E-MAIL IS AN EFFECTIVE OUTREACH TOOL! Learn more...
Basic e-mail is an effective outreach tool, whether you're organizing a demonstration or advocating against repressive legislation. Do you want to stop something, or start something? Are you more likely to achieve your goal by picketing, or petitioning? Once you've defined your goal, you'll want to identify your likely allies. Traditionally, this meant consulting your Rolodex. In cyberspace, it means finding the Usenet groups (also called newsgroups) and e-mail discussion lists where your issues are most likely to be addressed.
You can find discussion lists by using widely available Web search engines like AltaVista, or by visiting Web sites which track e-mail discussion lists, such as Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists (PAML). If you want to start your own e-mail discussion list, the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) offers this service for a modest fee.
Since Usenet groups are all topic-oriented, you'll find the relevant ones if you search by keywords that relate to your issue, in the newsreader that comes with your Internet service. You also can find relevant newsgroups by visiting the Usenet Info Center Web site. One of the most relevant: alt.misc.progressive.activism.
Keep in mind that not all Usenet groups will be accessible, since your Internet service provider decides which are included with your service. For example, PeaceNet's newsgroups are available only to people who receive Internet service from IGC, and America Online's are only available to AOL subscribers.
You can also send electronic alerts to Web sites that feature action alerts, although there is no guarantee they will decide to feature yours. In addition to the MoJo Wire, other sites that host action alerts include IGC, Working Assets Long Distance, WebActive, and InterActivism.
The Internet is vast, and any information you send to one Usenet group or discussion list is likely to wind up on dozens of others. So it's not essential that you identify every single list and newsgroup. If you post information to one or two discussion lists, the chances are good that it will wind up being posted to half a dozen others. But the chances are also good that your e-mail alert will circulate in cyberspace for years, so it's important to include an "expiration" date, along with the necessary contact information. (I'm still getting occasional replies to a sign-on letter to President Clinton urging him to oppose the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which became law more than a year ago when Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.)
Organizing in cyberspace is really not much different than organizing anywhere else. E-mail action alerts are the electronic version of the flyers that grassroots organizers hand out on street corners or at rallies. The difference is that e-mail alerts reach people far more people, reach them instantaneously, and cost nothing to distribute.
Audrie Krause is the founder and executive director of NetAction, a national nonprofit group which promotes the use of technology for organizing and advocacy.