If you haven't started using the Internet yet, you probably think of it as an additional burden--another set of "things" you'll have to attend to in an already overcrowded day. Once you get into it, however, you'll see it as an invaluable resource, enabling you to communicate rapidly with thousands of people all over the country and retrieve information that you now have to spend hours trying to get, if you can find it all.
The challenge comes in making effective use of the Internet to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Businesses are now trying to figure out how to market and sell their products through the Net. Teachers are starting to use the Internet in their classes. Newspapers and television stations are adding online editions and services to both broaden and deepen their outreach to the public.
Here, we are going to explore how to make best use of the Internet as citizens--both in our communities and in politics. If you're a member of a non-profit agency or a local group trying to strengthen your neighborhood, you'll learn how going online can help you strengthen your organization and get the information you need to achieve your goals. If you want to influence elected officials or get involved in politics directly, I'll suggest ways this same technology can help you translate community action into votes. And if you're just an ordinary person who would like to feel you have more effect on the forces that shape your life, I'll help you understand how involvement through the Internet strengthens these possibilities. To do any of this, however, there are a several key questions we have to answer:
- How do we get started using the Internet in politics? Is there anything special about the computers and software we need, or will the standard mass-market operating equipment do the job?
- How do we establish political membership on the Internet to connect us with people all over the country who share our concerns and priorities? How do we join?
- How do we conduct ongoing conversations through the Internet that reinforce our political work without taking so much time that they begin to compete with it? How do we conduct our electronic exchanges, in effect?
- What information about government, politics, and issues can we acquire through the Internet that isn't readily available elsewhere? How can we find it? How can we use it?
- How can we use the Internet to support national movements and causes at the local level?
- Given that we vote where we live and that this is where our greatest political power lies, how can we use the Internet to help us solve problems facing our communities?
- How can advocates and organizers working in low-income neighborhoods secure effective access to the Internet for the residents of these areas, even though most of them can't afford their own computers?
- Is it possible to use the Internet to promote voter education, registration, and turnout in this country? Given that formal party organizations have disappeared from all but a handful of big cities, can we use the Internet to strengthen the role of volunteers in politics?
- What do we need from software developers and service providers to ensure that people like us can continue to use the Internet to promote political activism in the future?
- What does government need to do-and what do we need to do-to make the Internet an instrument of citizen empowerment in the years ahead?
- These are the major questions addressed in this book-in ways that ought to benefit anyone who wants to become an activist online, regardless of vour particular point of view.