Cory Doctorow has a sterling Op-Ed piece in the Boston Globe, on the evolving relationship between political activism and the Internet.
Information is power, but it's not enough. Modern emperors have learned the knack of spinning revelations of wrongdoing and bouncing back. Thus far, the Internet has lacked the follow-through necessary to make a lasting difference. That's changing. As the Internet matures as a place for political action, services like the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Action Center (punch in your ZIP and e-mail your lawmaker), MeetUp's coordinated nationwide kaffeeklatsches for every Democratic candidate (but especially Howard Dean) and MoveOn's thronged mailing list millions (who can conjure the budget for a major media-buy on 24 hours' notice) are providing the bodies, budget and means for advancing proposals and seeing them through to their ends.
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Turning information into action is not easy. The quaint isolationism of the Internet's early days is seductive: In the sublime purity of bits and binary, who needs the sticky, ugly business of politics? The more recent flavor of naysayer Internet politics, in which large groups of people were informed of suppressed information and enraged into lashing out, is easy — at least when compared with the political deal: putting your own items on the political agenda. This last has been reserved for the lobbyists who know congressional staffers by name and take lunch with administrative agency heads. Once the agenda was set, the Internet could be called upon to give it gas or put on the brakes, but the ability to make your issue part of the political agenda was beyond the net. Steering is far harder than speeding up or slowing down, but bit by bit, the Internet is learning how. [Smart Mobs]