For a liberal American, one of the few political joys of Trump’s First One Hundred Days has been the chance to watch the resistance to him and his agenda take shape. In just over three months, activists on the Left have brought millions of people to the streets, flooded Congress with phone calls and emails and helped to stop major Trump initiatives in their tracks.
But how was a movement powerful enough to derail Obamacare repeal able to start so quickly? One answer: the people organizing it could turn to digital tools with long histories and low barriers to action. In April’s Campaigns & Elections Technology Bytes column, I describe some of the technologies activists are putting to work every day:
As we discussed back in March, the first wave of the Trump resistance did not have to invent a digital infrastructure from scratch, since it could draw on on tools created years before. For example, Action Network is an online platform that combines petitions, online actions, event signups, bulk email and social media to help activists rally their friends and family, and it's free for local progressive organizers.
It scales well, and planners of the January Women's March relied on it to fill the streets with protesters in D.C. and across the country. While Facebook outreach spread the word and created media coverage, much of the actual organizing happened via Action Network emails landing in activists' inboxes.
No knock on Facebook, btw — it was a powerful amplifying tool, and it brought the marchers’ message to millions of people who couldn’t attend themselves. What truly mattered was the way technologies — old and new — worked together to multiply their power:
This particular moment illustrates a vital lesson. Digital tools are most powerful when they aren’t just digital. Email, social media, text messaging and mobile apps reach their full potential when they help people organize on the ground and amplify their work to bring it to a potentially unlimited audience.
Another lesson :sometimes the old tools just need new friends. We sometimes look for a “killer app” to revolutionize politics, but the real power seems to lie in combining basic technologies to realize their true strengths. Email and text messages are good for logistics and mobilization, but they don’t necessarily shine as amplifiers. Facebook and Twitter are good for peer-to-peer and getting public attention, but they rarely work as well for mobilization. But when you combine tools like these with the passion of grassroots activists and the guidance of experienced organizers, boom.
Check out the full article for more details about the Tech Resistance, including a look at how the Working Families Party, Indivisible, MoveOn, People for Bernie and other groups combined their tools and talents to help local organizers make their voices heard. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse at some of the new technologies recently unveiled that aim to put even more into activists’ hands. In many cases, literally: they’re mobile-focused.
What’s next? My suspicion: a long, long slog. Trump hasn’t changed much actual government policy yet, but he’s only been in office for three months. And, his assault on political norms (and general human decency) continues apace. Will the Resistance struggle to keep people motivated? At times, perhaps…until Trump tweets again.