studying the city (Annette Koh)

Public space, the right to the city, and civic engagement. How can we improve equity and access through participatory urbanism? Ph.D. student in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Former resident of Seoul & San Francisco.
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From The Atlantic:

But, as Stempeck describes, Change.org also has a not-so-secret weapon: it has hired some (some say all) of the best progressive online organizers in the business to help would-be petitioners figure out how to craft their petitions and who to target with them. Here, it was the Sanford chief of police, the state’s attorney in Florida’s 4th district, Florida’s attorney general, and U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. Change.org also worked on Twitter to get celebrities engaged on Martin’s behalf, prompting bold-faced names like Wyclef Jean, Spike Lee, and Mia Farrow to tweet about the case. Then the police tapes came out, revealing more about the encounter between Martin and George Zimmerman, driving even more social media and generating more traction for the petition.

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Common Cause’s Clopp imagines a future where bills are digitized and put up online as soon as they’re introduced in state legislatures, making it easier to scan for “ALEC DNA” — or the boilerplate of any group, for that matter — even before bills become law.

That sort of vision has prompted its own political innovation. The Sunlight Foundation, a group at the forefront of making legislation digital and public, recently rolled out from their labs a tool called Superfastmatch. The software lets you do textual analysis of multiple bills, using the comparisons to track the replication of bills from state house to state house. It’s version control of legislation that makes it possible to figure out where bills are coming from, even if their sponsors remember to strip off the header language on them.

For Clopp’s part, the lesson learned from the last nine months is that matching the might of a group like ALEC takes a critical mass. “You learn to do ego disarmament and say, ‘Huh, we’re going to need a bigger army, or this is going to be a 30-year war.’” The coalitions created aren’t always your traditional ones. ColorofChange.org’s Robinson credited ALEC Exposed as a tremendous resource. Graves is quick to praise Robinson’s group’s work. But the pair had never met in person before a march outside ALEC’s D.C. headquarters two weeks ago.

That it’s a dispersed but networked coalition is meaningful.

The story of ALEC’s role in U.S. politics and government is a complicated one, making the response perhaps uniquely suited to online organizing. Research and story-telling, once done, can hang around online until needed. Databases stay at the ready. Dots are connected as more dots appear. Attention can get channeled and captured. It’s hard, complex work. But it’s the hard, complex work that online organizers have spent the last few years figuring out. That might not have a group like ALEC, designed to work on its own and on its own terms, scared yet. But it probably should.