Global Grassroots Political Empowerment: Is the Obama Digital Campaign a Model?
By Christian Taske & Frances Forde Plude
“We would strive to be a grassroots campaign. That meant volunteers. This was a prime motivation for Obama to run, the belief that the American people needed to reengage in their civic life. […] Technology, like the grassroots focus, would be at the core of our campaign from the start. In order to built a grassroots movement, it was clear that the only way to get to scale quickly enough was to use the power of the Internet to sign people up and ask them to get involved” (Plouffe, 2009, 20).
Barack Obama ran a campaign for President based upon the promise of change. As his campaign manager David Plouffe describes in his book “The Audacity to Win,” deep within Obama’s presidential race was an explosive technological change – the power of the digital network.
This paper examines that digital power: how it helped to get Obama elected President of the United States; how the digital network society represents “a qualitative change in human experience” (Castells, 2000, 508); and how this model may be utilized globally to enrich grassroots movements and religious communities.
Sociologist and communications researcher Manuel Castells writes that “information is the key ingredient of our social organization and […] flows of messages and images between networks constitute the basic thread of our social structure” (Castells, 2000, 508).
No other political campaign in history seemed to understand this concept better than Barack Obama’s; and no other political strategist had ever been more determined to use this concept in his favor than David Plouffe.
“Though the rest of the world was zooming forward at a rapid digital clip,” Plouffe writes, “for some reason political campaigns were in many respects stuck in the Dark Ages technologically” (Plouffe, 2009, 36).
Plouffe’s campaign was going to leave the Dark Ages for the Information Age by catching up with the digital network society. With the most elaborate new media team in the history of any election, Plouffe used the Internet and social networking to build a movement with unforeseen powers to organize locally, fight the smears, get out the vote and, above all, raise money.
It was a movement that rested on the shoulders of one particular constituency that would help to elect a former community organizer with a funny name to be the first African-American President. That constituency was the Net Generation.
The Net Generation, the Digital Network Society and Democracy
From the day Barack Obama announced his candidacy in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln delivered his 1858 “House Divided” speech against slavery, and during campaign events in the early stages of the Iowa caucus, it was evident that one particular group of voters was drawn to the charismatic senator.
“Because people had signed up online for tickets and we did sign-in at the events, we could match these people to the Iowa voter file we had purchased and see who they were,” Plouffe writes. “What it told us was music to our ears: lots of young voters” (Plouffe, 2009, 42).
Plouffe knew that young voters, those between ages 18 to 32, would have to carry the grassroots movement Obama had talked about. The first post-boomer candidate for President, Obama seemed to connect with these so-called Net Geners naturally.
Of the 6,000 employees who signed up for the national campaign, at least 95 percent were younger than 30, most of them under the age of 25. To understand how Obama built his grassroots movement through the power of the Internet therefore is to understand what characterizes the Net Generation.
Net Geners ranged from ages 11 to 31 in 2008. Representing 81.1 million individuals, 27 percent of the U.S. population, Net Geners today outnumber Baby Boomers. They have been called a “political juggernaut” as they represented one fifth of the voting population in 2008. By 2015, one third of all voters will be Net Geners.
The Net Generation, also known as Generation Y, is the first group to be surrounded by digital media, and the first global generation. “Today’s kids are so bathed in bits that they think it’s all part of the natural landscape,” Don Tapscott writes in his book “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.”
Influenced by video games and the Web, Net Geners tend to work in groups and collapse rigid hierarchies. They prefer open families that are less authoritative and more collaborative. Above all, they want freedom – freedom of choice and expression.
Net Geners are innovators. They want to customize their products – which explains the success of Apple’s app-driven iPhone – and they value networking relationships. They have a need for speed and are comfortable multi-taskers. They write blogs, they upload videos, they create personal sites, they sacrifice privacy. They value transparency on their own Web pages, at work and in government.
Net Geners made up nearly one third of the Internet-using population in 2009, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. They view the Internet as more than a source of information. It’s a tool to connect and communicate. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are just as much part of their lives as the phone, radio and television are for Baby Boomers. To Net Geners, social networking is not only a skill, it’s a lifestyle.
As they have grown up in the Information Age, Net Geners have shaped what Castells calls the Network Society. “Dominant functions and processes in the Information Age are increasingly organized around networks,” Castells writes. “Presence or absence in the network and the dynamics of each network vis-à-vis others are critical sources of domination and change in our society” (Castells, 2000, 500).
“Networks are open structures, able to expand without limits,” Castells adds. “A network-based social structure is a highly dynamic, open system, susceptible to innovating without threatening its balance” (Castells, 2000, 500).
This means, as the Net Generation grows in influence, the trend will be toward networks rather than hierarchies, toward open collaboration rather than command, toward consensus rather than arbitrary rule, and toward empowerment rather than control.
Net Geners seek entertainment and they are deeply immersed in popular culture. But contrary to the common stereotype, their interests are not limited to such things. Often called the “Me Generation,” Net Geners are said to care only about themselves. They don’t read newspapers and have little attachment to their community or country. Don’t even bother to ask for their votes!
“But conventional wisdom is wrong, and grows more wrong with each election,” Tapscott writes. “They do care about their communities. […] They are volunteering in record numbers to tackle some of the world’s most difficult problems, like poverty and global warming.”
But while Net Geners’ civic activity spiked after the 9/11 attacks, they largely stayed away from the polls in the 2004 presidential election, as fewer than half of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. Their absence at the polls, however, did not seem to stem from a disinterest in politics. Nearly two thirds of youth age 15 to 25 strongly believe government should do more to solve problems, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (Tapscott, 2009, 245).
Few Net Geners, however, believe the government is able or willing to solve these problems. They see elected officials as selfish, partisan and negative. “The Net Generation does not put much trust in politicians and political institutions,” Tapscott writes. “Not because they’re uninterested, but rather because political systems have failed to engage them in a manner that fits their digital and ethical upbringing” (Tapscott, 2009, 246).
Barack Obama’s campaign seemed keenly aware of this. If his campaign could unleash the enthusiasm of the Net Generation by tapping into its ethics and digital culture, it would significantly increase its chances of winning. Early exit polls on Nov. 4 showed that Plouffe’s team had accomplished just that. Young voter turnout was among the highest of any presidential election, and they favored Obama over McCain 66 to 32 percent.
But how exactly did the campaign capture their imagination?
Obama and Plouffe knew that conventional wisdom was wrong. They knew Net Geners (1) value integrity, (2) are service oriented, and (3) use the Internet as a tool for social action and global relationships.
The campaign provided all of these three elements: a charismatic leader who has been truly committed to grassroots involvement since his days as a community organizer on Chicago’s Southside; an abundance of volunteering opportunities; and effective digital tools that empowered millions of volunteers to take “ownership” of the campaign.
“Our grassroots supporters did not become involved because they liked our backroom strategies or tactical brilliance,” Plouffe writes. “They got interested and involved for one reason – Barack Obama. He kept the faith with them, and they dug in harder and deeper because they believed in him so much.
“That may have been his greatest accomplishment – in this cynical age, he built a grassroots movement that believed in its own ability to effect change, and which grew to become more powerful than anything witnessed to date in primaries of either party” (Plouffe, 2009, 238).
Obama built this movement as a master communicator. While he often sounded “professorial” in his campaign speeches, he was very personal with volunteers and voters. He connected with them via e-mail, conference calls and YouTube videos. It gave the campaign, even though it was a tightly controlled effort, a grassroots feel.
“It was not his campaign – it was their campaign,” Plouffe writes. “That kind of loyalty and inspiration cannot be manufactured. Without it, we would have had a great Web page and social networking site, flashy but lacking humanity” (Plouffe, 2009, 380).
In May 2008, the College Democrats of America endorsed Obama. Their statement captures why he was able to capture the imagination of the Net Generation:
“We’ve heard from thousands of youth voices through Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and e-mail. Without a doubt, college students are ready for change and a new kind of leadership. Senator Obama empowers our voices and makes us feel like an important part of the process. That is why we support him to be the next president of the United States” (Castells, 2009, 372).
Obama’s Digital Campaign Technologies & Online Grassroots Strategies
If you need to build a grassroots movement on the shoulders of Net Geners, who better to turn to than one of the founders of this generation’s most popular social networking tool? Jim Brayton, then Senator Obama’s Internet director, must have thought along those lines when he arranged an interview with Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in January 2007.
Obama staffers had first connected with Hughes in the fall of 2006 as midterm elections approached and Facebook began to allow political candidates to set up special profile pages. Now, just weeks before Obama declared his intention to run for president and the campaign’s exploratory site was going live, Brayton met with Hughes over coffee at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
“It was wonderful to hear someone outside the campaign who understood the potential for organizing online,” Brayton told Fast Company magazine. So he offered the then 23-year-old Hughes a job as director of online organizing.
Like many Net Geners, who are more likely to be Democrats than Generation Xers and late boomers, Hughes was inspired by Obama.
“Barack Obama is a new kind of politician who wants to usher in a new kind of politics in our country – one based on reason and consensus rather than sound bites and partisanship,” Hughes is quoted by Tapscott. “Not only is he remarkably intelligent, but also he’s able to genuinely listen and understand other people’s perspective. He’s not a product of the Washington insider culture where lobbyists and special interests dominate the legislative process” (Tapscott, 2009, 250).
Most Net Geners thought exactly like Hughes, who was just one of the many young and tech-savvy leaders in Obama’s online campaign. Fellow Net Gener Joe Rospars, at 25 already a veteran of Howard Dean’s innovative 2004 online campaign, became director of new media. Kevin Malover, former chief technology officer at Orbitz, became Obama’s CTO, and even Google CEO Eric Schmidt shared his insights.
“I’d say we were competitive digitally with any business-world start-up,” Plouffe writes (Plouffe, 2009, 36).
From the start, Obama’s campaign was committed to viral grassroots. Matching the attitudes of Net Geners, the campaign was to have minimal hierarchy or at least appear to be run that way. (Many political analysts, however, consider the Obama campaign one of the most tightly controlled, top-down campaigns in presidential election history.)
Whatever the case may be, Plouffe wanted to keep the campaign structure simple. There were 11 departments: operations, finance, scheduling and advancement, press and communications, opposition and self-research, polling and paid media, politics, state operations, information technology, new media, and a field department complementing new media’s online organizing. The heads of each department, including Rospars, reported directly to the campaign manager (Plouffe, 2009, 30).
The fact that the new media department was at the same level as the other sectors illustrates its importance in the Obama campaign. In most campaigns, the new media director reports to the communications department and is not considered equal to other senior staff.
“But I saw how important the burgeoning online world was to our overall success,” Plouffe writes. “New media would touch just about every aspect of our campaign. So I had that department report directly to me” (Plouffe, 2009, 36).
Obama’s media expenditures also illustrate that his campaign put much greater emphasis on the Internet than his competitors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics as of July 2008 he spent: $91,593,186 on broadcast media, $7,281,443 on print media, and $7,263,508 on Internet media. By comparison, Clinton had only spent $2.9 million on Internet media, McCain just $1.7 million (Castells, 2009, 392).
Obama’s new media department consisted of online communications, Web page development and maintenance, and texting. The new media team held weekly conference calls with the technology staff to generate ideas and refine strategies. Many of those ideas caught on especially with younger voters.
In addition to the campaign website, which was a social networking site in itself, Obama maintained accounts on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, among others, allowing his supporters to easily share his updates. He used the medium to satisfy the Net Geners’ need for speed and entertainment by giving updates on his campaign, location and mood. On April 3, for example, Obama was “troubled by today’s unemployment figures.” On March 12, he was “grateful to be with distinguished generals & admirals.”
In spring 2008, Obama had the largest Internet presence of any of the three remaining candidates and the most followers – over one million of them. (By June 2010, he was in a close race with popstar Lady Gaga to become the first individual with 10 million Facebook friends. He narrowly lost.) Hillary Clinton came in second with 330,000, John McCain had 140,000 friends. A little fact illustrates Obama’s mastery of social media. While supporters could sign up on Twitter to follow both Obama and Clinton, only Obama returned the favor by following them. Supporters felt an immediate connection with the candidate (Tapscott, 2009, 255).
In addition to its social media strategies, the new media team came up with other simple but powerful ideas. One of them was FightTheSmears.com, a site that confronted accusations about Obama and his wife Michelle head-on and gave supporters an easy way to share refutations to any baseless claims.
When Obama’s birthplace was questioned, the campaign posted his birth certificate online; to disprove that Obama refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance with a hand over his heart, it posted a YouTube video showing Obama doing just that; when Rush Limbaugh said there was a tape of Michelle Obama using the word “whitey” at Trinity United Church of Christ, the site stated that no such tape existed and Michelle Obama had never spoken at the church.
Another powerful strategy was the campaign’s decision to announce Obama’s running mate via text message. “This was a great way to grow our text-messaging list,” Plouffe writes. “Our e-mail list was now over 6 million, but our list of mobile numbers was in the low six figures. Making a big announcement by text would ignite a spark and juice the latter number. It sure did. By August 22, the night before we announced Biden, over two million people had signed up to receive the VP announcement by text. […] In less than two weeks, we had grown our list fifteen-fold” (Plouffe, 2009, 295).
One of the campaign’s most powerful and regularly used tools, however, was e-mail. Plouffe hired an enormous e-mail staff within new media, and all states had their own fully staffed new media and e-mail teams. Supporters were asked to provide their e-mail addresses when they attended rallies, ordered tickets for special events online or created personal profiles on the campaign website. When they shared information with friends and family through Obama’s website, the campaign would collect their addresses as well.
“Technology was core to our campaign from Day One and it only grew in importance as the primary went on,” Plouffe writes. “We started with fewer than ten thousand e-mail addresses, and by June 3, 2008, our list had grown to over 5 million.” By the time the primary ended seven million people had signed up to receive e-mails; at the end of the campaign 13 million addresses were on the list (Plouffe, 2009, 237).
Subscribed supporters wanted to stay in touch with the candidate, receive updated information and talking points, and know how the campaign strategists saw the race. In the last 60 days, the new media staff sent out up to a dozen e-mails a day. They often included state-of-the-race memos in video form, in which Plouffe shared his insights.
To keep things fresh, the e-mails varied in length, tone and sender. Many were sent in Plouffe’s name, but depending on the message and response the campaign wanted to elicit, they appeared to come from Obama himself, his wife Michelle or running mate Joe Biden. It was a magnificent tool to keep supporters connected to the candidate.
Through the use of new media, the Obama campaign was able to circumvent the mainstream media filter and speak directly to voters. With the help of YouTube and its own social networking site My.BarackObama.com, or MyBO.com, the campaign essentially created its own television network that drew millions of viewers and shaped Obama’s image.
On January 18, the campaign released the first of many such YouTube videos announcing Obama’s candidacy. The video became an instant phenomenon and drove hundreds of thousands of people to MyBO.com.
“This was an important moment: it heightened our belief that the Internet could become both a message tool that would let us speak directly to voters as well as an organizational net,” Plouffe writes (Plouffe, 2009, 32).
Over the course of the election, the campaign published 1,800 YouTube videos that were viewed 110 million times. In addition, Rospars and his team increasingly streamed events live on MyBO.com.
“We were doing this with greater frequency, and many people were watching major events on our site and then afterword logging on to MyBO.com to discuss what they had just seen with their fellow supporters,” Plouffe writes. “We were accomplishing what we set out to create – a website that could be a real ‘home’ for our supporters and a one-stop shopping place for anything campaign related” (Plouffe, 2009, 297).
It was a simple but powerful image-making strategy, one that Castells explains in his book. “Because information and communication circulate primarily through the diversified, yet comprehensive media system, politics becomes increasingly played out in the space of media,” Castells writes. “Leadership is personalized, and image-making is power-making” (Castells, 2000, 507).
But what really brought Obama to power, aside from his carefully crafted image, was that his campaign was truly a people-powered movement. Central to this effort, Plouffe describes, was Rospars and Hughes’s use of social-networking sites like MyBO.com and Facebook to build the campaign and organize online, making it easy for supporters to connect with staff in battleground states (Plouffe, 2009, 255). Supporters simply inserted their zip codes on the site, which then directed them to nearby working groups where they could connect with others easily.
Hughes’s message to supporters was simple, Plouffe writes: “Get busy on your own. Take the campaign into your own hands” (Plouffe, 2009, 92).
From the start, the campaign had great success in signing people up through the website. “When people asked how they could help, we told them that nothing was more important than getting additional people signed up on the site so we could communicate with them and try to convert them to donors and volunteers,” Plouffe writes (Plouffe, 2009, 48).
The success of this approach became evident as early as in the Iowa caucus, where the Obama campaign had no preexisting organization or relationships and needed to quickly establish a network from scratch. The campaign geared much of its media and Internet advertising exclusively to younger Iowans, and put volunteer leaders in charge as precinct captains. Obama spent much of his time in Iowa with these precinct captains on the phone or in person before and after events to keep them motivated.
The combination of online organizing and face-to-face interaction paid off. “We were rewarded in our belief that technology would help us organize and grow the campaign,” Plouffe writes. “Many in Iowa organized online for us and even more first made contact with us through the Web” (Plouffe, 2009, 138).
This enthusiasm for the campaign only increased after Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. In preparation for Super Tuesday, grassroots supporters in non-early states often had already been organizing on their own through MyBO.com, well before the first Obama staffer arrived (Plouffe, 2009, 167).
“More often than not, they were cautiously seeking a green light, worried that the campaign might object to their organic activity,” Plouffe writes. “We gave them the brightest green light imaginable.
“Our ‘go for it’ response to eager volunteer organizers was unusual. For most campaigns, command and control is normally the order of the day. But it was clear we had uniquely motivated and talented volunteers who could give us a huge leg up, so we tried to send the message that they should consider the campaign a movement – their movement” (Plouffe, 2009, 93).
Plouffe could draw on a huge database of demographic and political models for every county, and he knew that in the general election the real contest occurred in only about 16 states. He made sure that in these states swing voters “bumped up against the campaign at every turn – at their doors; on their phones; on their local news, TV shows, and radio programs; and on their computers on the Internet” (Plouffe, 2009, 247).
Technology played a key role in organizing this targeted effort. It helped create enthusiasm for a relatively unknown candidate, gave supporters a sense of connection, helped fight the smears, and organized an untapped grassroots movement.
“Reaching an audience involves more than just figuring out who your audience is, it also means knowing how to find them,” Plouffe writes. “Part of the reason our campaign was so successful is that we were able to identify early that many of the people we wanted to reach were spending more of their time on the Internet” (Plouffe, 2009, 378).
The Web’s Impact on Fundraising in the Obama Campaign
But Obama’s supporters were not only spending time on the Internet, they were also spending something a political campaign can’t do without – cash; and they were doing so in record numbers. More than three million people, twice as many as for any other presidential candidate in history, contributed to the campaign as Obama raised a record $750 million, most of it online.
With this kind of fundraising power, it wasn’t a surprise that Obama decided not to opt for public funding in the general election, even though he had promised just that in the primary. While some Obama supporters and certainly many of his critics felt he had broken a promise, the Obama campaign argued it had achieved the closest thing to public funding – a Web of “citizen fund-raisers.”
Indeed, while Clinton and McCain mainly relied on big-time donors with deep pockets, Obama’s largest groups of donors were students and retirees on fixed budgets; and their online contributions were small, between $25 and $75.
Key to this “citizen fundraising” was once again the campaign’s social networking site My.BarackObama.com, which was not only designed to build support and organize rallies, but also to raise money. With a simple tool on the site, users could easily invite their friends to donate and track the money they were raising. “In our campaign, grassroots supporters started to raise money,” Plouffe writes. “Generally, they brought in relatively small amounts - $100, $500, $1,000” (Plouffe, 2009, 50).
But those small amounts added up quickly. When the campaign filed its second-quarter finance report in June 2007, it had raised $32.5 million; and of the one million people who had signed up online, more than 250,000 had become contributors.
“The online money had spiked to more than $10 million,” Plouffe writes. “This was by far a record for online primary money in a quarter and spoke to the fact that our income from this channel could really explode down the line.” By comparison, Howard Dean’s best quarter in 2003 raised $7.4 million online (Plouffe, 2009, 77).
While shattering these fund-raising records, the campaign made sure to emphasize a strong sense of community. When pledging money, donors were asked to write a little note expressing their feelings about Obama and the election. Once the donation went through, the donor received an e-mail with a random note written by a fellow contributor.
Plouffe and the new media team were also careful about how often they asked people for money by e-mail. “We wanted our online contributors to have a balanced experience with us, thinking that if they felt part of and connected to the whole camp, they might be more generous over time,” Plouffe writes (Plouffe, 2009, 53).
But the money seemed to fly in all by itself, especially after potential game changers like the primary loss in New Hampshire and McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin as running mate.
In January, leading up to Super Tuesday, the Obama campaign raised $32 million, $28 million of it online, as 170,000 new donors joined. It added another $55 million in February and reached one million donors by March, doubling Clinton’s total.
Not only had Obama defeated the heavily favored Clinton money-making machine, he had also gained a strategic advantage over McCain going into the general election. “McCain lacked a powerful online fund-raising program, and he would have to do a lot more traditional fund-raising events than we did,” Plouffe writes. “This would take up a lot of his time, pulling him out of battleground states” (Plouffe, 2009, 260).
The faster the election approached, the more money came in. In the final stages of the campaign more than 10,000 new donors contributed to Obama daily. At times, the Obama campaign received up to $500,000 an hour as he collected $100 million online in September alone.
“Ultimately we raised a mind-blowing $150 million in September,” Plouffe writes. “We added over 2.3 million people to our list that month thanks to an aggressive advertising effort by our new media team, leaving us with more than 11 million listed supporters by the end of the month” (Plouffe, 2009, 326).
In the end, Obama collected 13 million e-mail addresses, two million cell phone numbers and half a billion dollars on the Web. On Nov. 4, 2008, it had become clear – the Internet had made a President.
Continued Implications for e-Government in the Obama Administration
When Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, he entered the White House not just with a political base, but with a database of millions of grassroots supporters. Obama promised the first new media presidency, but with Washington stuck in the Dark Ages technologically, as Plouffe put it, could Obama really take D.C. to the Information Age?
He has certainly taken the first steps on that journey. Even before he was inaugurated, Obama launched Change.gov. The site was a digital gateway for the transition period, where the President-elect gave weekly video addresses, laid out his agenda and invited the public to share its vision for his presidency.
After taking office, the Obama administration re-launched WhiteHouse.gov to include more video and photo galleries, live streams and a blog. He has held online town hall meetings, has made his weekly radio address available on YouTube and has shared intimate photos of the First Family on Flickr.
In an effort to be more transparent, as Obama had promised during the election, the administration launched Recovery.gov, which allows users to track the stimulus money spent as part of the Recovery Act. To push for health care reform, the administration launched HealthReform.gov, where the public could share its opinion during weekly Web chats, receive insurance reform updates and read industry reports. This hands-on participation throughout the health care debate resulted in millions of calls and e-mails to representatives in Congress, and contributed to the passage of the most dramatic social reform in the U.S. in more than 40 years.
After the Affordable Care Act became law on March 23, 2010, HealthReform.gov was archived and HealthCare.gov was launched. Knowing that many citizens found the new healthcare bill confusing, the site was designed to educate people about the bill’s provisions and provide users with information on how to access different insurance options. The project was close to Obama’s heart. So close in fact that he became the first U.S. president to give the public a personal tour of a website. The video of Obama navigating through HealthCare.gove was posted on many consumer websites such as WebMD.com.
HealthCare.gov, HealthReform.gov and Recovery.gov are just some examples of Obama’s desire to create what Politico called “government websites that are more like an Apple app store than the Department of Motor Vehicles” (Phillipp, Hart, 2010). Other sites include Data.gov and USAspending.gov which were created to digitize federal data and make it available online.
In order to realize his vision of data-driven, digital government, the President hired three technology chiefs whose positions had not existed before. Aneesh Chopra became chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra was appointed chief information officer and Jeffrey Zients was named chief performance officer.
“They represent a new brand of Silicon Valley-era, private-sector-minded managers recruited into the public sector,” Politico wrote. “But the tech gurus have run into some roadblocks along the way. Changing the government’s bureaucratic culture has been difficult, as has hiring enough tech-savvy people to push their agenda forward. In many cases, agencies’ technological infrastructures aren’t robust enough to implement new systems immediately” (Phillipp, Hart, 2010).
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), for example, found that the IT Dashboard, which was created to track $80 billion in government technology contracts, relies on a large amount of inaccurate data. The GAO also reported that much of the information on Recovery.gov was out of date and incomplete when the site first launched. In addition, some agencies stuck in their bureaucratic ways often resent handing over their data, and critics argue that these huge amounts of data aren’t useful to the average person.
USAspening.gov, for example, “ballooned from 47 to 270,000 data sets in just over a year, but watchdog groups are beginning to question the value of the thousands of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, charts and graphs that the site produces. […] Even the White House’s flagship initiative, the release of White House visitor logs, has come under fire for being less than helpful in illuminating special interest access to senior officials” (Phillipp, Hart, 2010).
But despite these challenges, during the first year of his presidency, Obama’s desire for continued dialogue with the more than 13 million people who signed up for his campaign has become evident. It has also led to the formation of a new grassroots volunteering group called Organizing for America (OFA), a direct outgrowth of the campaign.
“OFA ensures the president can stay in touch with his millions of volunteers and supporters, communicating directly through the Internet and encouraging them to rally support and educate people in their local communities on what he is trying to accomplish on the economy, health care, energy and other issues,” Plouffe writes (Plouffe, 2009, 384).
Through e-mail and at My.BarackObama.com, the President stays in touch with his grassroots supporters that were so essential in his election. The site provides them with easy tools to write letters to the editors, share their personal stories with others and organize volunteering opportunities. Through OFA, the President’s supporters continue to organize online to advocate Obama’s agenda; they meet on the Web and in their living rooms to discuss Obama’s progress; and they continue to raise money.
However, OFA has not had the impact even Republican strategists feared it would have. Aside from lobbying for health care reform, critics argue, OFA hasn’t accomplished much on the President’s behalf.
Outsiders as well as OFA staffers blame the administration for this. Before Plouffe took a break from politics to write his book, he had integrated OFA into the Democratic National Committee.
“There, he argued, the people-powered revolution that Obama had created could serve as a permanent field campaign for the Democratic Party, capable of mobilizing millions of Americans to support the president’s ambitious agenda,” journalist Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “The move meant that the machinery of an insurgent candidate, one who had vowed to upend the Washington establishment, would now become part of that establishment, subject to the entrenched, partisan interests of the Democratic Party. It made about as much sense as moving Greenpeace into the headquarters of ExxonMobil.”
The move likely turned off many independents and even Republicans who had been on OFA’s e-mail list. But even those supporters who had stuck with OFA seemed to have been sidelined by the White House for much of the first 12 months during Obama’s presidency.
Instead of gearing up the OFA machine during the Massachusetts Senate race, for example, the administration asked local volunteers to make calls to other states to gather support for health care reform. Not until 10 days before the election, did the group appeal to its members to turn out the vote for Martha Coakley, whose poll numbers were drowning. By that time, however, most of the 13 million supporters had tuned out. Only 45,000 members responded to the last-minute plea for help. They managed to organize 1,000 phone banks, place 2.3 million calls to Massachusetts and knock on some doors in the final week, but their efforts were too little too late. In a race decided by 110,000 votes, 850,000 who had voted for Obama in Massachusetts didn’t turn out for Coakley. The result: the Democrats turned over Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for the first time in 50 years (Dickinson, 2010).
Castells writes the movement around the Obama candidacy was bound to fragment once he had been elected, since it went far beyond Obama and his political program. In its essence it was a movement about hope and change, not just politics.
“Indeed, there is preliminary evidence that Obama’s reliance on grassroots organizing may have serious ramifications for his presidency,” Castells writes. “The same networks that mobilized for him are also poised to mobilize against him when and if he adopts unprincipled policies.
“This is the mark of insurgent politics,” Castells writes, “when insurgency does not end with the means (electing a candidate) but preserves toward its goals: the change people hope for, and believe in” (Castells, 2009, 406).
The last-minute efforts in Massachusetts, however, also showed that OFA is still capable of generating grassroot action; and the Democrats are counting on the organization to turn out the vote in the 2010 midterm elections. To avoid another Massachusetts-like disaster at the polls in the fall, Plouffe returned to oversee the campaign efforts.
In an e-mail to supporters on April 26, Plouffe announced OFA’s strategy for the midterm election. “Two years ago, we challenged a group of young and disaffected voters to participate in the 2008 election. They cast votes for the very first time and helped us elect a new president,” Plouffe wrote. “You told us that your top priority for 2010 was to help these people head back to the polls -- and we built our plan around that goal.”
On June 5, OFA supporters hosted “Vote 2010 Kick-Off” events in their homes, made phone calls, and knocked on doors securing pledges from many of the 15 million first-time voters in 2008 to vote again in the fall. Plouffe calculates that if OFA manages to increase the turnout levels of first-time voters by just eight percent over previous trends, it would result in a shift of two percent in the final vote total – more than enough to swing close races across the country.
To accomplish this OFA in cooperation with the Democratic National Committee also launched an online voter registration and education effort. At RaiseYourVote.com, the party built its first-ever voting information and registration hub.
The site uses many of the same techniques used at MyBO.com, including voting information personalized to the user’s location and links to social networking sites. Visitors can find information about registration forms, election dates and ID requirements.
This online effort is thought to supplement grassroots organizing in all 50 states, much of which is already in place thanks to OFA’s work. The effort is part of a $50 million “Vote 2010” program that targets first-time voters, hopes to energize the base, and plans to recruit and train volunteers.
Plouffe recognizes the power this network of young supporters holds not only for the midterm elections and a potential re-election, but to effect the change they all believe in. Obama has set in motion what Tapscott calls “the politicization of this Net Generation.” During the campaign, Net Geners were not only donors and voters, they were active collaborators. They will not want to give up this role during Obama’s administration or that of any future president.
To Plouffe, the politicization of the Net Generation is encouraging. As he looked back at Obama’s grassroots movement in the final pages of his book, Plouffe illustrates his optimism for a future led by Net Geners. “As I witnessed, sometimes in awe, their performance and desire to look beyond themselves and contribute to a better world (and they have a distinctly global outlook),” Plouffe writes, “it gave me extreme comfort to know that in the not so distant future they will be taking the reins and leading our companies, campaigns, and institutions” (Plouffe, 2009, 380).
Can Obama’s Model Be Applied Globally in Empowering Grassroots Involvement?
In order to determine whether or not Obama’s participatory technology model can be applied globally to empower grassroots media involvement in selecting/influencing governments, several questions need to be answered about the nature of the setting in which these movements take place. It is important to note that this exploration does not detail the socioeconomic and technological infrastructures of various communities where the Obama model may be applied, but rather gives an overview of how the Information Age and the Network Society can impact political movements.
To accomplish this, five questions need to be addressed:
What is happening to “power” in the Information Age?
What are some of the consequences for political campaigns and social movements?
What are some of the advantages of informational / media politics?
Is digital democracy a myth?
What can other leaders learn from Obama?
Answers to these questions are covered extensively in Castells’s trilogy “The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture,” his book “Communication Power,” and Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.”
What is happening to “power” in the Information Age?
The advent of the Information Age and Network Society was brought about by the Digital Revolution that changed the way people communicate. Thanks to the Internet the cost of publishing has collapsed and communication has moved from local to global. People now communicate in a larger sphere as they not only exchange ideas with their immediate community but with a global network of diverse populations. They communictate more frequently and they share more information. The question is no longer, “Why should we publish this?” but “Why shouldn’t we?” Traditional gate keepers have been removed as anybody can publish anything on the Web. Any story has the potential of going “viral,” spreading from local to national to global in a heartbeat.
The Web has also made it easier for people to form groups. Individuals who are not able to meet physically can join online to rally for a common cause. Those who do plan to meet physically often use the Internet as an initial gathering place. In many cases, leaders in these online groups don’t have to actively seek every member. The members themselves can use digital networking tools to easily recruit others.
Social networking tools have also improved the ease of coordination among these members. As the Obama campaign’s grassroots efforts in Iowa showed, online communities can easily morph into real meetings. Members of groups coordinate on the Web to act on the ground.
“By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management (and its attendant overhead), these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort (the limits that created the institutional dilemma in the first place),” Shirky writes. “Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done” (Shirky, 2008, 21).
This transformation means that rigid institutional structures that have coordinated these efforts in the past have almost become obsolete. The collapse of these structures has resulted in a tremendous power shift in the Information Age. Castells writes that power is no longer concentrated in the state, in organizations or symbolic controllers like corporate media and churches. “It is diffused in global networks of wealth, power, information, and images” (Castells, 2009, 424).
Therefore, Castells writes, “new power relationships, beyond the powerless nation-state, must be understood as the capacity to control global instrumental networks” (Castells, 2009, 358).
The power to control these networks lies in the information and images societies use to organize their institutions and people use to build their lives, Castells concludes. “The sites of this power are people’s minds,” he writes. “Whoever, or whatever, wins the battle of people’s minds will rule” (Castells, 2009, 425).
Therefore, power in the Network Society is communication power, and image-making is power-making, according to Castells. “Power is primarily exercised by the construction of meaning in the human mind through processes of communication enacted in global / local multimedia networks” (Castells, 2009, 53).
To bring about change, however, the transformation of culture and society must occur on several levels, Castells writes. “If it occurred only in the minds of individuals, it would be powerless. If it came only from the initiative of the state, it would be tyrannical,” he writes. “Personal transformation among large numbers is essential, and it must not only be a transformation of consciousness but must also involve individual action” (Castells, 2009, 68).
What are some of the consequences for political campaigns and social movements?
Individuals seek the nurture of groups that share their moral tradition and reinforce their own aspirations, Castells writes (Castells, 2009, 68). Their increasing desire for participatory democracy coupled with the power-shift in nation-states has serious consequences for political campaigns and social movements.
“Political parties have also exhausted their potential as autonomous agents of social change,” Castells writes. He, however, does believe they “are still crucial agencies in institutionalizing social transformation.” The change brought about by the Digital Revolution is that “they are influential brokers rather than powerful innovators” (Castells, 2009, 426).
In order to be a catalyst for change, political movements must capture the imagination of people. In the Information Age this can’t be accomplished without networking, Internet-based networking (e-mails, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) in particular. This networked communication needs to focus on a shared set of goals to assure the overall effectiveness of the movement. As Plouffe put it, a flashy website lacking humanity isn’t enough. The greater cause has to be at the center of it all the time. In the end, it’s about the message, not the medium. The beauty of this networked communication is that “the movement can be coordinated and diversified at the same time, and anyone wanting to say something can do so by posting messages and engaging in personalized, networked debate” (Castells, 2009, 155).
Castells contends that in the Information Age, politicians must engage in what he calls informational or media politics to reach society and secure votes. All of their projects and strategies are processed through technological media. “The key point is that electronic media (including not only television and radio, but all forms of communication, such as newspapers and the Internet), have become the privileged space of politics,” he writes (Castells, 2009, 369).
Castells believes media don’t determine the nature of political processes but frame and structure how politics are done. Digital media shape the nature of the relationship between state and society both during elections and in governance. Those political organizations, who refuse to accept that fact and are, as Plouffe put it, stuck in the Dark Ages electronically, will fail to connect with citizens, Castells argues.
“Because current political systems are still based in organizational forms and political strategies of the industrial era, they have became politically obsolete, and their autonomy is being denied by the flows of information on which they depend,” Castells writes. “This is a fundamental source of the crisis of democracy in the Information Age” (Castells, 2009, 370).
What are some of the advantages of informational politics?
The Obama campaign showed a mastery of informational politics in the digital era. There are other examples from around the globe where political, social and religious movements have used the Internet as an essential organizing and mobilizing tool. In order to highlight their poor working conditions, factory workers in China have used these tools, as has Al-Qaeda whose websites spread the terror network’s message of hate. During the recent election in Iran, student protesters shared Twitter updates and mobile videos detailing the violence inflicted by the Republican Guard on peaceful protestors. These reports fueled international support for the “Green Movement” and put pressure on the Iranian government by the international community.
“It is through the Internet that relatively isolated movements have succeeded in building their networks of global solidarity and support, and have been able to post their information in real time, becoming less vulnerable to repression in their localities,” Castells writes. (Castells, 2009, 155).
In the history of political campaigns, Obama for America has been unmatched in terms of its online organizing success. It is a prime example of how media politics don’t rule out other forms of political activity, such as knocking on doors, town halls, and bus tours. Instead, media politics can and should enhance such activities. Media alone don’t determine political outcomes, but without an active media presence political proposals and candidates don’t have a chance of gathering widespread support.
New media in particular allow politicians to share information with constituencies and communicate with them bypassing the control of traditional media. They allow for debate in an electronic forum.
“When electronic means are added to expand participation and consultation by citizens, new technologies contribute to enhanced participation in local government,” Castells writes. “They enhance political participation and horizontal communication among citizens.” More importantly, he argues, “citizens could form, and are forming, their own political and ideological constellations, circumventing established political structures, thus creating a flexible, adaptable political field” (Castells, 2009, 415).
Is digital democracy a myth?
Castells is talking about the democratizing power of digital media. There’s a widespread believe that by eliminating “old media” gatekeepers the Internet is an inherently democratic place and it has the power to spread democracy around the globe. Those who doubt this point out that in many countries only a relatively small, educated, and wealthy elite has access to the Internet.
In his book, “The Myth of Digital Democracy,” author Matthew Hindman points out that this digital divide also exists in the U.S., affecting blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the elderly, the undereducated, and those in rural areas. Hindman argues that online speech follows winners-take-all patterns and that the Internet has created new political elites. He believes, as traditional actors and political interests move online, cyberpolitics will simply mirror traditional patterns.
Even Castells points out that “the uneducated, switched-off masses of the world, and of the country, would remain excluded from the new democratic core. In other words, online politics could push the individualization of politics, and of society, to a point where integration, consensus, and institution building would become dangerously difficult to reach” (Castells, 2009, 416).
Hindman goes as far as to say that the Internet has not really eliminated “old media” gatekeepers. He points out that online news audiences are concentrated on the top 20 outlets and that Google and Yahoo link traffic to those popular outlets. He also believes that the blogosphere is led by a small group of elite bloggers. Many people speak on the Web, but few get heard, Hindman argues.
The authors of this paper, however, believe that Hindman underestimates the power that lies in numbers. While his observation about news traffic might be true, Hindman seems to ignore the strength of the Internet’s “underbrush.”
A recent episode in German politics illustrates how powerful the voices of non-elite bloggers can be. When German President Horst Köhler made remarks about Germany’s involvement in the Afghan war in an interview with Deutsche Welle, they were largely ignored by other traditional media. But a few sentences in the interview stood out to some bloggers. Köhler had linked military action abroad with the defense of German economic interests, such as securing free trade routes. When several bloggers criticized those remarks, “old media” suddenly became interested. The coverage resulted in harsh criticism for Köhler who ultimately resigned from the presidency.
While we acknowledge the digital divide, we believe in the Internet’s capability of being a mobilizing, transforming, democratic tool. Castells seems to share this optimism. “If political representation and decision-making could find a linkage with these new sources of inputs from concerned citizens, without yielding to a technologically savvy elite,” he writes, “a new kind of civil society could be reconstructed, thus allowing for electronic grassrooting of democracy” (Castells, 2009, 41).
What can other leaders learn from Obama?
As discussed in this paper, Obama was a master of this “electronic grassrooting of democracy” and in essence created what has been called “the first networked campaign.” So the question is, what can other political, social and religious leaders learn from him. Many of these points have already been addressed. Here, a few additional thoughts.
One of Obama’s biggest accomplishments during the 2008 election may have been his ability to connect with a substantial number of disaffected citizens who had either been marginalized or turned off by politics as usual. He accomplished this by combining his charismatic personality with a new kind of political discourse and a commitment to grassroots facilitated by the Web. It was in many ways the perfect storm for a networked campaign whose power was in the numbers of Obama’s committed foot soldiers on the ground. Had one of those aspects been missing, it is highly unlikely that Obama’s campaign would have been so successful. Castells calls this approach insurgent politics. “Insurgent politics is a key process in connecting the powerless segments of the population to power-making procedures,” he writes (Castells, 2009, 366).
The most important aspect of Obama’s election was that he was able to build a popular movement with thousands of on-the-ground activists and millions of active online supporters. Only the existence of this movement that included a vast web of “citizen fundraisers” enabled Obama to limit the influence of interest groups in his campaign.
To build this movement, Obama controlled the message with the help of digital media and pop culture, circumventing the traditional media filter and talking directly to voters on the Web. Again, it is important to note that the Internet was merely a tool to deliver that message. Without these tools, he could have not delivered his message to Net Geners as effectively. But if his message hadn’t connected with them in the first place, even the Internet could have not delivered it with an impact.
But his message did connect with voters because (a) his message was inspirational and (b) the receivers of his message felt hopeful. In addition, Obama knew what voters, even some Republicans, longed for after eight years of George W. Bush – a change. “This is the core of Obama’s campaign message: hope, coupled with change,” Castells writes. “Yes, change is needed, but hope is the driving emotion. This is the emotion that, according to research in political cognition […], stimulates enthusiasm for a candidate” (Castells, 2009, 383).
Obama instilled this emotion into his followers through a superior rhetorical capacity his opponents dismissed as being “just words.” But as Castells points out, “in fact, words matter. Or rather, the images induced in our minds by words, in a context of decision-making toward who will decide, matter a lot. We live by words and the metaphors they construct” (Castells, 2009, 384).
Obama was able to translate this emotion into action by pairing the classic American model of community organizing, for which he had been ridiculed by Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and conservative talk show hosts, with new digital technologies. “Grassrooting the Internet and networking the grassroots, Obama, who learned his social organizational skills on the streets of Chicago’s South Side, has probably invented a new model of mobilization that may be one of his lasting political legacies,” Castells writes (Castells, 2009, 386).
Obama’s call for a better society, coupled with individual engagement, was in many ways a social movement. Obama and Plouffe knew that voters craved a personal connection and specialized messages that addressed their concerns. However, his true accomplishment according to Castells was “to link his followers, to link people and communities among themselves, while centralizing knowledge about those communities, helping to coordinate their strategy by using the capacity of the Internet to be local and global, interactive and centralizing at the same time” (Castells, 2009, 394).
Net Geners, who have grown up in a networked society, were yearning for this sense of community and connection facilitated by digital media. It inspired them to organize against politics as usual. “What makes it a case of insurgent politics in the Information Age was the capacity of the candidate to inspire positive emotions (enthusiasm, trust, hope) in a wide segment of society by connecting directly to individuals, while organizing them in networks and communities of practice, so that his campaign was largely theirs” (Castells, 2009, 406).
Several recommendations developed by Castells summarize why Obama’s campaign strategy can be a model for social, political and religious movements globally:
In order to enact change in the Network Society movements need to control images and information in networks that connect individual minds by responding to their communication needs (Castells, 2009, 412).
The Network Society has created insurgent communities who can hold their governments accountable and share their disapproval globally with the click of a button. Therefore, “governments around the world will have to be on guard and play closer attention to the principles of democracy that they have largely disregarded for a long time” (Castells, 2009, 413).
Insurgent politics spurred by networked communications open new avenues for political outsiders who can mobilize marginalized citizens, replace the power of money with the money of the powerless, and network the grassroots (Castells, 2009, 413).
Technology in itself can’t produce cultural and political change, but it can help spread new and transformative messages across vast communication networks. Therefore, the most impactful social movements will be those who preserve and capitalize on a free Internet that is “the foundation of the new public space of the Information Age” (Castells, 2009, 415).
The authors of this paper, a Net Gener and a communications scholar with four decades of experience, acknowledge that the 2008 presidential election presented a unique situation, a perfect storm, for a digital grassroots campaign:
The overall political climate in the U.S. was one that craved a dramatic change in government; the election took place at a time when social networking tools had reached an impactful level in terms of its organizing potential; the level of political and social activism of those who have grown up with these tools, the Net Geners, had reached unprecedented levels; and a candidate who recognized the power of these digital tools and believed in the commitment of this constituency had the charisma to connect with them on a very emotional level.
Any political campaign which aims to simply replicate the conditions that lead to Obama’s success will fail. Any such attempt will seem phony and disingenuous. But if a political, social or religious movement recognizes the power of digital grassrooting, has faith in the Net Generation, and is able to identify their needs, fears and dreams – which differ greatly from nation to nation, culture to culture, and religion to religion – then the key theme of the Obama campaign, inscribed on one of the campaign posters, may encourage grassroots empowerment elsewhere:
“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”
Epilogue: Can Interactivity Inspire Churches?
We’ve seen, in the Obama campaign, widespread involvement and ownership, especially by youth. We’ve seen an election empowered by newer communication technologies. And we’ve reviewed power shifts in the light of global and local networks.
Now, focusing especially on global interactive, dialogic cultural movements, we can ask: How should religious organizations respond to the widespread desire for participatory involvement and expression, especially among young people?
Here we will explore first some principles from several prominent Roman Catholic theologians. We will also refer to a remarkable study by Ineke de Feijter, a European scholar, who has analyzed the many social communication documents of various Christian church bodies.
A practical accountability test will be to see if the theories expressed by theologians, scholars and church documents are actually being implemented by religious institutions.
Our primary case study will be focused on the Roman Catholic Church since that is the denomination most familiar to us.
In the 1960s the Pope convened a global council of bishops to renew the Catholic Church and its teachings. Theologians accompanied these bishops so there was a fresh review of “the signs of the times.” This consultation is known as Vatican II.
Hermann Pottmeyer is one of the Catholic Church’s leading theologians. Sixteen years ago Pottmeyer reviewed dialogue as a model for communication and community in the Catholic Church (Granfield, 1994, 97). He noted this word, “dialogue,” was new as a description of communication within the Church. Before the Second Vatican Council the terms used were “jurisdiction” and “obedience” when speaking of internal communication flows in the Catholic Church. Referring to the idea that the Church is a community in which all members have joint responsibility, Pottmeyer noted that the early Church accepted the secular Roman legal maxim: “What concerns all must be discussed and approved by all.”
Quoting a Vatican II document, Pottmeyer notes: “… in order for the Church to show itself ‘the sign of [community] which allows honest dialogue’ among all human beings, it will be necessary ‘to foster within the Church itself … dialogue with … abounding fruitfulness’” (Gaudium et spes, 92).
James Gerard McEvoy, from the Catholic Theology College in Adelaide, Australia, references Gadamer, Habermas and Charles Taylor, among others in his analysis of the same document. In his article “Proclamation as Dialogue: Transition in the Church-World Relationship,” McEvoy answers the argument that the contemporary Western view of dialogue is inherently relativistic. He calls for an ethic of authenticity as the Church helps to “build the world” (Gaudium et spes, 92). He calls for Gadamer’s “openness” in dialogue: “Instead of seeing proclamation as an attempt to convince or alter the other, it is better understood as an offer to another to consider whether the language of faith makes sense of her existence” (900).
Another leading Catholic theologian, Ladislas Örsy, studied civil law at Oxford and is a scholar of church law. Örsy recently published an analysis of how faithfully the Catholic Church has instituted legal structures to implement (or not!) the Vatican II documented statements, including the above goal of ‘honest dialogue’ (Örsy, 2009).
Örsy applauds the “energy” of the Vatican II discussions and final documents. He concludes that perhaps the apparent chaos in the Church since the Council is, in fact, a continuation of this energy as the Catholic community faces the challenges of integrating centuries-old traditions with contemporary-world realities.
Örsy uses the term “reception” to refer to the dynamic process of receiving or accepting doctrines and laws promulgated by the Church. In a global talk-back or interactive communication culture, there is almost inevitably some ‘static’ introduced into this reception.
Örsy further notes that there is a serious lack of consultation embedded in the new Code of Church law circulated after the Council. Non-ordained persons are not allowed active involvement in the construction of church law. Thus, Örsy claims, “unlike civil communities, we have no means built into the system for the renewal of our laws.” He later notes that this closes out a lot of creativity, for truly creative individuals will not be attracted to such a closed legal task.
In her own research, Ineke de Feijter harks back to dialogue related to genuine community as articulated by Buber (de Feijter, 2007). She suggests this “as a point of departure with respect to (religious) communication. It means another person is respected as a subject in his or her own right and not to be made into an object, as a ‘target’ of communication.” She notes also that in the civil society communication rights cannot be exercised without the existence of a public sphere as one of the pillars of democracy. She later refers to four key principles of communication rights: freedom, inclusiveness, diversity and participation (271). We should note, of course, that doctrinal development and religious legal structures are not simply based upon majority rule.
de Feijter states: “A worldwide genuine communication society at all levels cannot be reached without a broad, society-wide conversation about what future we actually want. … Churches have an important contribution to make in this respect” (322).
After reviewing many, many church policy statements on their communication goals, de Feijter notes: “The one-way model of communication and the instrumental view of media are under pressure; however, they prevail in the majority of documents… Definitions about interactivity are not elaborated nor is [interactivity] analyzed for its implications for the church and its communication” (257-8). In her extensive analysis of these church communication documents, this scholar presents a valuable and rich perspective; she notes the potential for churches to take the lead in personal communication, empowerment, public presence, participation, grassroots communication and as spaces for dialogue. She respectfully critiques where they fall short in this role.
Perhaps we can add some general recommendations here:
There must be an honest respect for dialogue among and within churches; just having a Facebook page does not mean authentic acceptance of feedback;
Theology must interact with various cultures with respect;
Humans, globally, represent a variety of stories. Churches must respect these individual stories as they proclaim Gospel stories.
The theologian Bernard Häring notes: “A teaching Church that is not, above all, a learning, listening Church, is not on the wave-length of divine communication” (Free and Faithful in Christ, 155).
Castells, Manuel. 2009. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Oxford. Blackwell Publishing.
Castells, Manuel. 2009. Communication Power. New York. Oxford University Press.
De Feijter, Ineke. 2007. The Art of Dialogue: Religion, Communication and Global Media Culture. Berlin, Lit Verlag; in the UK and North America, Global Book Marketing, London, Transaction Publishers, Rutgers.
Dickinson, Tim. Feb. 18., 2010. “No We Can’t,” in Rolling Stone.
Hindman, Matthew. 2009. The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton. Princeton University Press.
McEvoy, James Gerard. 2009. “Proclamation as Dialogue: Transition in the Church-World Relationship”, Theological Studies, 70.
McGirt, Ellen. April 1, 2009. “How Chris Hughes Helped Launch Facebook and the Obama Campaign,” in Fast Company Magazine.
Örsy, Ladislas. 2009. Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.
Phillip, Abby and Hart, Kim. July 20, 2010. “Bringing government up to data,” in Politico.
Plouffe, David. 2009. The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. New York. Viking.
Pottmeyer, Hermann. 1994. “Dialogue as a Model for Communication in the Church,” in The Church and Communication, ed. Patrick Granfield, 97-103. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward.
Shirky, Clay. 2008. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York. The Penguin Press.
Tapscott, Don. 2009. Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York. McGraw Hill.