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The Very Access of Democracy:

The Internet, Blogs, and On-line Repertoires of Contention


Lee R. Wilson

A masters thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty in Political Science in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, The City University of New York



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This manuscript has been read and accepted for the Graduate Faculty in Political Science in satisfaction of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts.

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This project would be incomplete without thanking those who helped make it possible. The professors at the City University of New York Graduate Center have been a wonderful source of guidance and encouragement. My thesis adviser, Dr. John Krinsky, has offered many helpful suggestions regarding the researching and writing of this master's thesis. My classmates, Chris Agee and Ben Epstein, were also generous with their sources and strategies for approaching this subject.

iv Table of Contents The Very Access of Democracy..........................................................................................1 Appendix A........................................................................................................................43 Works Cited.......................................................................................................................51

1 The Very Access of Democracy In this paper I follow the work of scholars who have discussed the impact of the Internet on contentious politics, with the intent of describing an "On-line Repertoire of Contention". Charles Tilly, godfather of contentious politics, defined a repertoire of contention as arrays of contentious performances that are currently known and available within some set of political actors (Tarrow and Tilly 3). Performances are relatively familiar and standardized ways in which one set of political actors makes claims on another set of political actors (Tarrow and Tilly 5). In 2001, Sasha Costanza-Chock expanded the lexicon by describing a Repertoire of Electronic Contention, and in 2005 Brett Rolfe discussed an Electronic Repertoire of Contention. I have gone a step further in defining contentious activity on the Internet; I intend to separate "Electronic" forms, which can encompass any form of information technology, from those exclusively on the Internet, what I will call an On-line Repertoire of Contention. This new phraseology should clarify what is being discussed and is a more accurate term to use going forward. Studies of the Internet's effect on repertoires of contention are complicated by two factors. First, the relative newness of the medium and the resulting dearth of scholarly work on the subject; second, the rapid and on-going change in both Internet technology and availability renders some conclusions, amidst otherwise meaningful scholarship, quaint. Myers' work, discussed below, is an excellent example of this. Published in 2001 and its solid theoretical base notwithstanding, its examples of Internet activism are primitive by todays standards. Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell also provide valuable information regarding the influence of political blogs. But like other theorists, (Bloom; Myers) Drezner and Farrell's expectations for the future of the medium are tempered by

2 the fact that at the time they were writing only 4% of Americans reported using blogs as sources of political information. That number would increase dramatically in just a short time, altering the political potential of the medium. Whatever its drawbacks, the body of scholarship on Internet activism agrees on one point: the Internet has had a significant impact on our society. The relations between individuals and each other, individuals and institutions, individuals and the government, between organizations and the government, etc. have all been affected. Discerning exactly what this impact has been has proven to be more elusive. It is my hope that this paper will overcome some of these obstacles and that its conclusions will not be rendered obsolete so quickly. Perhaps I will fare no better than any of my predecessors, but it is clear that the Internet as we know it in 2008 is vastly different than the Internet of 2001. I cannot even take solace in Randy Stoeckers words that by the time I am proven wrong no one will remember what I have said anyway (2). Websites like take regular pictures of websites and storing them since 1996. How has the Internet, and blogs in particular, impacted repertoires of contention? Does the Internet only serve as a magnifier of existing acts of contention, or has it allowed activists to add new capabilities to their repertoire? To answer these questions I will look at several examples of claim-making when the Internet was the primary medium used to express the claim. I hope to determine: 1) Has the Internet in general and blogging specifically resulted in new forms of contention among activists; if so 2) What are these new methods of contention; and 3) How should we judge their success?


3 Before I begin, it will be valuable to briefly describe the theory of contentious repertoires in more detail. According to Charles Tilly, The word repertoire identifies a limited set of routines that are learned, shared, and acted out through a relatively deliberate process of choice. Repertoires are learned cultural creations, but they do not descend from abstract philosophy or take shape as a result of political propaganda; they emerge from struggle. People learn to break windows in protest, attack pilloried prisoners, tear down dishonored houses, stage public marches, petition, hold formal meetings, organize special-interest associations. At any particular point in history however, they only learn a rather small number or alternative ways to act collectively (Tilly 2005: 26). The learning of protest actions is not limited to the aggrieved protesters. Both potential allies and opponents have also learned a somewhat limited set of acts, which constrain the choices for, and responses to, collective action. The means of contention influences societal relationships such as "police practices, laws of assembly, rules of association, routines for informal gatherings, ways of displaying symbols of affiliation, opposition or protest, means of reporting news, and so on." Tilly uses the analogy of improvisational jazz music, or spontaneous skits by a troupe of actors to describe his idea of a repertoire of contention (Tilly 2005: 27). Elsewhere he describes the repertoire of contention as a paradoxical combination of ritual and flexibility - "People learn a limited set of collective action techniques and they tailor to the immediate situation and to the responses of other parties, e.g. antagonists, authorities, allies, observers, objects of their action, and other people somehow involved in the struggle" (Tilly 1987: 33, 37). Perhaps

4 the most important aspect of repertoires of contention to keep in mind is that they do not describe single acts, Tilly emphasizes that the repertoire is one of "interaction" (emphasis in original) between actors. To extend the theatrical metaphor, a repertoire of contention is (at least) a dialogue, not a monologue. "Repertoires of contention are the established ways in which pairs of actors make and receive claims bearing on each other's interests" (Tilly 2005: 27). There is ongoing innovation within the learned repertoires of contention, but it occurs at the fringe of the repertoire; rarely is there a sea change in repertoires which completely change the old arrangements. The innovations that fail, (most) disappear, while the innovations that succeed tend to get adopted by others until they become institutionalized as a part of the repertoire. Once an innovation has become institutionalized all parties must adapt to that new tactic (Tilly 2005: 27-28). Additionally, the institutionalization of, and reaction to, innovations in repertoires usually takes place over a considerable amount of time; typically measured in decades or generations. But Tilly believes that it is possible to identify a "hinge" moment - usually a watershed event when an old style is rapidly replaced by its successor (Traugott 46). Could the Internet be that hinge? On-Line Repertoires Having reviewed the theory behind what a repertoire of contention is, we can now ask how they made their way on-line. Different observers cite different examples, but Stoeckers 1989 account of the Internets role in the Tienanmen Square occupation appears to be the earliest. The Chinese government had been strictly censoring information from activists, but e-mail was so new that the government was not able to

5 prevent them from coming and going. Activists used e-mail to inform the outside world of their actions, and those outside of China used e-mail to relay reactions from around the world to the activists. Information about the government's reaction provided tactical information, as well as the knowledge that people around the world supported them, was key to keeping the movement going (Stoecker 5). Since then, there have been a plethora of accounts of groups using the Internet, e-mails, discussion boards, and various other forums as a means of quickly and cheaply organizing and focusing collective action. Oft cited among the early days of Internet activism are actions supporting the EZLN in Chiapas, Mexico and the Battle in Seattle WTO protests in 1999 (Costanza-Chock; Jha Nambiar; Myers; Stoecker). Costanza-Chock contends that Internet based contention may have been an inevitable result of the change in relationships caused by the mass movement of commercial activity from storefront, brick-and-mortar businesses, to Internet based businesses. As both capital and commerce move to a virtualized realm it opens up opportunities for groups to move their contentious actions to the virtual sphere as well. Actions against physical sites may no longer be effective and in some cases may have adverse effects, portraying activists as vandals, for example (16). As much as activists tout the Internet as a means by which they can contest corporate and governmental power, it may only be an arena of contention because those with power first moved there. This sets up a strange dance between powerful groups and activists. Both rely on the Internet to carry out their work, be it commerce or contention. The opportunity for doing business on-line has resulted in another area where powerful groups are potentially vulnerable to attack. The ability to use the Internet to make claims on powerful groups has given activists another but there is also the danger that activists

6 become too reliant on the Internet. The technology and hardware that allow the Internet to function are largely controlled by powerful groups, be they corporations or government agencies. This control is the ultimate, if drastic, trump card to any form of online contention. Underlying all of these examples is the incredible growth the Internet has seen in such a short time. The most recent report from the PEW Research Center stated that 24% of Americans were regularly using the Internet to get information about the 2008 presidential campaigns. This is more than the number who stated they get news from morning talk shows, radio talk shows, or cable television and represents a significant incursion by a relatively new form of media into areas long dominated by the traditional media (PEW 2008). Though it is not the same as the Internet at large, there has been a significant increase in the amount of people getting information specifically from political blogs. When Drezner and Farrell were writing in 2004 only 4% of Americans reported using blogs as a source of political information (3). In March, 2008 a Reuters news item reported that 22% of Americans read political blogs at least several times a month. It also reported that an additional 23% read blogs occasionally, that is, several times a year, and 56% reported not reading political blogs at all (Reuters). These statistics are significant in light of recent research which showed that those who got their news from the Internet were more likely to have engaged in political discussion about the Iraq war in both online and face-to-face situations (Nah et al). In the early days of the Internet, the ability of online communication to translate into faceto-face communication was viewed with some skepticism and critics have often called cyber-based relationships into question. They can't possibly be as firm or significant as

7 relationships cultivated through face-to-face communication can they? In fact, they may not be - and that may be the key to the success of the Internet. Drawing on the work of scholars such as Mark Granovetter, Stoecker asserts that the "weak ties" formed through Internet organizing are precisely the kind necessary to build networks and are the basis for recruitment (Stoecker 3-4). Compared with other mediums the Internet was the most successful at promoting discussion in various forums. Newspaper use was positively correlated only with face-to-face discussion and television news had no impact on types of discussion viewers subsequently engaged in. Both face-to-face and online political discussion correlated positively to the likelihood of an individual engaging in political participation about the impending war in Iraq. Consumption of television news was negatively associated with political participation (Nah et al 240). As I will discuss later, there is significant other evidence that Internet use is positively correlated to increased political participation. Those are only some accounts of how and why contentious actions moved online; I am sure that there are countless others. But the aim of this paper is not to determine when, how, or why contentious repertoires went on-line; it is to determine whether those repertoires changed in an online environment. Writing in 2001, CostanzaChock describes the bulk of electronic contention being the amplification, and extension of traditional means of contention, (3) (it is likely, however, that this has changed with some innovative forms taking share away from adaptive forms.) R. Kelly Garrett describes the ability of activists to adapt existing tactics for use with Information Communication Technologies, including the Internet, and to innovate new forms although there is a somewhat fuzzy boundary between the two (208). I will address each

8 of these categories as well as innovations in repertoires once they entered the on-line realm. Adaptation, Amplification, Extension, and Innovation The first phase of the creation of an On-line Repertoire of Contention was the adaptation of existing forms for use on the Internet. In nearly perfect agreement with Tilly's theory of contentious repertoires, individuals turned toward familiar methods and played out familiar roles. Sit-ins, and the commandeering of buildings, were a popular and effective form of protest on college campuses during the civil rights movement of the 1960's. So when a group of Harvard students decided to protest the universitys unfair labor practices in regards to their janitorial staff, they turned to a familiar performance: the sit-in and eventually, a virtual sit-in. Some of the first virtual sit-ins were carried out by the Electronic Disturbance Theater in 1998, most often in support of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico (EDC). Costanza-Chock describes an incidence of a virtual sit-in that displays the adaptation of off-line tactics to an on-line arena, as well as the diffusion of tactics from one group to another. In early 2001, about 30 students from Harvard University's Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) staged an old fashioned sit in. The university had been paying its janitorial employees below the legal rate. In protest, the students from the PSLM occupied University administrative offices in an attempt to force the University to comply with a City of Cambridge living wage ordinance that tied minimum salaries to a cost of living formula. A tent city was build in front of the occupied building. This was where rallies, music events, film screenings, and media visits originated and were managed. After three weeks it seemed that media attention had plateaued and the

9 university administration still firmly refused to negotiate. Enter the Electronic Disturbance Theater, (EDT). EDT offered to help the PSLM escalate their tactics by adding a "Virtual Sit-In" to the building occupation. The "Virtual Sit-In" was really a distributed denial of service attack, (DDOS). This is when many computers simultaneously bombard a given website with a request for information. This overwhelms the target's system and causes the website to collapse. The virtual sit-in mobilized far more individuals than the 'corporeal' sit in - about 600 people during the 12-hour virtual action which shut down the websites of companies that members of Harvard's board were associated with. Through discussions the PSLM and EDT decided that the attack would not be focused on Harvard Universitys computers directly because that could cause significant problems for students and faculty and could reduce support for the cause. During the EDT action the Communication Workers of America (CWA) national office in Washington DC called the Electronic Disturbance Theater to say that they had received an email about the action and would participate. The next day, the CWA sent out a notice about the action to its 750,000 members. This caused a massive flood of emails and phone calls which strengthened the resolve of the students and ratcheted up the pressure on the Harvard administration. About one week later the Harvard administration agreed to create a review committee that would include administrators, professors, students, and employees, although no mention was made that would lead one to believe that the virtual sit-in was a decisive factor in this decision, the administration was definitely aware the action took place. Whether the virtual sit-in worked or not in this instance is not the ultimate judge of its success. Clearly, this is an example of the Internet allowing a group to modify its preexisting repertoire to make claims on another

10 group while still being situated in the framework of familiar performances. In addition, CWA became interested in incorporating virtual sit-in tactics into their own repertoire, displaying a diffusion of tactics from one group to another (10-12). This example is demonstrative of how and why certain tactics are adopted by a given group. [[Clemens org form as frame]] It is no accident that the relatively new tactic of DDOS attacks was attractive to the Communication Workers of America. The CWAs familiarity with technology likely contributed to a certain logic of appropriateness which influenced their decision to adopt the DDOS tactic. Additionally, framing the DDOS as a virtual sit-in calls to mind the grassroots movements of the 1960s making it an appropriate tactic for student activists to adopt on a university campus. Not all examples of On-line contention are so easily categorized. In addition to adapting existing repertoires to an on-line environment, existing repertoires have also undergone a process of amplification as they made their way online. It is one thing to name these processes of amplification, extension, and innovation, but it is far trickier to discern what they actually are. When an act is amplified, can the result not be called an innovation? Or, if the amplification takes place within an innovative medium, does the repertoire undergo extension, amplification, innovation, or all three? It is not necessarily true that a preexisting form of contention used on the Internet, whether through amplification, extension, or innovation, does not constitute a new means of contention. Indeed, McAdam et al. observe that in most cases innovative forms are not completely new, changes are more like "creative modifications or extensions of familiar routines" (49) and Garrett calls the act of adapting preexisting tactics for use online innovation in

11 and of itself (208). So we may have three terms which all describe the same thing: the changes that occur when contention transitions from off-line to on-line.

Xxx reorganize Several uses of the Internet allow a campaign to hone its message and to save money. A campaign can use its supporters as a focus group, testing a video online before purchasing advertising time to put it on television. Or, if the campaign has an in-depth enough email list and blog presence, the video can generate enough attention online that no advertising purchase is necessary. During the 2004 presidential election the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercials were seen by more people online than on television. An America Coming Together, (ACT) video featuring Will Ferrell was downloaded 1 million times and 30,000 viewers clicked through to enroll as ACT volunteers ("Internet and Campaign 2004" 4). But the Dean campaign did not have a monopoly on Internet fundraising. On several occasions the Kerry campaign sent out emails and tied a fundraising goal and time deadline to an important or newsworthy event. The campaign was often successful at meeting these goals and deadlines thanks to repeat contributors (Garrett 210). More recently, the Barack Obama campaign has had remarkable success fund-raising from small donations. At the time this paper was written the most up to date numbers showed 1.5million contributors had raised nearly $270million with 45% of that coming in contributions of $200 or less (Open Secrets). Additionally, the ease of contribution may actually serve to create stronger and more active groups. Building on cognitive dissonance theory, the idea is that once someone has made a contribution he or she will have a sense of obligation and commitment to a movement, and thus will be

12 more easily mobilized to work for it (Garrett 206). Fund-raising is obviously not new, but the degree has changed dramatically. As with publishing, the fundamental act is the same, but through adaptation to the Internet it becomes an innovation. If you don't think so, try to achieve such high levels of funding so quickly through the mail. Perhaps the most significant impact of the Internet on repertoires of contention is its ability to quickly, cheaply, and effectively aggregate many small contributions for use by activists or an SMO. Coordination costs have historically outweighed the benefits of small contributions but new ICTs can be used to lower the associated overhead (Garrett 203). It costs a campaign the same amount to raise $100 as it does to raise $100 million; the only investment is the software. Transactions are automatic and nearly instantaneous. Contributions as small as $1 or $2 are easily aggregated into the system. The ability of the Internet to pool and aggregate the contributions of many disparate contributors magnifies and amplifies preexisting forms of contention to the degree that they resemble something new. The Internet has allowed myriad organizations to organize, persuade, frame, fund-raise, coordinate actions, etc. more widely, more easily, more quickly, and more cheaply than ever before. These are familiar forms of contention, but the Internet amplifies and extends them in a manner not seen before. Fund-raising is the most obvious and most easily quantifiable example of this. Howard Dean was among the first to exploit this feature of the Internet. His campaign shocked political pundits and forecasters with higher than expected fund-raising numbers in 2004. Dean relied on thousands of supporters who could give modest amounts, usually less than $100, many times over when the campaign needed an infusion of cash, rather than seeking out the few donors who could give the maximum $2,300 contribution only once. John Kerry used this style

13 in conjunction with seeking out large contributors with some success. During the 2004 Democratic Presidential primary, the Howard Dean campaign revolutionized the way the Internet is used in political campaigns. The Pew commentary points out five areas of innovation by the Dean campaign, led by Joe Trippi: 1) News pegged fund-raising appeals: Traditionally, campaigns would seek to influence one of three motivating factors when asking for donations: access to decision makers, to please someone, or to get rid of a pest, and to advance shared policy goals. The Dean campaign, which was influenced by, showed a fourth way to motivate constituents to donate - by setting out short term goals which immediate donations can help the campaign attain. Often this took the form of asking supporters to help fund an advertisement or to stage an event that would attract coverage and/or rebut accusations by a rival. In July, 2003, for example, the Republican Party was holding a $2,000 per plate dinner where Dick Cheney would be present. The word went out to the "Deaniacs" to try to raise more money than the Republican event before it occurred. The Cheney event raised $250,000 from 125 guests. Within 23 hours the Dean campaign raised over $500,000 from 9,700 donors. 2) Meet-ups and other net-organized gatherings: In 2003, the Dean campaign created a group on The group eventually grew to several hundred thousand members who held monthly Meetups until January 2005. 3) Blogging: The links and discussions among the hundreds of blogs posted on the Dean website were another locus for strategy debate and organizing action. The idea for outraising the Cheney event originated on a blog. So did a vast letter writing campaign that resulted in 115,632 handwritten letters sent to voters in New Hampshire and Iowa. The

14 Dean Defense Forces blog pointed out and organized telephone calls to media outlets that published stories seen as unfair or inaccurate. 4) Online referenda: The Dean campaign put its motto, "You have the power" to the test. When deciding whether or not to accept public financing for the campaign, it allowed its Internet users to make the decision for the campaign by voting. The response was overwhelming in favor of opting out and everyone voting "Yes" received a thank you email along with a request for donations. 5) Decentralized decision-making: Aside from the previous four techniques the Dean campaign basically allowed local supporters to campaign as they saw fit. Many observers cite this lack of organization as a reason for the campaign's failure, but the new strategy of combining the coordinating efforts of an organization with the passion and energy of a movement could be a model for future campaigns ("The Internet and Campaign 2004" 23).


Another form of innovation that blogs exercise lies in the ability to influence public opinion, and create political pressure through publicity (Garrett 207). By virtue of their speed of publication, blogs can frame events and media coverage. Drezner and Farrell emphasize the rapid response aspect of blogs:

[blogs] have a first-mover advantage in socially constructing interpretive frames for understanding current events. As a result, political commentators will rely on blogs as sources of interpretive frames for political developments. Under a specific set of circumstances - when elite

15 blogs concentrate their attention on a breaking story or an under-reported story - the agenda-setting power of blogs may create focal points for general interest intermediaries. Blogs have a low cost of real-time publication. Immediately following an event of political consequence ... bloggers have the ability to post their immediate reactions before other forms of media can respond (Drezner and Farrell 2).

In addition, it is the unique relationship between the media, the blogosphere, and the public that allows blogs to have this influence. Scholars have argued that the media can raise certain issues into the spotlight and create the interpretive frames that shape and constrain discussions of the issue and influence and limit public opinion. For especially complex issues, the media, whether consciously or unconsciously, constructs frames that eliminate complexity and nuance from the issue in order to make it easier for the public to understand. But if the mainstream media constructs the frames through which the public sees an issue it is possible for the blogosphere to act in the same manner towards the media. Drezner and Farrell expect that while media outlets frame breaking issues they will look to influential blogs for cutting-edge information, opinions, and reactions. If the blogs reach a consensus, the media can use the blogosphere as a measure of interest and opinion on the issue. Even if there is no consensus on an issue in the blogosphere it may generate enough discussion to signal to mainstream media that it is a subject that deserves attention. The media can be affected by the frames established on the blogosphere the same way the public is influenced by the frames portrayed in the mainstream media (Drezner and Farrell 17-18).

16 Of course, being the first to write about an event only matters if you are read. How can we be so sure that the right blogs will be read by the right people? Indeed, blogging has had overcome the derision leveled at it by critics in its early days. "The typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life (Drezner and Farrell 3, and Myers 8). At the time, 2004, blogging was a part-time, voluntary activity. The average blog did not generate any income for its owner. And an article in the New York Times stated, never have so many people written so much to be read by so few (Hafner). So what is behind the acceptance of blogs by members of the established media? First, it was the popularity of blogs. Drezner and Farrell tested media attention to blogs by using a Lexis-Nexis search to see how many articles mentioned the term "weblog". Between 1995 and 1999 there were only eleven mentions. There were 56 in 2000, 128 in 2001, 272 in 2002, and 647 in 2003 (5). My own Lexis-Nexis search returned 806 results for 2004, 980 for 2005, 994 for 2006, and 931 for 2007, indicating that media discussion of blogs has leveled off. Further, media attention to blogs is at least on par with that of other key issues. My Lexis-Nexis search results for the terms "climate change" and "Barack Obama" both returned 1,000 articles for 2007. In 1999 the number of blogs was estimated at 50; five years later the estimates ranged from 2.4 million to 4.1 million. A 2004 report by the Perseus Development Corporation, a consulting firm that studies Internet trends, estimated that 10 million blogs would be created by 2005, a bit more than doubling the number in existence at that time ("Web of Influence" 2). In April of 2007, (the last date for which he provided information,) David Sifry the founder of the blog tracking and indexing site Technorati, stated that his software was currently tracking

17 70 million blogs world-wide. Since 36% of these blog posts are in English, the size of the English speaking blogosphere was 25.2 million blogs (Sifry, D). Though there is no conclusive evidence to support this, it seems likely that the rapid proliferation of blogs would have helped draw attention to the medium. Second, Drezner and Farrell convincingly argue that the preexisting ties between bloggers and mainstream journalists are responsible for the acceptance of blogs by members of the established media. Prominent bloggers like Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan, and Joshua Micah Marshall all worked at established opinion journals before beginning their blogs. Journalists first trusted the work of authors they knew to be trustworthy. Then, Kaus, Sullivan, Marshall, and others began linking to other blogs giving them their seal of approval, and trust in the blogosphere spread among the mediasphere (15). Once these pioneers gave the medium some credibility numerous institutions began to adopt the form. Journals and news magazines such as the New Republic, Slate, Salon, New Criterion, the American Prospect, Reason, Washington Monthly, and the National Review all either hired writers out of the blogosphere or developed their own blogs in house. Newspapers with blogs include the San Jose Mercury News, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and The Guardian. (Drezner and Farrell 6). Since publication of their article, numerous other publications have added blogs to their online presence, indeed, in 2008 it is rare for a respected newspaper or periodical to not have a blog or some similar online presence. Established publications also pulled talent from their own personal blogs and employed them as bloggers for the publication. In March 2004, The Washington Monthly hired Kevin Drum and transferred his blog to their website. Drum's blog had been receiving over 1.2 million unique visits

18 per month. In 2003 Slate acquired Mickey Kaus' blog. In 2006 Salon hired blogger Glenn Greenwald. The American Prospect, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have all either published bloggers or hired them as regular contributors (Drezner and Farrell 6-8). In addition to journalists, academics were also among the early adopters of blogs. Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, is another example of media attention elevating the status of a blogger. Cole is an astute observer of Middle Eastern politics. He speaks Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, and reads some Turkish. He knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian forms of Islam, and has lived in several places around the Muslim world for extended periods of time (Cole). Cole began his "Informed Comment" blog in 2002, and by 2004 he had gone from only being read in academic journals to receiving 250,000 readers per month, appearing on CNN, NPR, and testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He now has a regular column on "Cole's transformation into a public intellectual embodies many of the dynamics that have heightened the impact of the blogosphere. He wanted to publicize his expertise, and he did so by attracting attention from elite members of the blogosphere. As Cole made waves in the virtual world, others in the real world began to take notice" ("Web of Influence" 4). So some blogs are read, but how do they influence the framing of events? Key to Drezner and Farrell's claim that blogs can provide interpretive frames is their evidence that blogs are read by influential journalists and opinion makers. Drezner and Farrell conducted a survey of 140 editors, reporters, columnists, and publishers asking which blogs they read most often. Collectively 125 blogs were cited, but the top 10 blogs were

19 responsible for 74% of all citations, and the top 5 blogs accounted for 54%. But far from conveying monolithic frames and opinions, the ethos and linked nature of the blogosphere means that the top blogs can function as a summary of the blogosphere as a whole. The political blogosphere follows a power law distribution. The nodes that already have a large of ties are more likely to receive incoming ties from new nodes than nodes that have few such ties further initial advantages are self reinforcing; nodes that are rich in ties are likely to become even richer over time, generating a power law distribution of ties across nodes (Drezner and Farrell 9-10). Further, by linking to other sites one accumulates page views and establishes a good reputation. So there is selfinterest, not merely altruism involved in linking. The assertion is that because prominent opinion makers read blogs, and blogs get the first crack at interpreting events due to their rapid publication, the frames established by bloggers find their way into the public discourse. The act of framing may not be a new form of contention, but blogs now make it available to activists as well as the establishment. Framing is a significant activity within the blogosphere because many bloggers, especially the admittedly partisan bloggers, see their role as correcting the perceived biases of the mainstream media. Because of this it is important to address blogs reliance on the traditional news media. Koopmans quotes Gamson and Wolsfield at length:

"Movements need the news media for three major purposes: mobilization, validation, and scope enlargement. Regarding mobilization, most movements must reach their constituency in part through some form of public discourse. Public discourse is carried out in various forums, including the movement's own publications and meetings. But media

20 discourse remains indispensable for most movements because most of the people they want to reach are part of the mass media gallery, while many are missed by movement-oriented outlets. (...) Beyond needing the media to convey a message to their constituency, movements need media for validation. The media spotlight validates the fact that the movement is an important player. Receiving standing in the media is often a necessary condition before targets of influence will grant a movement recognition and deal with its claims and demands. Conversely a demonstration with no media coverage at all is a nonevent, unlikely to have any positive influence on mobilizing followers or influencing the target. ( ...) Finally, movements need the media to broaden the scope of conflict (... .) the introduction and subtraction of players alters the power relations between the contestants. Where the scope is narrow, the weaker party has much to gain and little to lose by broadening the scope, drawing third parties into the conflict as mediators or partisans" (Qtd In Koopmans 369).

As we saw in Stoecker's description of the use of the Internet during the Tiennamen Square demonstrations, activists depend on the media to receive information in the reverse direction. The mass media is how activists and movements become aware of the standpoints of authorities, third parties, and the public at large on issues that concern them. They learn about the reactions to their actions from the news. "The media is a sounding board off of which both movements and authorities, counter-movements etc, use to gain information on each others strategies views and behaviors, and adapt as a result of these" (Koopmans 370).

21 Blogs xx move up

One tool that has emerged on the internet in recent years is the weblog, dubbed blog for short. Blogs proliferated quickly and to such an extent that the interlinked community they now make up has been termed the blogosphere and some of the activists who post there are described as the netroots a neologism combining the terms Internet and grassroots. Blogs started simply as on-line journals. People would publish random thoughts, poetry, reviews, opinion, etc. Some of the most popular early blog sites were Open Diary, which began in 1998 and was the first blogging site to allow readers to comment on posts, and Livejournal, which debuted in 1999. The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger in December of 1997. In late 1999, Peter Merholz coined the shortened form "blog", by breaking the word "weblog" into the phrase "we blog". The etymology of the neologism continued to evolve as Evan Williams at Pyra Labs was t he first to use "blog" as both a noun and verb. "To blog" means "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog". He also coined the term "blogger" - one who blogs, as the name for Pyra Labs on-line publishing software. Bloggers' product popularized the term and the medium. The ease of use virtually eliminated any barrier to creating a blog save Internet access and coming up with something to say (History of Blogging).

Drezner and Farrell put the birth of the blogging age at the beginning of the American "shock and awe" campaign against Iraq in March of 2003. "If the first Gulf War introduced the world to the "CNN effect," then the second Gulf War was blogging's coming out party" (Web of Influence 3). Iraqi bloggers such as "Baghdad blogger" Salam Pax, and the "Baghdad Burning" blog, written by the anonymous "Riverbend" a

22 woman of mixed Shiite and Sunni background, became wildly popular. Both would get book deals, and Pax signed a movie deal as well. Prior to and throughout the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Pax, Riverbend, and dozens of other bloggers provided real time analysis of and commentary on conditions. The two received millions of hits every month and were influential in shaping the way the impacts of the war were reported. ("Web of Influence" 3-4).

If the Iraq war was the birth of blogging then the Ask the Dean Campaign post described by Micah Sifry could be considered its first steps. At precisely 4:31pm (EST) on April 23, 2003 Matthew Gross, a member of Howard Dean's campaign team, posted an "Ask the Dean Campaign" thread at stating that Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's campaign manager, would answer questions directly from Internet users. It was, as Gross noted, "a seminal moment in Presidential politics...."(Sifry 2). For the first time a political campaign was using the Internet to seek input directly from on-line supporters and reply with direct, personal responses. The Dean campaign spoke of this as a bottom up rather than top down form of organization, and it fit well with Deans campaign slogan, You have the power (Sifry 3). Sifry considers this moment a watershed because voters saw that they no longer had to depend on candidates or party apparatus to lead the way forward. Individual participants now had the ability to influence the direction their candidate took (Sifry 2). Gross credits the excited response to this thread to organizational realities of the Democratic Party. In his view, many liberal blogs, such as DailyKos, MyDD, Eschaton, and SmirkingChimp, were started because the Democratic Party was too insular. It was too based on political insiders with positions of influence and the membership afforded to individuals was little more than

23 writing donations checks (Sifry 2). By posting the Ask the Dean Campaign thread Gross and Trippi opened up the campaign to the pent up demand of tens of thousands of individuals seeking influence within their party. This group would eventually call themselves the netroots. This episode shows the liberal blogosphere to be motivated by both gaining influence within its own party as well as electoral defeat of Republicans.

Of course, the liberal blogosphere can only be influential if a candidate opens themselves up to it. But the ability of bloggers to raise funds, frame, and organize, have more often than not resulted in candidates courting the blogosphere rather than avoiding it.

The blog straddles the adaptive and innovative categories. It is both an adaptation of existing forms of contention, (e.g. the printing press, pamphlets, opinion journals, discussion groups) as well as an innovation. The blog is an innovation in several aspects. First, it changes both the access to, and content of, political speech. The average person has little to no access to make claims through the "old media. If an activist or an SMO disagree with an Op-Ed in a newspaper they can write a letter to the editor and hope to be published. Or the group can stage a protest performance in Tilly and Tarrows terms, that creates a spectacle that causes the media to pay attention. Or, if they have the resources, over a period of time an SMO can insinuate itself into the public discourse and eventually change the media narrative. The experience Charlotte Ryan describes with the Media Research Action Project in Rhode Island is instructive in this regard (Ryan et al.). Activists are fighting an uphill battle against framing that requires resources to overcome. Blogs help tilt the playing field toward activists, though they do

24 not completely level the field. Blogging allows a movement to publicly make their claims to millions of users simultaneously at virtually no cost except for the time it takes to write. The blogs and the Internet allow activists to not only create their own media, but to contest the mainstream media's portrayal of events. The MediaMatters website is an excellent example of this. The ease and speed of publication as well as the linked nature of the blogosphere and the relationship of bloggers to traditional media sources allow stories that may otherwise be overlooked to receive more exposure. Blogs change the content of political discourse because people use different language, lingo/slang, and make self referential allusions to things that happen online. The blogosphere has quickly established its own protocols of behavior and interaction. On some sites, for example, it is considered rude to post the first reply to an article with simply the word: first, on other sites this is tolerated. It is a bannable offense on most blogs to post under two different identities, called sock-puppeting. Many blogs have a tradition of posting pictures of their cats and dogs on Friday afternoons. Blogging can also be considered a more in-depth form of political discourse because bloggers can, and most often do, link to other material online to support their argument and/or provide context or background information. Linking is a common practice in the blogosphere. Most bloggers place a blogroll, a list of recommended blogs, on their front page. Within blog posts, bloggers almost always cite sources, whether they are mainstream media or other bloggers, and often link to supporting information elsewhere on the web. There are several motives for this linking. The first is reputational. Backing up ones writing with sources gives readers confidence that the author is providing reliable information. It allows them to vet the bloggers work and determine if his or her conclusions are reasonable. The second

25 motivation for linking is more self-serving. Trackback technology allows bloggers to see everyone who has linked to their post. This offers the potential of a smaller blog being noticed by one of the more prominent blogs. It is common practice for bloggers to post roundups of interesting items to an open thread on their blog on a nearly daily basis.

Taking Names or, The Blogopticon

An especially insightful contribution from Garrett's work is the description of the ability to quickly disseminate information through the Internet. This has often been used to catch public figures in gotcha moments. Actions by bloggers can be linked to the resignations of numerous officials and intellectuals. In June 2003 mostly conservative bloggers kept the story of Jayson Blair, a New York Times reporter who had fabricated stories, in the public eye. Mounting pressure resulted in Howell Raines' resignation as editor of the Times in June 2003. Venerable newscaster Dan Rather was forced to resign after ABC news was unable to authenticate documents pertaining to George W. Bushs service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. This time it was conservative bloggers who were able to uncover the forged documents (Drezner and Farrell 6-8). Senator George Allen of Virginia was an incumbent running for reelection in 2006, when he was video-taped referring to one of his opponents staffers as macaca, a racial slur. Liberal blogs constantly played the video, damaging Allens reputation. Allen lost the election to Jim Webb. Whether or not the macaca video was directly responsible can never be known for sure, but the controversy certainly made Allens reelection campaign more difficult and sometimes even that can be regarded as a form of success. The classic

26 example of the blogosphere as watchdog is the comment that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made while speaking at a birthday party for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond. Lott expressed his opinion that we would have been better off had Thurmond won the 1948 presidential election. In 1948, Thurmond ran on a Dixiecrat platform supporting segregation and denial of voting and civil rights to African Americans. This comment was seen as idiotic and racist by both liberal and conservative bloggers. Thanks to widespread blogging efforts the mainstream media was forced to pick up the story, and two weeks later Trent Lott was forced to step down as Senate Majority Leader when his racist comments were forced into the mainstream media by constant pressure from bloggers (Drezner and Farrell 8; Bloom 4). Joel David Blooms excellent timeline of events is included as an appendix to this paper. The mainstream media gave much credit to political blogs: "The mainstream media was initially blind to his [Lott's] remarks perhaps because it is used to such comments. But the blogosphere denounced the remarks vigorously, and would not let up, finally forcing others to take notice (Economist qtd in Drezner & Farrell 9). While gotcha politics are nothing new, the difference here is who is calling gotcha. Garrett admits that these tactics have a long history, but believes that new technologies provide for new mechanisms of collecting information and distributing it to create publicity. There is hope that this could increase political accountability. Elites are more likely to behave in a manner consistent with citizen concerns if they work in an environment where they must assume their actions are being observed and that news of any inappropriate action will quickly reach the public (Garrett 207).

27 In addition to catching officials in political gaffes, the diverse areas of expertise aggregated on the Internet can also serve a fact-checking role. In April 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime there were reports of widespread looting in Baghdad, including the looting of 170,000 priceless antiques and artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum. The U.S. Defense Department was the target of much ire in the archaeology community for failing to protect the museum. However, blogger David Nishimura an art historian, whose blog deals with archaeology, art and history, noticed inconsistencies in media reports. He was able to conclude that the 170,000 number was vastly overstated and that it was likely that museum officials were complicit in the looting. Right-wing bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan linked to Nishimura's posts to correct the record. Bloggers have been able to initiate many other retractions and corrections from the mainstream media (Web of Influence 4). Individually, these episodes are not extremely significant, but it is important to see them as a pattern of a combination of academics, journalists, subject matter experts and quasiexperts, and educated and inquisitive citizens using blogs and the Internet as a way to confirm or debunk prominent media narratives.

Garrett describes the work of James Snider which suggests that the ability to quickly disseminate information over the Internet could result in increased political accountability, because when elites assume they are being observed they will restrain their unethical behavior. Comparing this activity to the Foucauldian panopitcon, however, is going a bit too far (Garrett 209). A far more reasonable description is that of blogs as a "fifth estate" that keeps watch over the mainstream media (Drezner and Farrell 8). There have certainly been additional successes of this type; as Howard Dean can

28 attest, and several activist groups have websites focusing on uncovering government and/or corporate malfeasance. Two of the more prominent organizations that undertake this sort of activity are the Sunlight Foundation and CorpWatch. The Sunlight Foundation seeks to increase political accountability by making the flow of money, and therefore influence, through Washington transparent. They host more than twenty websites each of which focuses on a different industry or segment of the influence of money on politics. They track, for instance, the career paths of lobbyists and government officials who may become lobbyists, who they work for, and who they donate to. They track earmark spending, the budgets of government agencies, government contract awards, and myriad other aspects of government and political campaign finance. CorpWatch focuses on exposing human rights violations, environmental crimes, fraud, and corporate corruption around the world. Citizens and activists may now be able to surveil governments and corporations, hopefully resulting in elites eschewing wrongdoing in the first place, and/or revelations of malfeasance. But it is doubtful that these organizations and the blogosphere can ever be as all encompassing as the panopticon. Nevertheless, if the comparison to the panopticon is inaccurate, it is a difference of degrees, not of type.

But are Internet activists passive, simply waiting for a politician or public intellectual to foul up on camera so they can mass distribute his or her gaffe around the world, shaming them into giving up power; or does the Internet allow for more active forms of contention? One blog that conducts such activity is DailyKos, and I will discuss two methods of contention that occur on this blog.

DailyKos: The Blog as an Election Changer

29 DailyKos is perhaps the most popular liberal blog. Indeed it is ranked as the second most popular news site on the Internet behind Drudgereport and ahead of Fox, CNN, AOL, Yahoo, and MSNBC. It has over 150,000 members and receives an average of 1 Million visits per day (Sitemeter). Further, the site recently counted its 1 Billionth visitor despite the claims of Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Gerstein that the site was in decline (DemFromCT).

The aim of the DailyKos, as stated by its founder and owner Markos MoulistasZuniga, is electoral victory:

This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN's Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we're around here and we're proud. But it's not a liberal blog. It's a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory (Moulistas).

But I digress. To achieve victory the electoral victory that Moulistas talks about, DailyKos follows the plan of Howard Dean's 50 state strategy. The plan is to not allow any Republican run unopposed for elective office, with a strong focus on Congressional Representatives and Senators. In some cases governors races and state legislature races are promoted, though this is less common. Whether or not the Democratic candidate adopted by the "Netroots" is successful is not solely based on electoral victory, at least, not in the short term. Knowing that it is difficult to defeat incumbent Congressmen,

30 bloggers like Kos look beyond the current election cycle. To them, an election is not a zero sum game; they hope to succeed by spreading the oppositions resources too thin and continually making their case until they win, fully realizing that this may take several election cycles. The money and effort that must be expended to defend one Congressional seat cannot be used to defend another. So perhaps the Democratic netroots candidate will lose in 2004, and 2006, but the hope is that each year the race becomes more competitive and that eventually the seat will change hands. With Representatives facing reelection every two years there is a near constant opportunity to influence voters.

It is in this context of determining how successful blogs have been at changing elections that the Collective Goods criterion described by Amenta and Young becomes relevant. One example of collective goods is a new way to refer to members of a group (Amenta and Young 24). The term netroots is a perfect example of this. It is a relatively recent term most popularly coined by Jerome Armstrong of the blog in 2002, (although neologism certifier William Safire has uncovered a reference way back in 1995) (Safire). By adopting this term bloggers invoke the intellectual tradition behind the grassroots organization of Saul Alinsky and his bottom-up style of community organizing and appropriate it for the Internet era. Citing Gamson, Amenta and Young describe the standards by which success is judged. A group can achieve new advantages and acceptance as a legitimate mouthpiece for the group it claims to represent (Amenta and Young 24-25). These categories do not fit the blogosphere exactly, as it is not a monolithic movement working for a defined constituency, (unless you count all registered Democrats, but even this big tent would be too small since it is not only Democrats who benefit from Democratic policies.) The

31 blogosphere comes close to meeting the criteria for Cultural Collective Benefits. Blogs certainly have an impact on cultural patterns that extend past the network of movement participants (Amenta and Young 35). By forcing the traditional media as well as elected officials to pay attention to them, the blogosphere has affected the way everybody consumes political information. That is, all information will be influenced in some measure, either by the mere presence of blogs functioning as self restraint, or rapid response framing of issues. Blogs also get Collective Benefits from the State (Amenta and Young 31). Even if blogs like DailyKos are not successful at electing candidates that they support, it has gained greater respect of elected officials. At least on the left, politicians now court the blogosphere; they post articles on blogs and attend conferences and conventions organized by blogs. The YearlyKos convention is the most prominent example of this. Organized by DailyKos bloggers without any help from Moulistas himself, the YearlyKos convention just completed its third annual meeting, (in 2008 the convention was renamed "Netroots Nation.) In 2006 the event featured prominent Democrats such as Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Barbara Boxer, retired General Wesley Clark, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, and former Virginia governor Mark Warner; in 2007 eight of the nine major Democratic Presidential candidates attended the convention for a debate moderated by bloggers.

DailyKos: The Blog as Policy Tool

When discussing DailyKos it is necessary to remain aware of the dichotomy between Markos' intended purpose and the open nature of the site that allows users to use it for basically anything they want. Jerome a Paris used it to write a series of diaries

32 counting down to $100 Oil. He has since started a $200 countdown (Guillet). One Pissed Off Liberal (OPOL) makes political photo collages; Budhydharma makes artistic parodies, like the unparalleled "The Wizard of Oil" (Budhydharma). The open nature of DailyKos is a reflection of Markos significant investment in Scoop brand software in 2003 or 2004, and continual upgrades of that system. DailyKos now runs on a custom made platform. DailyKos has shown the ability to influence policy makers. A number of prominent Democratic elected officials have written on the site, (the site confirms the authenticity of these celebrity posts). Howard Dean, John and Elizabeth Edwards, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy are some of the elected officials who have posted diaries on the site. Kerry began posting at the site soon after its creation as his user ID number of 52 attests (Kerry).

But aside from whatever influence DailyKos may have gained from working to get candidates elected and fundraising, perhaps the most innovative use of the blog has been its use as a tool to craft policy positions. In 2005 several DailyKos users, who call themselves Kossacks, began a project called Energize America 2020. It is a comprehensive and compelling 20-point plan developed by informed citizen activists to wean the U.S. from its fossil fuel addiction and provide the U.S. with Energy Security by 2020, and Energy Freedom by 2040 (Energize America). The effort was led by Jerome Guillet, who goes by the nom du blog Jerome a Paris. The plan is more in depth and visionary than many put together by well funded think tanks (McKibben). The plan was written by dozens, if not hundreds of Kossacks over a two year period. Site members repeatedly posted diaries, (basically the DailyKos term for an article, or journal entry,) and engaged in lively discussion on the topic. In 2007, the work and expertise of these

33 online activists was presented at the 2007 YearlyKos convention. The plan received praise and support from New Mexico Governor and future presidential candidate Bill Richardson. Around the country, five congressional candidates and one state representative endorsed the plan (Guillet Liveblogging). On March 14th of 2007 four members of the DailyKos team writing the Energize America plan delivered four of their proposals to the U.S. Congress, (Sothere) and in August of 2007 several features of the plan were incorporated into resolutions and introduced to the Congress for voting. This is an extraordinary feat to accomplish in two years time, and a testament to the experience and expertise that can be found among activists around the country, and the world.

Not Perfect

Despite the rhetoric, blogs are not the panacea some make them out to be. Scholars have described several possible drawbacks. Drezner and Farrell discuss two constraints on the influence of the blogosphere. The first is somewhat trivial, but the second is more important. Even bloggers have time constraints - no one can blog 24/7 and some bloggers have reported "burnout" after a relatively short time. It is impossible for bloggers to link to and opine on every item of political interest (19). This is presented as a shortcoming of the blogosphere, but this argument is not convincing for two reasons. First, there are millions of bloggers; a single blogger does not need to report on every story because it may be discussed elsewhere. Second, stating that blogs are constrained because they cannot cover every single story while they can cover far more stories more quickly than any other medium to date seems like quibbling. Blogs have the ability to cover stories more thoroughly than the traditional media. Blogs can repeatedly update

34 stories and aggregate information from multiple sources in real-time. In the world of the 24-hour news cycle blogs remain fresh while a newspaper with fresh news in the morning could be out of date by the afternoon.

The second constraint Drezner and Farrell describe is more astute. Political actors are using the information discussed on blogs to predict future news cycles and head off potential crises or scandals before they achieve widespread media attention. They are becoming more adept at responding to blogs and other forms of online contention (20). The Internet has so changed the way citizens interact with the United States government that the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit organization that works closely with Congressional offices, has produced a four-phase report from 2005 to 2008 describing the changes in citizen activity and the Congress' response. The Congressional Management Foundation, (CMF) had unprecedented access to congressional staffers while compiling their reports. They met in focus groups with House and Senate Chiefs of staff, House legislative directors, Senate correspondence managers, and House and Senate Systems Administrators. They used online surveys to get information from House Chiefs of Staff, House correspondence staff, Senate senior managers, and Senate office managers (Communicating with Congress 2005: 9-10.) The first report by the CMF, published in 2005, describes the actions the U.S. government is taking to deal with the surge in Internet activism. Congress received four times more communications in 2004 than 1995 with all of the increase coming from Internet-based communications. The total number of communications was over 200 Million (Communicating with Congress 2005: 8). But members of Congress have learned how to deal with this influx. Most congressional staffers reported that the utility of identical, mass produced, form messages

35 had little to no influence on a Congressmans position (CMF 8). This is bad news for those who use form emails to lobby elected officials. There is however, another side of the equation. Elected officials and their staffers reported that communicating with their constituents was a high priority. They also reported that personalized communications were far more effective than form letters, and that those who sent personalized communication were far more likely to be involved in politics in their local community (CMF 8-9). With this information constituents know better how to get the attention of their elected officials, and officials know that the people they are dealing with are engaged citizens, more likely to participate in the political process. Catering to these individuals, from a reelection perspective, is a much better use of an officials time. The 2005 Communicating with Congress report created a new definition for Internet users who mostly consume political information: "Online Political Citizens". These are individuals who had taken part in at least two of the following activities within 3 months of being surveyed: contributed to a candidate or campaign online, received political email, forwarded or sent political e-mail, visited or posted comments on a political blog, participated in a political chatroom, or visited a news website for news about politics and campaigns, "are far more engaged, and as a result, more influential in their communities than the general public"(Communicating with Congress 2005: 12). This jibes with research which has found correlations between participation in online discussions and increased political engagement measured by voting and civic participation (Nah et al 234).

Combined postal and email communications to the Congress has increased almost 300% since 1995, when the Internet was first used in congressional offices. The volume

36 of postal mail is about 25million pieces, and the volume of email is close to 175million. However the average number of staff in a congressional office has remained basically flat since 1984. The increased workload means that staffers cannot effectively manage the deluge of mail (Communicating with Congress 2005: 14-17). "The people who are calling or writing politicians to express their views are also more involved than the general public in influencing public policy in other ways. They sign petitions, attend public meetings, and are active members of advocacy groups. They express their opinions by writing letters to the editor or calling radio or TV shows. They are engaged. Although only a small percentage of a Member's constituents call or write in a given year, these constituents appear to be influentials in their community (Communicating with Congress 2005: 13).

Congressional staffers were in broad agreement about several effects of the Internet on Member-Constituent relations. The Internet has increased the number of constituents who communicate with congressional offices - 92% agree or strongly agree; Made it easier for constituents to become involved in the public policy process - 79%; Made it easier for staff to communicate with constituents - 74%; Reduced the quality of constituents messages to congress - 64%; increased constituents' understanding of what goes on in Washington - 55%; Made Representatives and Senators more responsive to their constituents - 48%. 96% of staff reported that if their Member of Congress had not yet arrived at a decision individualized handwritten letters would have "some" or "a lot" of influence. Form messages were less influential with form postal letters and form emails having influence on only 65% and 63% of Members respectively. Indeed, personalization seems to be the key. Personalized emails and faxes were said to influence

37 a Member's decision by 94% and 91% of those interviewed, respectively. (Communicating with Congress 2005: 19-20). Internet form letters have been overwhelming the ability of Congressional staffers to effectively respond to correspondence. Individualized letters or emails get a nearly 100% response rate, whereas form letters and emails average about 93% response rate in the House and 56% response rate in the Senate. The CMF anonymously quotes House Correspondence Staffers who told them, "I wish that outside groups would understand that overwhelming our office with form letters does more harm than good for their causes." and, "One hundred form letters have less direct value than a single thoughtful letter generated by a constituent of the Member's district." (Communicating with Congress 2005: 29). Additionally, Congressional staffers doubt the legitimacy of form letters and emails. 50% believe that they are being sent without the knowledge of the signee. That is, they believe that activist organizations are simply adding the names of their members to form emails and then sending them to Congressional offices. These are statements which should be pinned to the wall above every bloggers computer. The calls to sign on-line petitions or send automatically generated form e-mails to elected officials are ubiquitous. If activists do not pay attention to the way their target reacts they risk lobbying themselves into ineffectiveness.

In the 2008 Communicating with Congress report the term "Online Political Citizens" appears to have been replaced with "Poli-fluentials" to refer to citizens who participate in political activity online. This group is nearly seven times more likely than the general public to be influential; the make their opinions known through various media and are far more likely to participate in political activity than the general public

38 (Communicating with Congres 2008: 6). The study provides much valuable information regarding those petitioning Congress and Member's responses. Almost half, (44%) of Americans contacted a Senator or Representative within the last five years. Those individuals tended to be more politically active than the population at large (Communicating with Congres 2008: 10-11). And since the populations of Internet users and voters show significant overlap: 69% of registered voters are Internet users, and 63% of those who voted in the last election are Internet users it makes sense for Representatives and Senators alike to pay attention to their most active constituents (Communicating with Congress 2008: 7).

There are lessons in this data for grassroots activists. They must lobby Congress with the most effective methods, not simply barrage them with information. They must also widen the view of their campaigns. Focusing solely on legislative, or electoral, victory is short sighted. Campaigns must focus on the larger relationship of their movement with the Congress. The Internet allows many more groups the ability to lobby their elected representatives for support on a particular issue. However, just because something can be done does not mean it ought to be done in every case. Groups need to lobby strategically and consider the impact their strategy will have, not only on the debate in question, but on the overall relationship of the activists to the government (Communicating with Congress 2008: 40-41).

Despite the many stories of popular websites and successful online contention, there are a significant number of activist organizations for which the Internet has not been a boon. Successful online contention is not as easy as it sounds. Dotorganize is a non-

39 profit organization seeking to maximize the power of the Internet among social activism groups. Their 2006 report described the success and failures activists have had using the Internet to further their cause.

First, despite the demonstrated ability of some organizations to quickly raise money over the Internet, monetary issues could pose a problem for groups seeking to build reliable Internet networks in the first place. Nearly 60%, or 217 out of 367 groups surveyed, reported a yearly budget of $500,000 or less and 29% reported a budget of less than $100,000. Indeed, their survey found that regardless of the size of the organization organizers reported they were not able to take advantage of online tools due to monetary (57%), time (45%), and lack of staff expertise (34%). Most organizations were incapable of managing their database of contacts and had difficulty embracing new technology such as blogs and wikis. 59% were "frustrated or really struggling with technology" issues. A large number of organizations stated they lacked the capacity to make use of even basic forms of Internet activism, e.g. 39% did not have email newsletters and 47% had no way to accept donations online. Organizers were not able to integrate their data across platforms and different forms of technology. They have their information on various Excel spreadsheets, in Outlook contacts, and some even on paper. These systems are usually separate and organizations have great difficulty, and spend too much time trying to organize and sort out this information (Dotorganize 6-8, 15).

Most organizations are interested in using the latest Internet tools but do not know how to go about implementing them. No "Best Practices" have been established. Beyond the Microsoft Office family of products, Dotorganize found that organizations were using

40 40 different applications, the majority of which were used only by 5-10 organizations each. Organizations do not have a grasp of basic uses of technology. Many do not collect email addresses from site visitors, do not send mass emails, blog, provide material for download, and do not process donations online (Dotorganize 10).

Many organizers suffer from a lack of information. 46% of organizers wanted to use older technologies such as bulletin boards or forums that are not regarded as being very effective. Meanwhile the same percentage expressed no interest in social networking tools, which have become extremely popular. Many organizers do not seek out new technology because they either do not understand its strategic value or do not believe it exists. Text messaging has been shown to be an effective organizing tool, but 55% of respondents explicitly stated that they were not interested. Others lamented that there was no way to target emails to certain legislators, when, in fact, there is (Dotorganize 12). This must remind us that in the field of contentious politics success is the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps we have overreached just a bit in the extent to which the Internet aids activists. Those interested in fostering online contention must make the effort to look below the surface, past the massive organizations which recieve plentiful news coverage at those which do not yet appear on the radar and indeed, may never appear but for out looking. We only hear from the movements that have in one way or another been able to attract the attention of media and are considered relevant enough by other social actors to elicit public responses from them (Koopmans 372).

Finally, R. Kelly Garrett recognizes that using technology to add to the repertoire of contention is also potentially limiting to activists. Once, using the Internet for

41 contentious activity could have been regarded as thinking outside the box. But automated tools supporting online action can formalize the role of participants and offer a constrained set of actions. It is as though the proverbial box simply got larger.

The most vulnerable point of an On-line repertoire of contention is the very infrastructure that makes it possible. Over reliance on Internet networks create new opportunities for demobilization efforts by opponents; in many cases elites and their allies own/control the infrastructure on which new ICTs depend" (Garrett 7). There have already been several battles fought net neutrality - fec - youtube

Considering the ability, (at least in theory,) of elites to shut down and/or restrict Internet networks, we once again run into Tilly's conception of the repertoire of contention as offering opportunities, but also constraining activists (Tilly 2005: 27).


Both the Internet and blogging have resulted in an expanded repertoire of contention. In some cases, such as fund-raising and rapid information gathering and dissemination, the Internet amplifies preexisting forms to such a degree that it must be considered an innovation. In other cases blogs allow for a wholly new action. Politicians have learned their lesson from the fall of Trent Lott, George Allen, and Howard Dean. The blogopticon puts watchdog and fact-checking power into the hands of every activist. The ability of blogs to provide a record of activity and a permanent presence on the Internet can provide movements a space to retreat to when they are in abeyance, and reduce the costs of repeated mobilizations and demobilizations. Success in the

42 blogosphere should be judged by several measures. Outright success, such as the mobilization of resources towards an electoral victory should obviously count. Additionally, the growing level of respect and influence that the blogosphere is gaining among established political actors is also significant. Despite their successes to date and the generally positive outlook for the future, bloggers need to be aware that politicians are adapting to these new capacities. The amplification of forms of contention alone will not be sufficient to achieve political goals. The ability to send thousands of identical emails to elected officials is useless if those officials know to discount them. Bloggers must use the reduced cost of contention to pressure several areas at once in order to achieve the changes they seek.

43 Appendix A

Timeline of the Trent Lott scandal (Bloom).

Thursday, December 5 Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott spoke at a party honoring outgoing Senator Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday. Friday, December 6 ABC Producer Ed OKeefe, present at the party, ran a story on the incident in a 4:30 AM broadcast, but network executives apparently stopped it from being included in the more popular Good Morning America (or any other ABC venue except for The Note). At 10:54 AM (EST) journalist Tim Noah posted the quotation on Chatterbox, his weblog for Slate magazine, along with a quote from Thumonds 1948 campaign. At 11:09 AM journalist Joe Conason uploaded a rare second post of the day to his column on, titled Trent Lott waxes nostalgic about the segregationist era: If there remain any Democratic voters in Louisiana, of any color, who wonder why they should bother to vote in the special Senate runoff there, perhaps they ought to consider yesterday's remarks by Trent Lott whose power will be much enhanced if Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defeated. At 1:21 PM, blogger Atrios joined the fray on his blog, Eschaton, reminding

44 readers just exactly what Strom Thurmond stood for during his 1948 presidential run, and offering his own suggestions as to which problems Lott might have been referring to. At 3:20 PM, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall weighed in on his blog, Talking Points Memo, with the following recollection: Thurmond ran as the presidential candidate on the "States-Rights Democrat" or "Dixiecrat" ticket a candidacy that was based exclusively and explicitly upon the preservation of legalized segregation and opposition to voting rights and civil rights for blacks. At 4:00 PM CNN aired an extensive interview of Lott by Jonathan Karl for Inside Politics, but Karl did not ask him about his statement at Thurmonds party. At 5:11 PM, Tapped, an anonymous blog at The American Prospect, quoted the story from The Note and opined: What about the national media? Tom Daschle complains after Rush Limbaugh has been comparing him to the Devil for a year, and the Beltway media is all over the story making Daschle look like a pathetic whiner. Trent Lott, soon to be the Senate's majority leader, is caught on tape reminiscing fondly about a segregrationist presidential campaign, and we hear nothing (although, since The Note is read widely, that might change). What gives? Atrios, Conason, Noah, Marshall and Tapped are all liberal bloggers, but by 9:15 PM, conservative University of Tennessee Law Professor and blogger, Glenn

45 Reynolds, posted an entry on his own blog, Instapundit, agreeing that TRENT LOTT DESERVES THE SHIT he's getting from Atrios and Josh Marshall. At some point in the day, Lotts spokesman, Ron Bonjean, issued a brief statement: "Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong." Saturday, December 7 The Washington Posts Thomas Byrnes Edsall picked up the story, with the headline Lott Decried For Part Of Salute to Thurmond: GOP Senate Leader Hails Colleague's Run As Segregationist. The article pulled no punches, adding disapproving quotes from African American Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and Republican strategist and journalist William Kristol, as well as an approving comment by Gordon Baum, CEO of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.19 However, its placement on page A6 of the Posts Saturday edition drew little attention from the mainstream press, which seemed to accept Bonjeans explanation. Things really got going from there, although still largely not in the mainstream media. Blogger, author, and New York Times technology columnist, Virginia Postrels blog, The Scene, put it this way later the same day: OUT, OUT DAMNED LOTT: Trent Lott must go. He's a disgrace to the South, to the Republican Party, to the U.S. Senate, and to the United States of America. CNNs Mark Shields made the Lott quotation the subject of his Capitol Gang

46 Outrage of the Week, with the following remark: To his credit, Strom Thurmond changed dramatically. Why, then, does Trent Lott romanticize an era of hate when black Americans were truly oppressed? Bob Novak responded that Lott was joking. Sunday, December 8 Lott faced tough questioning on NBCs Meet the Press and CNNs Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, but ABC, CBS and Fox skipped the story. National Public Radio ran a fluff piece on Thurmonds birthday party that featured a Lott quote that suited the feel-good nature of the NPR story but ignored the controversy: Somebody once said, and Im not quite sure where I got this, but I heard it, and I loved it, and it applies to Strom Thurmond: Youth is a gift of nature. Age is a work of art. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a work of art. Monday, December 9 Former Bush speechwriter and conservative Republican strategist, David Frum, stopped short of demanding Lotts resignation, but used strong words in his online journal for The National Review, demanding a real retraction and apology, with a specific repudiation of segregation (1:15 AM). As Newsweek hit the newsstands its readers had to look pretty carefully not to miss the only reference to Lotts quote, which appeared without comment on their Perspectives page. Time and US News neglected to do even that much. Perhaps the strongest words from any on-line conservative came from Jonah Goldberg at 9:57 AM in The National Reviews The Corner column:


His remarks saying that wed be better off if Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 election as a Dixiecrat at Thurmonds 100th birthday party were incandescently idiotic according to any criteria (See, David Frums excellent piece for the details). On the facts, Lotts comments were dumb. Morally, they were indefensible. Politically, they served to confirm the suspicions of millions of blacks and liberal whites about what is in the hearts of conservatives and Republicans while earning him nothing but a smile from a 100 year-old man. Lott made his first attempt to apologize personally for the remarks: "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement. At 11:16 PM, Conservative journalist and blogger, Andrew Sullivan, joined the fray in his independent Daily Dish blog, using strong words as well: TRENT LOTT MUST GO: After his disgusting remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, it seems to me that the Republican Party has a simple choice. Either they get rid of Lott as majority leader; or they should come out formally as a party that regrets desegregation and civil rights for African-Americans. Why are the Republican commentators so silent about this? And the liberals? Tuesday, December 10 The New York Times addressed the issue for the first time, but buried it on page

48 A28. The article placed Lotts Monday apology in context: Earlier in the day, Mr. Lott had issued a statement that stopped short of an apology, saying his comments were made in the spirit of a lighthearted celebration. His later expression of contrition came after a reporter pointed out to his office that former Vice President Al Gore had called on him to apologize. Mr. Lott's spokesman said the apology was not in response to Mr. Gore but came solely out of personal concern for this misunderstanding. Howard Kurtzs daily online media column (or blog?) for The Washington Post, Media Notes, focused on the Lott story. Kurtz was particularly harsh on the mainstream media: Trent Lott must go! That, at least, is the consensus of online pundits. What, you weren't aware that the Senate majority leader was in hot water for appearing to embrace the segregationist cause? Perhaps that's because, until this morning, most major newspapers hadn't done squat on the story. Which is hard to understand for this reason: There were cameras rolling. It's on tape. It was on C-SPAN, for crying out loud. If a Democrat had made this kind of inflammatory comment, it would be the buzz of talk radio and the Wall Street Journal editorial page would be calling for tarring and feathering. But Lott seems to be getting something


of a pass. When Lott finally apologized yesterday, the big papers jumped on the story. But why did they wait so long? As a report from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, (FAIR), a liberal media watchdog organization, put it: Finally, on December 10, all three network nightly news shows weighed in, along with ABCs Nightline; that morning had seen the first New York Times coverage of the story, and the first wave of scolding editorials (Washington Post; New Orleans Times-Picayune; Bangor Daily News). [The report also mentions a Wall Street Journal editorial from the same day.] Lott made additional attempts to apologize on December 12th,and 13th. The following Monday (the 16th) the story was now on the cover of Time and Newsweek (but not US News). That evening, Lott made a surprising appearance on Black Entertainment Television in which he expressed genuine contrition for his statement: Im now trying to find a way to deal with the understandable hurt that I have caused.I obviously made a mistake, and Im going to do everything I can to admit that and deal with it and correct it. And thats what I hope the people will give me a chance to do. Lott managed to frighten conservatives by expressing support for affirmative action (as long as it didnt involve quotas and timetables) while simultaneously offending Blacks and liberals by saying that his past hires of African Americans constituted affirmation

50 action. Lotts appearance was widely ridiculed by political commentators and late-night comics alike, and only made matters worse for him. Stories leaked that the Republican Caucus in the Senate would be meeting to consider whether to retain Lott as their leader. . Lott reluctantly stepped down as Majority Leader Friday, December 20th, while retaining his Senate seat from Mississippi. It was two weeks to the day since the story first appeared on-line on The Note.

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