Political Action CommitteesBy Edward Cone | Posted 2003-12-01 Email Print
You may think Howard Dean is a flash in the pan, in a quixotic quest for the presidency. Better pay attention, though. How his campaign has used blogs, meeting services and other tools of the Web has laid bare the essential power of the Internet to make o
Political Action Committees
The Dean campaign has used the Meetup service on the Web to get local volunteers together. Campaign staffers set a meeting date and publicize it through e-mail, listservs, and on the campaign's weblog, called "Blog for America."
Supporters then go to the Meetup page from a Dean Web site (www.deanforamerica.com or www.blogforamerica.com) and take matters into their own hands. Once they register, the volunteers choose a meeting location. They gather at the appointed time and place, with no Dean staff participation needed. Together they perform tasks suggested by headquarters, watch videos of the candidate sent by the campaign, and plot local tactics and strategy.
At one Nov. 4 Meetup event, at the Green Bean coffee shop in Greensboro, N.C., volunteer coordinator Abigail Seymour printed out Dean position statements from the Web and put them on tables at the back of the café. When volunteers showed up, they could easily review Dean's latest policy stands as they went about the day's work: writing personal letters to undecided voters in Iowa.
The Meetup software provided a rough headcount of expected attendees, so the Dean staff sent Seymour enough letter-writing kits to hand out as each volunteer arrived. The kits included stamps, sample letters and the name and address of an Iowan that the Dean campaign hopes to sway.
The campaign even sent a supply of ballpoint pens.
Three months before the Iowa caucuses and a year before the general election, Dean had hundreds of these well-equipped local cells working away on a coordinated project. The incremental cost of each volunteer-run operation to the campaign is the cost of materials and shipping; the campaign pays Meetup an undisclosed monthly fee.
Tying all this volunteer activity together is Blog for America, the online journal that is a must-read for journalists following the campaign, a forum for supporters and staffers, a fundraising machine, and even an online talent agency.
At one point, for instance, Teachout needed software developers to create a new Web tool that would allow volunteers to set up their own blogs and read news feeds. She posted to Blog for America to call for programmers who knew PHP, an open-source scripting language. Eighty-five developers responded almost immediately; more than 180 ended up working on the project.
But meeting and blogging services aren't the only online tools Teachout uses to sate her obsession with offline action. Volunteers can find tools and services on the Dean site that allow them to compose letters, create their own blogs, print posters and flyers, organize local events, and make suggestions on how to maximize the impact of campaign activities. By early December, for example, more than 86,000 hand-written letters had been mailed to potential voters as a result.