Developing electronic advocacy groups to influence government on issues of peace and social justice

MoveOn creates electronic advocacy groups to influence government on issues of peace and social justice. It is a grassroots organization aimed at involving ordinary people in politics in order to narrow the gap between public opinion and legislative action. With a network of over 600,000 “online activists,” MoveOn helps busy but concerned citizens find their political voice by organizing “electronic advocacy groups” around issues such as campaign finance, environmental and energy issues, impeachment, gun safety, and nuclear disarmament.

The organization was founded in 1998 to increase public pressure on the United States Congress with regard to issues of national importance. Since MoveOn is an internet based organization, it has only a small staff and can keep costs very low. The organization allows its members to decide what issues the group will address. By using the website, individual members can propose issue priorities and strategies. Other members view and respond to these suggestions, and the most widely supported issues are adopted as the organization’s priority issues to be addressed during the current congress. For example, in 2000, campaign finance reform and environmental protection were the two issues of highest importance to MoveOn members and an initiative was started later on to address an unexpected issue, the estate tax.

Once MoveOn discerns its members’ priority issues, they provide tools and information through their website and emailing lists to help each individual member have the greatest possible impact on the issue. Generally, these tools and information are the phone numbers, fax numbers, and email addresses of members of Congress and a list of “talking points” or statistics and articles that can be quoted to support various positions when talking to representatives.

MoveOn’s most successful tactic has been organizing “virtual marches” on Washington to express the public’s view on various issues. The largest of these campaigns began on February 20, 2003, when the MoveOn website announced that on February 26 it would lead a virtual march on Washington opposing a US led war on Iraq. This campaign was co-sponsored by Win Without War, a coalition of 32 national organizations opposed to the war, including Campaign for United Nations Reform, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the National Council of Churches. Through word-of-mouth, email and flyering campaigns, and several billboards sponsored by MoveOn, Win Without War, and concerned individuals, hundreds of thousands of citizens were directed to the MoveOn website. There, individuals could find their Congressional representatives’ phone numbers and email addresses, as well as a list of “talking points” to oppose the war. Individuals who did not want to call or write to their representatives personally could register with their name and address and have MoveOn send a fax to the appropriate senators for them. On January 26, an estimated 1 million calls and faxes were sent to the Capitol by virtual anti-war protestors, enough to jam the Capitol phone systems temporarily.

The MoveOn virtual march against war is by far the largest virtual march ever undertaken by an organization. However, this tactic has also been used by other groups to address many different issues, from the National Organization of Women (NOW) and feminist issues to Stand for Children and child welfare. Although political officials state that virtual campaigns do not create the same impact as protests composed of actual crowds of people, virtual activism allows those who would not normally be able to participate in protests due to age, location, or lack of finances to become an active voice in politics. It also has the benefit of allowing individuals to express their political beliefs without fear of retribution.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 
This tactic could be used in a wide range of different issues and contexts. Since the majority of the tactic takes place online, it requires little monetary cost and can be transferrable to almost any topic or region of the world. The perception of anonymity on the internet can be a draw to people who would otherwise not participate in activism out of fear of persecution. 
Online activism is effective in creating a large, widespread community of people who want to make a difference. It unites people in a shared goal and rallies them around common issues. Since the work takes place online, anyone can join. MoveOn creates an opportunity for their members to propose issues they are most interested in, so various problems are able to be addressed at the same time. The inclusive nature of the tactic allows for a diverse range of issues that are not limiting in focus. 
Creating change through online activism alone can be challenging and requires creative approaches to get people more involved. While MoveOn has countless online petitions that anyone can sign, they encourage their members to go further by reaching out to their state and local representatives. They do this by giving members simple tools such as contact information, statistical data, and talking points, to make advocacy as easy and accessible as possible. 
Organizations need to be innovative in how to move people offline and take action. 
While the internet is a great tool to spread information quickly, it should also be used with tactics that promote direct activism, such as organized events (visits to decision makers) or marches. MoveOn was effective in their ability to mobilize large numbers of people because they promoted their cause through various offline tactics, such as flyers, billboards, and forming partnerships with other organizations who share a common goal. 
Please note that this tactic will not be effective in parts of the world where internet access is restricted, or in countries where media censorship is high.