Online Community Building for Political Action

In this session we'll talk about translating the raised awareness and consciousness that online community can build into concrete political action. How do you get people to sign up, sign on, sign petitions, write letters, call Congresspeople and how much action can be taken at the screen vs. by stepping away from the screen. moderates this discussion with PunditMom and Momocrat

Shireen Mitchell

Joanne Bamberger
Liza Sabater
Erin Kotecki Vest

SHIREEN: “Digitalsista” on Twitter.

ERIN: “Queenofspain” on Twitter. Political director for BlogHer. She talks to both campaigns and finds out what their blogger outreach is, gives them feedback.

JOANNE: “Punditmom” on Twitter.

LIZA: Writes mostly about culture and politics. Culture Kitchen is known as one of the top Latina/feminist blogs in the U.S.

SHIREEN: Will try to keep a balanced perspective. Important to talk about the tools for online activism, becoming engaged, encouraging better voter turnout. Wants to talk about how the political campaigns use social media to engage voters.

ERIN: Each campaign has done their own blogger outreach on different levels. McCain had blogger conference calls. At first they had partisan bloggers, then included liberal and progressive bloggers. Added bloggers to their press lists. With Obama, it was different. They strayed from conference calls and added bloggers to regular media calls. They reached out to bloggers for surrogate interviews. Barack Obama did a video interview for BlogHer, and Michelle Obama has blogged several posts on Obama campaign has utilized text messaging and widgets. Tool-wise, Obama campaign has been further ahead. Both campaigns have engaged bloggers pretty equally.

LIZA: Undecided voters are 55% women, which is why they’re an important voting group. Traditionally they don’t vote as often.

SHIREEN: Joanne, how do you get mothers involved as political activists? What was a turning point for MOMocrats and what tools helped engage the conversation?

JOANNE: The idea of engaging moms online was important in itself. Even though MOMocrats are progressive, they all have different views. Good tools were reaching out to other moms through BlogTalk radio show (something that was bloggy, but not too techie). MOMocrats sent eight bloggers to political conferences but needed extra monetary help to get there, unlike press people who are paid by their employers.

ERIN: We’ve noticed on BlogHer that when you create a safe space in your community, people are more comfortable participating. Comments are moderated so that nobody is attacked. Non-political women can feel more comfortable talking about things that may not be fully educated on.

LIZA: She writes mostly on issues of race, ethnicity and gender. On a local level, there aren’t enough women involved. In NYC, there are political clubs that different neighborhoods have. Some people have been members for 30-40 years, and they don’t seek out or encourage new members or diversity. These people elect city council, judges, the mayor, and state representatives. Less than 1,000 people actually make elections happen, but there are 10 million people in NYC.

AM: How easy has it been to interact with mainstream media? How fair have they been to bloggers?

LIZA: On a local level, she’s been blackballed by NYC media. It’s a huge market, and she’s made an impact with no money involved whatsoever.

ERIN: National producers love bloggers because they look “hip.” Bloggers can sometimes talk about “buzz” topics easier than regular journalists.

JOANNE: There are enough mainstream media that “get” bloggers, we could make a big political dent in the next four years.

SHIREEN: A lot of CNN reporters are engaging people in the political process by letting them upload their own videos. She would like to see more women and people of color doing this.

AM: How has the interaction been with traditional journalists?

LIZA: Nationally, she has been embraced. We need to create a bond with journalists.

ERIN: Blogger influence is better known now than it used to be. When she first started at BlogHer, she couldn’t get on a media list or have a campaign call her back. For the past 6-8 months, they call her and ask her to cover stuff.

LIZA: Bloggers have influenced big races in NYC; some people haven’t gotten elected because of what bloggers have written.

SHIREEN: Getting organizations to use bloggers as political activists is difficult.

AM: Mainstream media is trying to look for vocabulary to use to relate to bloggers. Some people say we’re competing for content with regular journalists.

ERIN: Media is dying to include us, but they’re still “old guard” and go by old rules. They attempt to be nonpartisan.

LIZA: Public-Now did a survey of the most influential newspeople in different markets. She’s in the top 50. She has a lot of reporters following her, as well as bureau chiefs. She uses the web as a broadcasting platform and tries to spread her content as fast as possible.

JOANNE: It’s not just about what we’re writing, but being a platform for people who are commenting on our blogs.

SHIREEN: What are action items you’ve seen?

AM: She’s not a political person, but one day she said “Screw it.” She wrote a long post about why she’s voting for Obama, and she had the most comments ever. People told her she should write about more political stuff instead of just her kids. Before they said that, she never would have thought about it.

JOANNE: Political blogging is becoming more heartfelt. All of us should talk about the issues and hopefully that will snowball.

LIZA: It’s also about authenticity, and the fact that you’re breaking it down for other people. A neighbor told her that she breaks down the news and explains it in way that’s easy for people to get. This changed the way she wrote. A lot of her readers are also politicians, and they can tell that she “gets it.” Some politicians contact her and ask if they can use her words in their message.

AM: How do you make high-profile people pay attention to you if you just have a tiny political blog?

ERIN: They have a lot of things thrown at them every day. It’s the same formula for anything: have something good to say, and be engaged in the community. The more you blog about politics and comment on other poeple’s blogs, the more it grows.

SHIREEN: Use Twitter as well. It can create a spiral effect and other people will pick it up.

AM: It’s great that as a mommyblogger you can open up these doors. People need to find a way to integrate politics even into places like mommyblogs.

LIZA: Started writing about politics in 2001 when she was just mostly blogging about her kids. In 2004 a company called Feedster put together a blogroll for the Washington post. There wasn’t one woman of color there until someone else recommended her blog.

AM: How do you maintain interest with people who need to be in touch with politics but normally aren’t?

ERIN: Give them places like MOMocrats, with people and communities they trust.

JOANNE: Also incorporate your own personality into what you’re writing. Lots of people can rant, but it doesn’t give people information or analysis.

LIZA: How many people are on mailing lists/listservs? This is how she moved into blogging. It was a strange transition because she used to do freelance journalism.

AM: She wants to create a local blog for Prince George county, Maryland. If you have multiple contributors, how do you manage that and make sure that not everyone is covering the same topic?

JOANNE: It takes a lot of group emailing and organization.

ERIN: Run it like you do a newsroom/traditional media outlet.

LIZA: Unless a writer asks her to look at their article before it’s published, she doesn’t do so. You will look for people who write like you, or that would write what you would write if you had the time to do it yourself. Look for what’s missing; what you have a need for.

AM: Works for a large social network and they started an election blog. They want to talk about issues in a nonpartisan way.

ERIN: BlogHer tries to be omni-partisan. Try to bring in as many voices as we can, which can be difficult at times. Have to maintain community standards.

AM: The difference is, we don’t seek to bring a conservative point of view in particular. We’re trying to figure out how to juggle that.

JOANNE: Doesn’t that make the conversation better if you engage both sides and learn from each other politically?

SHIREEN: This is a challenge because when you have opposing comments, institutions are afraid of it – but they should embrace it.

ERIN: It’s very difficult. To maintain a civil atmosphere is difficult, but worth it. We’re engaging women who haven’t been involved before.

LIZA: You might want to have these conversations around specific topics. This takes out the attacking of candidates. You have to decide whether you’re going to moderate comments or not.

AM: Can you talk about how you avoided the mommyblogger tag? Do you ever get blowback for cursing online?

LISA STONE: What do you mean by mommyblogger tag?

AM: I discovered the mommyblogging community a few months ago. Before that, she was reading political blogs, which are mostly masculine. Did you get labeled to begin with?

E: She did, and wore the label with pride. Due to the power of the female vote, what happened was that mommybloggers were highly courted to be a part of the political process.

LIZA: Prior to 2005, women bloggers were usually just political or technological; didn’t usually incorporate mommyblogging at the same time.

JOANNE: The reason she started Punditmom was because she wanted a way to combine these two things – mommyblogging and political activism.

ERIN: She doesn’t talk about her kids, but she’s still called a mommyblogger.

LISA STONE: has tons of blogs that claim to be political in nature. The largest growth in blogs has been politically based.

ERIN: Twitter has word-of-mouth influence. We trust each other more than we trust someone on TV.

LIZA: If you’re interested in affecting how policy is disseminated, go to Some people have gotten in trouble for linking to AP articles.

SHIREEN: Tonya, please talk about a success story about women in politics, and she’ll have the other speakers talk about a positive outcome as well.

TONYA: There’s a group in DC, mainly male political bloggers. She’s not a mommy, but she loves mommybloggers. Major consumer-goods companies spend lots of money courting mommybloggers; they’re very important. This is related to a group she started – Women in Politics and Technology.

ERIN: Her favorite success story out of BlogHer: twelve questions for each candidate. An individual can make a difference just as well as a community. A regular reader could have Obama answer a question that she had submitted.

JOANNE: With MOMocrats, they needed monetary assistance to cover trips to the political conferences. A study said that if women opened their wallets (a number of $27 was thrown out), they would have more political influence. On Punditmom, she started a “$27 Political Revolution.” It’s good for women to know that contributing small amounts of money is okay.

LIZA: The AP campaign was something that spread very quickly [people being sued for linking to their articles without permission].