Facebook. We have about 99,000 to go but we are growing at the rate of about 100 names per hour now.

FISA isn’t Bayh’s only issue in progressives’ eyes, of course; there’s also a few other minor matters, like him having co-sponsored the Iraq War Resolution, and the way his nomination would clash with Obama’s message of “change” (a point Mike Lux makes well in Opposing Bayh for VP) . So Max’ call struck a chord.

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Get FISA Right: “Don’t let our Constitution die” (DRAFT)

DRAFT! Please see the revised version on OpenLeft.

Get FISA Right logo“We’ve got more than a million volunteers on my.barackobama.com. They’ve planned more than 70,000 offline events through the system, made millions of phone calls from home, and formed thousands of grassroots advocacy groups, including one you might have heard about recently.”

— Barack Obama, Netroots Nation video

Hey! That’s us! 🙂

There’s a lot of energy in the Get FISA Right group these days. The getFISAright.net website is the best jumping-off place to find out what’s going on, and the Strategy page on the wiki gives a big-picture overview. It’s all interesting, it’s all timely … and I’m going to ignore most of it in this post and focus on the “Don’t let our Constitution die” video.

A day or two before the July 9 Senate vote, some folks from LA-based startup SaysMe.tv approached us with an intriguing suggestion: would we be interested in working with them to get ads about FISA on cable TV? SaysMe’s community-funded ad model, where people can pay for a single placement of ads in various markets, seems a great match for our grassroots style. And the timing’s perfect — it’s a great chance to spread the word that while we’ve lost a battle, the fight to roll back government surveillance and restore the rule of law isn’t over yet.

The video came together remarkably quickly; we revised the script collaboratively on the wiki and message board and email and IM, getting input from over 20 people. Cognitive diversity in action: we had lawyers, journalists, techies, ad execs, marketing people, a professional comedian, and plenty of “just plain folks”, and virtually every piece of input was valuable.

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Mutual guest blogging: intermission and discussion

Second draft, posted on OpenLeft with a different poll.

the version on OpenLeft continues to evolve

please link and comment there rather than here.

Originally posted July 17; revised July 18-19.

We’re now at the midpoint of our first, more-leisurely-than-anticipated mutual guest blogging series. Thanks to Melissa, Sara, Pam, and rikyrah for their time, energy, and extraordinary posts. In retrospect, our original plan of getting all the posts on OpenLeft and the mutual posts on the guest bloggers’ blogs all in one week was a little over-ambitious. Oh well, live and learn.

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Get FISA Right: Paging Clay Shirky


Wow, what a weekend. Friday, the Get FISA Right campaign was on CNN a couple of times (including a brief clip by me on American Morning that also got picked up internationally and a great discussion of Obama & Get FISA Right Activism by Ari Melber on CNN headline news where he challenged the left/right media narrative) and in TIME magazine. “That’s mainstream media, right?” I kept asking people; everybody reassured me the answer is yes. Over the weekend Laura Flanders talked with me and Ari on Radio Nation; and I heard we were discussed on Meet the Press today. Wow. Or did I say that already?

The overall situation is still what I described in my OpenLeft diary on Friday: now what? I’ve got my opinions of course; so do others. The discussion process over the next few weeks as we decide should be really interesting. See the Vision of the future thread on the discussion board for more, including my summary of the discussion so far and current thinking — and add your thoughts in as well.

There’s lots of other great stuff on the discussion boards, including planning for an organized attempt to influence the platform, meetups, and other activism ideas that may or may not pan out. There’s also a thread about the discussion of the direction of the email list, and that’s where Clay Shirky comes in. If you haven’t read his essay A group is its own worst enemy, now would be a very good time.

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The first thing to do: set up a wiki

I remember hearing Zack Rosen of CivicSpace starting his talk about the team that put together the Katrina people finder by saying “one of the first things we did was set up a wiki” and it really struck a chord.

As an effort like Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right gets up and going, there’s a huge amount of information flying by in email (I think it peaked at well over 50 messages/hour), and new people constantly joining who need to get up to speed. Collecting information on a web site makes everybody more effective … and doing it on a wiki means that lots of people can contribute, not just me.

I had just started looking at Seattle-based Wetpaint* for another project, and it seemed like a good match for this: decent site templates, an easy-to-use editor, and the ability to put discussion threads on each page. So I figured it was worth trying.

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“What’s an activism campaign these days without a Facebook presence?”

Mail to the Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right mailing list. See the wiki for more context. 2200 members and growing

Update, July 1: 8600+ members on myBO — moving into #2 in the top 10 groups. Coverage in The Nation, Wired, Slashdot, The New Right, and zillions of other pages. See the wiki for more! The Facebook group has over 300 people so far …

what’s an activism campaign these days without a Facebook presence?

so I set up the “Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right” Facebook group to make it easier to do outreach there. Many of us have a lot more FB friends than myBO friends, and with 20 invites/day it’s great for viral spread. In fact there are already 17 people there. A lot of people (including me) complain about Facebook groups’ lack of functionality, but they can easily get hundreds of thousands of members fairly quickly.

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A proposal for OpenLeft: mutual guest-blogging

Update, June 14: posted on OpenLeft.

Update, June 21: first round on track for week of June 30!

Thanks to all for the feedback and review!

We propose that OpenLeft feature 5-7 guest bloggers each week, prioritizing diverse voices and perspectives not usually heard on the front page. OpenLeft front page posters will reciprocate, by blogging on the guests’ sites, and the combination will (with luck) create a temporary hub in the progressive blogosphere. The result is improved mutual understanding, links with other tightly-connected networks, and a base for more collaborative and effective strategic actions.

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