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Learning from the left

By Dave Mohel
web posted April 8, 2002

When the Word Trade Organization (WTO) announced its meeting in Seattle, we were asked by a pro-trade organization to coordinate an Internet campaign to encourage conservatives to attend a rally, and to also educate the public and to demonstrate that the people of Washington State support open markets.

Conservative groups in Washington State and national pro-trade organizations with members in Washington were contacted. The goal was to build an on-line coalition by establishing links on their sites, and to have them e-mail their members about the projects. These pro-family and pro-trade groups were reluctant to help; some ignored the request, while other groups who had much to gain by assisting flat out refused.

No, those weren't free market loving counter-protesters
No, those weren't free market loving counter-protesters

As the conference began, videos of riots, destruction of property and arrests were shown along with descriptions of why the protestors were so successful. One important reason was that they used the Internet. Secret web sites were used giving details on where to protest, what to say, and how to cause the most chaos. Environmentalist, anarchist and liberals for every cause were working together, swapping e-mails, posting information on each other's message boards, and using the latest technology to assist each other on their common goal - to disrupt the meeting.

Liberals understood the Internet's ability to bring people together, while the conservatives balked.

Today there is a "digital divide" that differentiates the left and conservatives. The divide is measured not by access to the Internet but by creativity, the desire to build support among constituencies not aligned with either movement, and to advance a message to the news media. The left has crossed the divide with ease. Conservatives have yet to do so. Today, too many conservative groups and activists still have a lot to learn from the left's use of the new technology.

Fortunately, there are efforts to help the conservative movement gain supremacy in the political cyberwars. One discussed later on in this commentary will take place this coming weekend. However, all movement conservatives should be aware of four areas in which the left is outflanking the conservative movement.

Reaching Out to the Young

Napster and its successors in the file trading technology were known to college students long before it showed up in the mainstream press. Students could tell you not only where to find copies of copyrighted songs and movies, but can explain how the system worked. However, ask them about intellectual property and why it is important and you find a huge information gap.

A young student searching for information about animals or nutritional advice may come across PeTA's web site and click on its "Kids Action" section. There young people find:

"Mighty Mouse and cows need your help. Viacom - a giant company that owns tons of television channels, movie studios and more sold Mighty Mouse to the greedy dairy dealers who push cheese on kids, helping to make them fat, lazy zombies are glued to their sets so they can watch more commercials for cheese! ... Write Viacom today, and tell them to save Mighty Mouse from the dairy industry and use his powers for good, not evil!"

These animal rights extremists know that children using the Internet to help Mighty Mouse, will grow up to be supporters as adults.

The younger generation is more computer savvy than the rest of the population. They use it for communicating with their peers, doing homework, and getting news and information. Liberals were quick to recognize that fact and are using it to indoctrinate the future electorate.

Media Outreach

Studies show the media is relying more and more on the Internet for their research and for information to use in their stories. Yet, conservatives seem reluctant to reach out to the news media in a similar way.

Organizations don't post press releases and editorials on their web sites in a timely fashion. Yet, maintaining a media friendly web site greatly increases the odds of getting your message to the press.

In addition, using the Internet to communicate to the media, holding on-line press conferences, e-mail the editor campaigns and on-line discussions on newspapers' and radio stations' web pages are strategies routinely used by liberals to work the press.

Mobilizing Activists

While conservative groups have hesitated to embrace the World Wide Web, individuals are less shy. National web sites like www.FreeRepublic.com have become an ideal web site for activists looking for information, ways to get involved, and share thoughts and opinions. These sites have been successful in organizing e-mail campaigns, over loading on-line polls with conservative votes, and educating the public about important issues.

Unfortunately, even this model isn't perfect. First, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have blocked, by legal action, individuals from posting entire stories on the Free Republic's message board [with an eye out for others to charge]. Secondly, these dedicated activists who write, read and react to information on conservative message boards, are rarely active on the liberal or neutral counterparts. Preaching to the choir is helpful, but reaching out to undecided or liberals with useful information is a better use of time surfing the 'net.

Working Together

Like in Washington State, conservative organizations are apprehensive about pooling Internet resources. Whether it is fear of losing members to other organizations, or violating privacy statements, the Right rarely come together on the Internet. A group that forwards an e-mail from another organization to its members, or that provides a link from its home page to another's web site accomplishes three things:

1) it gets the group's members and web visitors accustomed to using the Internet for information, thus cutting communication costs;

2) it makes the group a primary source for information on an issue or topic;

3) it furthers the goals of the organization and the conservative movement.

However, it is the exception and not the rule.

Liberal groups will often e-mail their membership in one state alerting them to a meeting, rally or radio call in program sponsored by a separate group.

National abortion advocates will share its Internet resources with unaffiliated state groups. Environmental extremists will use e-mail or their web sites to alert people to projects of feminist organizations.

Just a few years ago the Left complained about the "Digital Divide"; that only the wealthy and non-rural communities had access to the Internet.

Internet users and conservatives shared many of the same demographics in education, geography, household income, etc. Now, the divide has begun to close with over 50% of the population having access to computers and the Internet. Conservatives were given a head start and the movement has squandered the lead.

But there is hope as more and more conservative groups and activists realize that they should be doing more to take advantage of the Internet's power.

Dave Mohel is an Internet consultant for The Hathaway Group, a leading provider in computer solutions for conservative organizations.

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