“Online Tools for Offline Action” Neo-Federated Political Associations

David Karpf

in The MoveOn Effect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199898367
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949717 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Digital Politics

“Online Tools for Offline Action” Neo-Federated Political Associations

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The most common criticism of netroots advocacy associations is that they engage in “clicktivism,” mobilizing large online publics to engage in simple online actions, with little real-world effect. This chapter primarily discusses Democracy for America—a major netroots organization that uses the internet primarily to coordinate offline activities among its federated units. Based on eight months of participant observation with the Philadelphia chapter of Democracy for America, as well as interviews with leaders of the organization, this chapter reveals the often-overlooked benefits of the internet for encouraging face-to-face participation in local communities. It discusses the concept of “sedimentary organizations,” or internet-mediated groups that build their member list and reputation through a social movement- or election-related period of heightened citizen participation. It also discusses the increasing importance of the Mobile Web for such offline engagement, arguing that devices such as the iPhone and Android phones blur the distinction between “online” and “offline,” allowing for expanded location-based solutions to the challenges faced by neo-federated groups. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Organizing for America, the sedimentary organization produced by the Obama for America campaign. OFA provides a limited approximation of the neo-federated ideal type due to its relationship to the Democratic National Committee and to the president himself. The chapter helps us to locate OFA in the broader landscape of American political associations.

Keywords: internet; interest groups; advocacy groups; Mobile Web; Barack Obama; Howard Dean; social movements; netroots

Chapter.  10548 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: US Politics

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