Get Up… and go
Mobilising citizen activism through the internet: In 2004, the Democratic Presidential hopeful, Howard Dean, then Governor of Vermont, astonished the US political establishment. From this small liberal State at the North East tip of the USA, and with no money and no backing from party bosses or big sponsors, Dean was able to mobilize hnundreds of thousands of volunteers and supporters. In the process, he created a political force to be reckoned with. The fact that John Kerry, the Party’s candidate of choice, beat Dean and the other hopefuls to fight the election (although he then lost it convincingly) does not diminish Dean’s achievement in creating a political movement largely consisting of young people fed up with traditional politics.
But mobilising people through the internet was not new. In 1998, an organization called MoveOn had been established to urge Americans to move on from the issue of President Clinton’s impeachment, which was obsessing and dividing the political establishment, to dealing with the really important issues facing the American people.
MoveOn was started by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs with no experience in politics. Joan Blades and Wes Boyd were deeply frustrated with the partisan warfare going on in Washington DC, so they launched an online petition to "Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation". Within days hundreds of thousands of individuals had signed up. And Joan and Wes began looking for ways of making their voices heard.
MoveOn was formed as a political action committee so that like-minded, concerned citizens could influence the outcome of congressional elections, and in turn, the balance of power in Washington DC. Now known as MoveOn.org Political Action, this organisation provides individuals, who normally have little political power, an opportunity to aggregate their contributions with others to gain a greater voice in the political process, and brings people together to take important stands on the most important issues facing our country.
In the UK in 2003, a similar movement was started largely in response to the government’s decision to press ahead with the invasion of Iraq, which was called Our World Our Say.
Both these organisations are non-party political, but try to influence the political parties. They share liberal ideas: green, anti-war and injustice, pro-human rights and cooperation, etc. They also encourage people to participate in the democratic process by voting and holding their representatives to account.
Crossing the bridge: What do you do once you have crossed the bridge and reached the other side?
“On Sunday 28th May 2000, we were among the 250,000 Australians who braved a cold early winter’s day to march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to demonstrate Australians’ commitment to reconciliation. The walk for reconciliation was just one of several major moments in the last 10 years – like the war in Iraq and the Tampa controversy – when Australians mobilised in large numbers in favour of a more progressive vision of the country.
Although Australia has enjoyed great economic prosperity over the last decade, those of us who want to be part of a more just and progressive country have found ourselves disappointed and disheartened. Popular movements like the one opposing the Iraq war quickly appeared, raising hopes, but then dissipated. There had been no strategy or organisation to capture that energy and turn it into permanent, broad-based national movement.”
What could people do after walking to the other side of the bridge? It was this question that inspired Jeremy Heimans and David Madden to create GetUp.
Their vision was an organisation that used technology to make it easy for Australians to “engage in real political action on the major issues facing the country, and to create a new progressive movement – a community working to advance social justice, economic fairness and environmental sustainability.”
Don’t give up, GetUp: GetUp was launched with a national TV ad and email campaign. The response was overwhelming – many Australians were looking for a new way to have a voice and participate in politics again. By the end of the 2006 financial year GetUp had 100,000 members and had already made an impact on a number of major national issues. By September 2007, membership had increased to 250,000,
Join your fellow citizens in fighting for justice, fairness and e better environment. Get Up off your backside. Move On and deal with the really important issues facing our society and our communities. It’s Our World; let’s have Our Say!
Move On: www.moveon.org
Our World, Our Say: www.owos.info
“It was the kind of crisp and sunny August day Canberra is famous for. I watched, with a pack of journalists, as the plane flew in towards the city’s centre and then proceeded to write “Vote No!” in gigantic letters above Parliament House, impossible to miss for miles around. It was an appeal from GetUp members to senators to reject the regressive changes to the Migration Act that would see asylum seekers, including children, detained offshore. Twenty minutes later, I watched as John Howard strode out of the same House and announced he was withdrawing the legislation.
“For me, this moment has come to symbolise much about GetUp that we should aspire to for all our work. The skywriting was a single bold act that communicated effectively the community’s concern. But it was the culmination of a long campaign – a campaign that had attracted a mass diverse movement of more than 100,000 supporters to our online petition, included a national television advertisement narrated by Jack Thompson, received support from all sides of politics and was developed in collaboration from partners such as Chilout and A Just Australia. Thankfully, it was also successful.
“GetUp is a truly new type of organisation in the Australian political context, recognised here at home – and internationally – for breaking new ground in campaigning. We’ve demonstrated beyond doubt that there is a role for a multi-issue progressive political campaigning organisation, and that the internet plays a truly empowering role in our democracy. An organised and dispersed population can influence political outcomes and at the same time can change the political consciousness of a generation with the click of a mouse.” – Brett Solomon, Executive Director, GetUp
Some campaigns run by GetUp include:
Say NO to a pulp mill in Tasmania: The proposed Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley represents a major threat to Tasmania’s environment and economy.
Close the gap: Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy almost twenty years lower than other Australians. That's unacceptable. We need our country to commit to achieving Indigenous health equality within a generation.
Take a stand against racism: In response to Sydney's race riots, we need to channel our emotions and shame into something practical and hopeful. That starts with taking personal responsibility for racism in our own lives and communities.
Bring David Hicks home: Unlike other governments, ours has failed to stand up for its citizen's basic human and legal rights – and that matters more than what kind of man David Hicks (is or isn't. David Hicks was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, and was allowed home in return for an admission of guilt.