Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Political Activism in the Digital Age

We live in a fascinating time, politically speaking. Never before has information about the inner doings of our electorate and courts been more available. We have blogs, where people post news, or their impressions of it; sites like wikileaks which try to expose the secrets of all sorts of groups; and so much more. We have legal briefs which are constantly shared online, and can be disseminated faster than ever before due to the ease of digital copying.

However, while we can more easily than ever before watch the government, our ability to communicate with them is being severely hampered. This is a matter of policy, but also a matter of the fact that digital communication is so much easier to ignore.

My mother recently included me on a political e-mail chain letter, which was meant to urge people to sign the petition, and once it reached ~1000 names, send it to a White House drop to convince Bush to veto the legislation. There are two problems with this. One, that Bush would almost certainly not veto the legislation, since it is at least partially in line with policies he’s been pushing for years, but also that small groups of e-mails are easily ignored.

The chain letter (for that’s all it is: a bandwidth-wasting chain letter) should be urging people to e-mail themselves to the White House’s comment box. If you want to make a message, there should be thousands of e-mails reaching that box, each from a unique IP and address (and cryptographic signature, ideally) to prove the point. But it doesn’t change the fact that e-mail is easily ignored.

And rightly so. E-mail doesn’t require much effort. It doesn’t require much thought. It doesn’t require any work to submit it, so while it doesn’t make the opinions expressed through it less valid, it does make them seem less so.

When the Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to really get Congress’ attention, they don’t use e-mail. They write letters. They make phone calls. These things are a tiny bit harder, cost a tiny amount more, but are infinitely harder to ignore. A thousand names on an e-mail are not even relevant when compared to a thousand letters sitting in the mail, or a thousand phone messages left, demanding that things be done differently.

People are unhappy with the government. I am too. I don’t feel that they’re generally doing anything resembling a good job. But the only way to change the system, is to change the people involved. Make sure they know how you feel on the issues, and if they won’t support your positions, try to get someone in office who will.

One of my core positions is that I feel that career lobbyists have no place in Washington DC, so I tend to prefer politicians who share that feeling. But there are a lot of issues, and since everyone has different opinions, the political system always comes down to which candidate has the fewest opinions you dislike. But just because you’ll never find the perfect candidate (except for yourself, of course), doesn’t mean that you can’t do your part to make sure your opinion is heard. A polite, but firm, phone call is a lot harder to ignore, by any politician.