Ross Stapleton-Gray: There are three of us today. My name is Ross Stapleton-Gray, pres­i­dent of TeleDiplomacy Inc, and I’ll give a lit­tle bit more of my bio as I go into my talk. To my imme­di­ate right is Geoff Sears, my GC, who will give his own bio. And on his right is Kathy Watkins, our online activist.

What we’ll be cov­er­ing is just the gen­er­al issue of polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion on the net. And actu­al­ly I think prob­a­bly all three of us are in some­what agree­ment that the gov­ern­ment on the net is maybe the least best-poised to make use of this, or the most chal­lenged by polit­i­cal speech on the net, the pol­i­tics of the infor­ma­tion flow­ing around the net. I come at this from the posi­tion of—as a for­mer Fed. Those of you who know me know I was at CFP 93 as the CIA ana­lyst speak­ing on the future of war fight­ing diplo­ma­cy, and intel­li­gence in the infor­ma­tion age. I’m now in the pri­vate sec­tor, hav­ing met the woman I mar­ried at CFP 93, a for­mer staffer for Jerry Brown. So I think I might mer­it the Came Longest Distance in com­ing to CFP 5.

I spent the last year of my gov­ern­ment tenure work­ing with the IITF, the Information Infrastructure Task Force, in explor­ing issues like gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion, see­ing from the inside what the infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and net­work­ing were doing to gov­ern­ment. And in many ways they’re not doing well for gov­ern­ment and by gov­ern­ment. They are often­times a threat, cer­tain­ly an imped­i­ment and an obsta­cle.

When I orig­i­nal­ly sort of con­ceived the idea of His Master’s Voice” (a pun on the Victrola ad, and George Washington’s admo­ni­tion that gov­ern­ment was a dan­ger­ous mas­ter), I had the idea that we should talk about how gov­ern­ments might use the Web, might use the net, to politi­cize and dri­ve home issues fol­low­ing say, the exam­ple of what the US gov­ern­ment at the nation­al lev­el does with pub­lic diplo­ma­cy. The work that Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Voice of America say, was called upon to do in the Cold War. What I saw, and think­ing about over the last month or so is a lot more…government behind the 8‑ball. Government being stressed and threat­ened by these very tech­nolo­gies. And stressed and threat­ened by a lot of indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions out­side of gov­ern­ment.

For exam­ple, I think what’s hap­pen­ing with elec­tron­ic tech­nolo­gies will absolute­ly crip­ple parts of gov­ern­ment in terms of things like FOIA. Back when con­ver­sa­tions and thoughts and plan­ning meet­ings, etc. were large­ly ephemera, you did­n’t have this issue of gov­ern­ment being yanked out into the sun­light right and left every oth­er turn. I’m a strong believ­er in FOIA. At the same time, from some­one who spent the last month of his gov­ern­ment career as a FOIA offi­cer I can tell you what an enor­mous headache it can be. And how it has a stul­ti­fy­ing effect on the abil­i­ty of the gov­ern­ment to sort of think coher­ent­ly. You end up under the gun, under scruti­ny to a degree which is not the case with orga­ni­za­tions out­side the gov­ern­ment, oppo­si­tion to gov­ern­ment.

The gov­ern­ment is fac­ing an… The Vice President charged an ear­ly meet­ing at the IITF that we should think of ways to get every gov­ern­ment employ­ee on the net. Get every employ­ee email. Giving every employ­ee email gives every lit­tle employ­ee inside this large orga­ni­za­tion his or her own voice. The dis­so­nance that can come out of that can be absolute­ly threat­en­ing to a large orga­ni­za­tion and I think over the course of our dis­cus­sion we’ll talk about how even large, friend­ly, lib­er­al out­side-gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions maybe thrashed to death by the fact that they’re com­prised of indi­vid­u­als who may have dif­fer­ing agen­das and who now have a voice for what it is they’re doing in these new media.

My wife and I have worked on putting the National Organization for Women online, only to see old NOW and new NOW become very…they’re very dif­fer­ent things. Old NOW was an orga­ni­za­tion with a nation­al head­quar­ters, that received infor­ma­tion from its chap­ters and impart­ed infor­ma­tion from its chap­ters, and with the edi­to­r­i­al review it had on the con­tent of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions. For exam­plem if Eugene, Oregon now does a won­der­ful thing it’ll be picked up and report­ed on by nation­al NOW and told to Little Rock NOW. And Little Rock NOW will hear the best and bright­est from around the orga­ni­za­tion. Well now the fact is that the dis­si­dent in Spokane NOW can say, I real­ly don’t like nation­al NOW because…” out on the net. And you see a flow of this com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which can be awful threat­en­ing to large hier­ar­chi­cal orga­ni­za­tions, as well-meaning and benign as they might be. Or as threat­en­ing and omi­nous as they might be.

I won­der if the nets aren’t above all a threat to large orga­ni­za­tions. Or a threat to the coher­ence of large groups of peo­ple. I won­der if rather than deal with the thought that maybe gov­ern­ments will malign­ly grab the net and use it to pro­pa­gan­dize we should­n’t be wor­ried more that any large thing will be shak­en to its roots and frag­ment­ed into the lit­tle dis­so­nant bits that can hap­pen now that we’ve giv­en a voice not to every mas­ter but to every employ­ee. Or every of the mas­tered. That can be very good in some ways, and we may shake apart North Korea, we may desta­bi­lize China, or Russia may have frag­ment­ed. But if the Republican and Democratic par­ties both frag­ment, and the AFL-CIO frag­ments, and General Motors falls apart… [audi­ence mem­bers cheers] And yeah I knew I’d find some audi­ence for that. We may see what say, Esther was talk­ing about over lunch. I don’t think I want to live in the Russified or the Moscow-ified rem­nants of a for­mer first-world pow­er as the tools for not just dis­sent but frus­tra­tion are hand­ed to any­one who’d like. I’d love to think that these tool of com­mu­ni­ca­tion will lead towards greater con­sen­sus or greater abil­i­ty to work with each oth­er. Many times it’s giv­ing every­body a mon­key wrench they can throw into the gears.

So, let me end with that and move on to Geoff, who can talk more from the per­spec­tive of some­one whose orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides a forum for many many groups, and who sees how those groups are using the medi­um. What we’ll do after the three of us have spo­ken is throw it out for ques­tions and what I hope we’ll do then is both respond to ques­tions and inter­nal­ly dis­cuss our dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on things relate. Geoff.

Geoff Sears: Thank you, Ross. My name’s Geoff Sears, and I’m the direc­tor of the Institute for Global Communications in San Francisco. We’re a non­prof­it online ser­vice provider an Internet ser­vice provider, and I want to empha­size non­prof­it and what that means. That means that when we look at whether we were suc­cess­ful or unsuc­cess­ful every year, it’s not mea­sured in terms of how much sur­plus mon­ey was gen­er­at­ed but how much of oth­er, some­times difficult-to-measure use­ful things that we did.

We run PeaceNet and EcoNet. We’re prob­a­bly bet­ter known as those. And those cur­rent­ly com­prise about 11,000 sub­scribers in the United States, through a net­work of cur­rent­ly eigh­teen part­ner orga­ni­za­tions. We also pro­vide sim­i­lar kinds of ser­vices to about 20,000 oth­er sub­scribers in 133 coun­tries. These sub­scribers are, by our own choice, pri­mar­i­ly non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions and activist types of orga­ni­za­tions, and indi­vid­u­als. People con­cerned with envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, pro­tec­tion of human rights, social jus­tice, eco­nom­ic issues, things of this sort.

My expe­ri­ence of doing this— And we we’ve been around in var­i­ous incar­na­tions since 1982, mak­ing us one of the old­er ser­vice providers, odd­ly enough. But my expe­ri­ence in doing this has led me to have what seems to me a kind of rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on what’s impor­tant out there than what I keep hear­ing. I hear a lot about the prob­lem of access to infor­ma­tion, and how peo­ple need access to infor­ma­tion. I hear a lot about how this tech­nol­o­gy is community-building tech­nol­o­gy.

I think both of those are a lot of bull. I don’t think this stuff—that access to infor­ma­tion is an issue at all. And I don’t think that this tech­nol­o­gy is community-building tech­nol­o­gy at all. And I’ll go and explain what I mean by com­mu­ni­ty also. I think we need to be clear on some of the terms.

But first on access to infor­ma­tion. Virtually none of the orga­ni­za­tions we work with are inter­est­ed what­soever in using the net to access infor­ma­tion. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion out there. It’s in the live pub­lic library. You can look it up in a lot of dif­fer­ent for­mats. It’s rel­a­tive­ly hard to use the net to look up infor­ma­tion. Maybe this will change over time. I cer­tain­ly see inter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for the future. But far and away, what peo­ple are inter­est­ed in using the tech­nol­o­gy for, and what I see as it being rev­o­lu­tion­ary at is in pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion.

We will get orga­ni­za­tions all the time who come to us and need to put up—and want to put up, their own information—something they have cre­at­ed, or cre­ate their own iden­ti­ty on the net. And they see it as use­ful for get­ting the word out about what they do to a cer­tain seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. And every­one is very clear that this…this is not the whole pop­u­la­tion. This is white men with rel­a­tive­ly high incomes, pre­dom­i­nant­ly. I ful­ly agree with every­body this needs to change over time. But that isn’t real­ly the great inter­est of most of the orga­ni­za­tions we work with right now. They see this tech­nol­o­gy as a tool to get some­thing done. It’s not replac­ing oth­er tools. Maybe it’s help­ing to save some mon­ey because it’s cer­tain­ly cheap­er putting out your web page and run­ning a cam­paign on the Internet than it is doing direct mail, par­tic­u­lar­ly as postage costs increase.

So what we’re real­ly focused on doing is work­ing with groups to fig­ure out their strat­e­gy of using the net to mobi­lize a cer­tain con­stituen­cy around cer­tain issues, to edu­cate peo­ple, and to pub­lish an increas­ing­ly diverse range of infor­ma­tion about them­selves.

The sec­ond main func­tion we see of the tech­nol­o­gy is in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, right along with pub­lish­ing. And prob­a­bly even more impor­tant to the orga­ni­za­tions we work with, it’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy. It’s the abil­i­ty to link up every­body in an orga­ni­za­tion with their col­leagues, whether they be in a dif­fer­ent coun­try or just across town, for rapid and infor­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

And this leads me to why I don’t think this tech­nol­o­gy is community-building what­so­ev­er. And maybe it’s just…you know, my response is con­di­tioned on who we work with and what we do, but this is what I call peo­ple net­work­ing.” It’s putting peo­ple togeth­er who share com­mon inter­ests who have a com­mon agen­da, and want to accom­plish a cer­tain goal. And it’s help­ing them, pre­sum­ably any­way, accom­plish that goal more effec­tive­ly because they can com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter.

What I see is a com­mu­ni­ty is much more some­thing that’s…locality-based, that’s geo­graph— that’s based on where you phys­i­cal­ly are. Where I live in San Francisco, in a way an aver­age San Francisco neigh­bor­hood, I think peo­ple like me from Northern European descent are in the minor­i­ty. The major­i­ty are Chinese-speaking, oth­er Asians, a high pro­por­tion of Russian émi­grés. You don’t hear a great deal of English on the street or on the bus when you go around. People from all dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal beliefs and all dif­fer­ent kinds of val­ue sys­tems.

For exam­ple, to me mak­ing my back­yard beau­ti­ful meant spend­ing weeks break­ing up all the con­crete and haul­ing it away and plant­i­ng things, mak­ing things grow. My next door neigh­bor who I like quite a bit, his view of a beau­ti­ful back­yard is it’s com­plete­ly paved and paint­ed green. There’s no need to sweep up any leaves or any­thing like that, it’s nev­er messy. To me that’s what a com­mu­ni­ty is. It’s being there and deal­ing with peo­ple who are com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from what you’re like. That is my com­mu­ni­ty. I’m forced to deal with these peo­ple. We live togeth­er.

That’s not what I see the net being. The net is, as I see it, increas­ing­ly allow­ing much small­er groups of com­mon inter­est groups to come togeth­er and do things togeth­er. Which I think is great. I think it’s incred­i­bly use­ful, I just don’t want us to see the net as the ulti­mate good. Maybe we just need to know what it’s good for and when to switch off the com­put­er and go do some­thing else. It kind of reminds a lot of the argu­ments have been hear­ing late­ly about tele­vi­sion, and how the major net­works, their pro­duc­tion of mate­r­i­al that peo­ple may find offen­sive for sex­u­al or vio­lent con­tent, that that needs to be reg­u­lat­ed some­how because it’s offen­sive. I think it’s kind of crazy in a way. I don’t know how these peo­ple are going to be con­trolled any­way. To me the sim­ple solu­tion is if you want to be respon­si­ble about what your chil­dren are watch­ing, you switch off your TV. [some applause] Or you do what I did, you put it in the base­ment. To me that’s also a lot eas­i­er than try­ing to get CBS to change their pro­gram­ming.

So in any event, this is what— I mean, I’m still excit­ed about what the net is. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an incred­i­bly use­ful tool. I just don’t see it as some­thing that’s going to imme­di­ate­ly democ­ra­tize our soci­ety or turn every­thing else around. If any­thing, I prob­a­bly tend to agree with the out­look of Jerry Mander, that pre­dom­i­nant­ly com­put­ers and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy are tools of the elites. And if we aren’t con­scious of how they’re used, they def­i­nite­ly tend to chan­nel more resources and more con­trol into the hands of the peo­ple that already have a lot of it. And that cer­tain­ly is why we’re very much against much of any leg­isla­tive con­trol over the net­work. I tend to agree with the sen­ti­ment that many have expressed here that these tend to be self-regulating, and that the com­mu­ni­ties we work with need to get out there and make use of this tool to change some of the exist­ing pow­er struc­tures. And that’s what it should be used for on. We’re see­ing this kind of thing hap­pen— And these appli­ca­tions I’m talk­ing about are based on real expe­ri­ence of work­ing with all sorts of large and small orga­ni­za­tions, from Amnesty International that’s able to use the net very effec­tive­ly to mobi­lize cam­paigns to get peo­ple out of prison, to vir­tu­al­ly all of the major envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions that use it pre­dom­i­nant­ly for com­mu­ni­ca­tions and for propaganda-generation. It’s intend­ed to influ­ence what peo­ple know and what they do, and to change their actions.

So that’s why I real­ly think that we’ve been plac­ing too much empha­sis on the impor­tance of access to infor­ma­tion. I think we need to place the empha­sis on using the net to pro­duce a greater vari­ety of infor­ma­tion, a greater diver­si­ty of infor­ma­tion. And as that hap­pens per­haps access to it will become more impor­tant and more peo­ple will be drawn to it. There’ll be greater jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for get­ting access to it. This actu­al­ly is how I orig­i­nal­ly became involved in it, that odd­ly enough I orig­i­nal­ly got into mess­ing with the Internet and com­put­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions when I lived in the Philippines. And I worked for a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion there, and togeth­er with a cou­ple Filipino pals we put up some BBS sys­tems that dealt with land reform issues. But it became imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent to me the pow­er of this tech­nol­o­gy to pub­lish infor­ma­tion for vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing, and the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate that over vast dis­tances. And with that inter­na­tion­al per­spec­tive I became very excit­ed about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of help­ing Americans become much more aware, and have much greater con­tact with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, and not hav­ing that medi­at­ed by the peo­ple who cur­rent­ly con­trol infor­ma­tion. The Time-Warners, the CBSes, and you know, prob­a­bly soon Microsofts and some of the oth­er large cor­po­ra­tions. And I think if you believe that access to tech­nol­o­gy is the key issue, you’ve kind of swal­lowed hook, line, and sinker what Newt Gingrich and Bill Gates and peo­ple of their ilk want you to believe. Because they’re the ones who are pub­lish­ing, cur­rent­ly, the bulk of the mate­r­i­al that’s out there on the net.

Thank you very much.

Ross Stapleton-Gray: Kathy.

Kathleen Watkins: Hi. My name is Kathy Watkins and I’ll intro­duce a lit­tle bit about myself. I think the fact that I have a lot of small things going on is pret­ty typ­i­cal of how activists real­ly work. I’m going to talk about being a real live activist.

I’m the part-time admin­is­tra­tive direc­tor for CARAL, which is the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. We’re an affil­i­ate of NARAL, which is a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion. And we work in the elec­toral and polit­i­cal are­na get­ting pro-choice peo­ple elect­ed and defeat­ing anti-choice peo­ple, and we have a very sol­id mis­sion, which is to alter the rela­tions of pow­er and make sure that the voice of the pro-choice major­i­ty is actu­al­ly reflect­ed in our laws.

So I do that part-time. In my oth­er part-time, I work as a con­sul­tant with Internet Literacy Consultants, get­ting busi­ness­es online. ILC has a mis­sion that involves also get­ting a lot of non­prof­its online, and I do a lot of that kind of work for them. But I do, to make a liv­ing, actu­al­ly help cor­po­ra­tions get on the Internet.

I pub­lish a newslet­ter called The Choice-Net Report, which is pub­lished irreg­u­lar­ly, when­ev­er I get around to it. And it’s about…it’s a com­pi­la­tion of things that I per­son­al­ly think are impor­tant in the nation­al scheme of things and I’m not see­ing report­ing on it any­where. So I pub­lish it myself, and I’ll talk about how I came to doing that.

I also coor­di­nate the polit­i­cal sec­tion of The WELL Gopher sys­tem. I host a polit­i­cal con­fer­ence on Women’s WIRE, and I teach sem­i­nars called The Internet For Activists.

So my focus is real­ly on get­ting activists online, and women, women-owned busi­ness­es. People who are not a part of that 85% white male major­i­ty that every­one talks about.

The way I got online is…it’s very messy, it’s not very pro­fes­sion­al. But it’s typ­i­cal of how activists I think get kind of drawn in and seduced by the Internet. I was pro­duc­ing a tele­vi­sion show called Deadhead TV, which was dis­trib­uted across the coun­try to com­mu­ni­ty access sta­tions in 1988. And I want­ed to get in touch with Deadheads, who seemed to have this thing where they were talk­ing to each oth­er on com­put­ers. And then when they would get togeth­er in actu­al phys­i­cal loca­tions at Dead shows where I was video­tap­ing them, they had all these friend­ships estab­lished and they had a community—I tru­ly believe it is a community—which involved them being online and com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a dai­ly way and then get­ting togeth­er in phys­i­cal space with each oth­er. And I want­ed to know more about that and com­mu­ni­cate with them.

And so I got an account on The WELL and it was a very brief time before I dis­cov­ered the rest of the online world. I kin­da hopped over the wall to the rest of The WELL to see what was going on out there, and it was fas­ci­nat­ing and it was won­der­ful, and it was mirac­u­lous. And I stayed involved in it, kind of watch­ing it grow, call­ing myself a pow­er lurk­er. I pret­ty much lurked every­where.

And even­tu­al­ly I end­ed up stop­ping pro­duc­tion of Deadhead TV and get­ting involved in 1992 in CARAL and in the 1992 elec­tions. I want­ed to work on the issue of abor­tion, I want­ed to work in pol­i­tics, and I want­ed to help get the right peo­ple elect­ed. And so I went to work for CARAL and start­ed using what I have found out on the Internet world for my job, which was try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple.

And things were evolv­ing. Gopher was just com­ing along, you know. I learned about FTP and then I learned about Gopher. I was very excit­ed about Gopher and then, you know, the Web stuff came along. And I took it upon myself to pub­lish our infor­ma­tion, to make it avail­able, to put our vot­er guide online so that when peo­ple searched for the word abor­tion” they found our infor­ma­tion. That was my num­ber 1 goal. When I went out, when I first got online and the tools became avail­able and I searched for the word abor­tion, I found lots of anti-choice stuff. (What I call anti-choice.)

And it dis­turbed me that I was­n’t find­ing any­thing that was use­ful to me. And that peo­ple who were doing the same thing I was doing, if you were a col­lege stu­dent doing a paper on abor­tion and you did a search, you were gonna find all of this, and none of that. And so it was impor­tant for me to put some of that up there, and that kind of defined what my rela­tion­ship was going to be, which was pub­lish­er of infor­ma­tion. And I start­ed putting up as much as I could, and even­tu­al­ly start­ed doing The Choice-Net Report, which could get to more peo­ple because I could email it to them.

The most impor­tant thing that I did dur­ing that whole peri­od of time was make actu­al con­tact with actu­al oth­er activists, real-life peo­ple. In my Internet sem­i­nars, I repeat as a mantra that the most impor­tant thing that you’re going to find out there, the most impor­tant piece of infor­ma­tion is who put that there and why. And behind every byte of infor­ma­tion there’s a per­son. Somebody put it there. Frequently the most impor­tant thing you’re going to find out when you’re out look­ing around for things is the lit­tle thing at the bot­tom of a web page that says who cre­at­ed it. Because that is some­one that you can get in touch with. That is a real human being who you can share infor­ma­tion with in the future.

And that is what activism is all about. It’s not about—in my hum­ble opin­ion it is not about rail­ing against the state. And it’s not about try­ing to crush insti­tu­tions. It’s people-to-people inter­ac­tion. And you’re inter­act­ing with peo­ple on your side, but you’re also inter­act­ing with the people—the actu­al human beings—in the insti­tu­tion. And the more that we can focus on that, I think the more pow­er­ful activism can be. It’s also one of things that’s caus­ing a great deal of trou­ble for insti­tu­tions, because they’re find­ing peo­ple who work with­in the insti­tu­tion are in touch with all of these peo­ple from the out­side all of a sud­den. And that gen­er­ates an infor­ma­tion loop that was­n’t there before. The per­son inside insti­tu­tions get­ting infor­ma­tion from the out­side that con­tra­dicts the offi­cial pol­i­cy, or the line of the day that the orga­ni­za­tions’ cho­sen to go with.

And also, the peo­ple inside the [insti­tu­tion] are leak­ing infor­ma­tion out to the activist com­mu­ni­ty when some­thing both­ers them. And insti­tu­tions are hav­ing a very dif­fi­cult time deal­ing with this. And it does­n’t mat­ter if they’re a mag­a­zine, or a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, or the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party. It’s hap­pen­ing to all of them. The ones that are deal­ing with it the best are fig­ur­ing out ways to actu­al­ly engage in the process. And the ones who are hav­ing the most trou­ble with it are the ones who are in deep denial.

And I think that NOW has done a good job, just by putting their infor­ma­tion out, just by acknowl­edg­ing that this pow­er­ful tool exists and that they are going to some­how be a part of it even though they don’t know what it means. And they sud­den­ly have all of these peo­ple talk­ing to them and com­plain­ing about things direct­ly to their face, when they had a nice struc­ture over the years for how things are dealt with. You know, you had chap­ters, you had state orga­ni­za­tions, you have nation­al orga­ni­za­tions. Policy flows. Feminist the­o­ry involves you know, the process in which infor­ma­tion flows back and forth. And all of a sud­den there’s this noise, there’s this stuff all around, and a lot of insti­tu­tions are expe­ri­enc­ing fear around that. And they have to go through the process where they actu­al­ly have the illu­sion that they can con­trol it. And then they get to the point where they real­ize they can’t con­trol and they have to respond. And then they respond poor­ly and get flamed a lot for that, and they get to the point where they real­ize that they have to hon­est­ly respond. And all of this activism is actu­al­ly chang­ing these insti­tu­tions in ways that I think is just begin­ning.

I think what we have in front of us right now is a very nar­row win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty in which we the peo­ple in this room and oth­er peo­ple like us are going to influ­ence the way that things are done in the future, for decades. How cen­sor­ship pol­i­cy is decid­ed right now is going to have a very long influ­ence, I think. How we talk about pri­va­cy. What hap­pens to the pri­va­ti­za­tion of gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion? For an activist like myself, when the California State Legislature came online, we were able to reduce our use of a state lob­by­ist. It had a direct impact on us. We had had to hire some­one in the state capi­tol to fol­low leg­is­la­tion for us and tell us when a bill is going to go to com­mit­tee, and what the sta­tus of it was, what bill had been intro­duced.

And we now do that every day. I sub­scribe to a ser­vice that the state of California pro­vides, where every time there’s a change to a bill they’ll send me a piece of email. And it’s a very use­ful thing. It’s like hav­ing you know, my own lit­tle lob­by­ist inside my com­put­er. So I know that there’s a hear­ing com­ing up and I know that with a few phone calls I can get a cou­ple of peo­ple there who can maybe actu­al­ly have some kind of impact on that. And I can send them a copy of the bill. And I can send them the list of amend­ments to the bill. And they can read it for them­selves. And that is an amaz­ing­ly pow­er­ful tool that we have not had access to.

The same thing is hap­pen­ing with nation­al leg­is­la­tion. For years a group like CARAL was depen­dent on the nation­al group NARAL to tell us what bills were being intro­duced in Congress. And every day, every morn­ing, as I drink my cof­fee I look up the word abor­tion on THOMAS to see how many bills there are. And I know that today there are sev­en­teen bills that have the word abor­tion in them. Two weeks ago there were thir­teen. The day after this Congress was sworn in there were five. And I’ve been able to fol­low the process of each one of those. When a new one pops up I can read it right away. I can email some of those peo­ple that I’ve had con­tact with and tell them you know, This is a bill that I think that you’re going to want to fol­low. Here’s the text of it.” And they can go fol­low it for them­selves.

So I think that we have to focus on the pol­i­tics of—or one of the things I’m see­ing activists focus on, it’s not even I have to tell you what to do or you have to tell me what to do. I’m see­ing activism hap­pen about the Internet itself, which gives me a lot of hope. I’m see­ing this com­mu­ni­ty respond to the deals that are being made in Congress right now about monop­o­lis­tic telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions pol­i­cy. You know, are we going to grant a monop­oly to some­one for the next ten years? And you all are fol­low­ing that and doing some­thing about it, and shar­ing the infor­ma­tion. Everything that’s hap­pen­ing around that is activism, and that gives me a great deal of hope because it means that there are peo­ple who are using this tool to engage in the act of cit­i­zen­ship as opposed to engag­ing in the act con­sum­ing a prod­uct. And the more peo­ple do that and the more pow­er­ful those peo­ple are, the bet­ter it’s going to be in the long run for those of us who have less pow­er and less access to that.

The insti­tu­tions, obvi­ous­ly, are being forced to change. And I think this is the oppor­tu­ni­ty, this is the win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty. We have to help them through that. We don’t have to destroy a nation­al insti­tu­tion or large bod­ies. We can help them through the process. We can clue them into what a flame is and the fact that you will sur­vive it, and it’s going to be bet­ter in the long run to deal with the prob­lem right up front and help them fig­ure out how to do that. Because it is very strange to peo­ple who have had con­trol over what peo­ple say about them to sud­den­ly find a world that’s carp­ing at them.

And I think one oth­er thing that I want to say is that I’m get­ting con­cerned about the amount of what I call fear­mon­ger­ing going on about the Internet. Because it keeps away the very peo­ple who I’m try­ing to get on. When peo­ple focus on sex­u­al harass­ment online, I then have to con­vince a woman that even if it hap­pens she’s going to sur­vive it before she’ll go online. It puts up anoth­er bar­ri­er to some­body say, Why should I put myself through that? Maybe this isn’t for me.” And that may be some­one for whom the tech­nol­o­gy will change their lives.

So it both­ers me a lot… What I’m hear­ing from peo­ple who say you know, The Internet is addic­tive and so you should­n’t go on there. There’s child pornog­ra­phy so you should­n’t go on there…” We can focus on what­ev­er we want. There’s child pornog­ra­phy on the street if you want to walk into you know, the back alley book­store in any mod­ern city you’re going to find child pornog­ra­phy. But I don’t run into it every day. I don’t see pornog­ra­phy on the Internet. It’s not where I go. It’s not in my face all the time. I’m not get­ting harassed online except the peo­ple who per­haps dis­agree with me polit­i­cal­ly. Which is okay.

But it’s impor­tant to me that we under­stand that it’s not enough. It’s not enough to just say oh there’s pornog­ra­phy, or oh we’re pay­ing too much atten­tion to com­put­ers and we have to go out and smell the ros­es. So I just want peo­ple to be aware that when you do that, or when you see that being done it’s cre­at­ing a bar­ri­er for some­one who real­ly should be encour­aged to get online rather than discouraged by that kind of stuff. Everyone thinks there’s a lot of focus on what the pos­i­tive is to be online and we have to be real­ly care­ful of the neg­a­tive. But I encour­age you to talk to peo­ple about the pos­i­tive aspects of what this has to offer.

And I also encour­age the peo­ple in this room to adopt some peo­ple. You already know more about the Internet than 99% of the pop­u­la­tion. Adopt a cause that you believe in and help them to through this. Help them get online. Help them get their infor­ma­tion out there. The only rea­son that I know as much as I do about all of this is that I was adopt­ed by some­one who is a com­pul­sive teacher, Matisse Enzer, who want­ed to teach me every­thing about this. He knew that the inter­sec­tion of pol­i­tics and the Internet was a place where I should be and where peo­ple should be.

And all of you can find some­one like that who you can share your equip­ment with. You know, give them your castoff modems, and help them through this. And get em online. And keep hope alive. That’s all I got­ta say.

Ross Stapleton-Gray: A cou­ple of com­ments before we go to ques­tions. One, this pan­el would have host­ed and unfor­tu­nate­ly was not able to, but should be the pan­el to acknowl­edge the work of Jim Warren in get­ting the California infor­ma­tion online, and serv­ing as a bea­con. And if noth­ing else he’s filled many of your mail­box far more than you would have expect­ed. Jim will be here tomor­row and we can all say we’re not wor­thy.

Second, just to com­ment on lead­ing orga­ni­za­tions into cyber­space. My wife has done a fair amount of work. My wife Sarah has done work with the action group, the ones that go out there and do call the chap­ters and say, Incidentally, a bill on abor­tion was intro­duced today.” The proac­tive sense that the hier­ar­chy pass­es the infor­ma­tion down.

And they did a sur­vey and it said, How many of you all would like to get your stuff by email rather than these phone calls and fax­es we’ve been mak­ing?” And the response was a tiny tiny frac­tion. And her despair was that was­n’t going to change any­time soon; bet­ter go back to phones and fax­es even though she is the online activist of the fam­i­ly and I’m just the pol­i­cy wonk.

My response to her was the oth­er side of the coin. Maybe we ought to go find all those cyber-capable NOW mem­bers and make them want to run for chap­ter pres­i­dent. Make them want to run for chap­ter sec­re­tary. Pull the peo­ple who are Internet lit­er­ate, as you’re say­ing, into the groups. Make them take up a cause more than being told by the chap­ter pres­i­dent, There’s an action, can you fill out some post­cards, can you make a phone call to your neigh­bors.” Get some of them involved in the guts of mov­ing infor­ma­tion around the orga­ni­za­tion as their first cause.

And last I thought, if what peo­ple want on the net’s the abil­i­ty to pub­lish, maybe we should have a plan to pro­vide uni­ver­sal write-only access to the Internet. So if any­one’s got ques­tions about polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion online, I’ll even respond on issues of the omi­nous threat of gov­ern­ments using the net, but…question?

Audience 1: Okay, I’m gonna set up a straw­man so…Mr. Sears and Miss Watkins can light it on fire. Do you feel like the Internet is swal­low­ing the activist com­mu­ni­ty? I mean, five years ago when I was work­ing with Oregon NARAL, we were wor­ried about get­ting peo­ple out to do NARAL activ­i­ties. We weren’t wor­ried about, oh my god there’s leg­is­la­tion on the books right now being dis­cussed that’s gonna make it hard for us to keep doing activism. Whereas now, we have large activist push­es to make sure the laws don’t do weird things to our com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem. Is that swal­low­ing our activists?

Kathleen Watkins: I’ll tack­le that. One mail­ing list that I belong to that is the most inter­est­ing read­ing every day is a list of peo­ple who do clin­ic defense around the coun­try. And those peo­ple are engaged in a max­i­mum way in your ground-level activism. The Internet is an extra tool for them that is help­ing over­come things like iso­la­tion from each oth­er. It’s help­ing us keep from recre­at­ing the wheel, find some­thing that works and share it. And also there’s an emo­tion­al sup­port kind of thing that goes on when you’re under attack every day and you kind of need to share that…people were yelling at you all day today. But that’s an exam­ple to me of how the two coex­ist.

Also I would say that by hav­ing direct access to the leg­is­la­tion, we are much bet­ter activists. Because we are able to turn around and talk to the peo­ple in our office the same minute, the same day, that we find it out, or that it comes up. We’re not wait­ing for a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion to take the infor­ma­tion in, process that through their deci­sion­mak­ing machin­ery to decide what it means. We’re decid­ing for our­selves what it means. And we are telling oth­er peo­ple what it is and what we think it means, in a much more rapid way. I think that we’re bet­ter activists for it.

Geoff Sears: Yeah, I absolute­ly agree. I see it [in] all dif­fer­ent issue areas, activists mak­ing effec­tive use of the net.

Stapleton-Gray: Question?

Audience 2: It’s actu­al­ly kind of sim­i­lar. I’m a net activist myself. And one of the prob­lems that I have found is in mobi­liz­ing peo­ple to act. People get online, they read some­thing, they get real­ly angry. And then they flame. And they don’t get out and do some­thing prac­ti­cal. They don’t take it back to their com­mu­ni­ty. Do you have any sug­ges­tions for how to bring the net back out? I mean, we know how to get activist groups on the net, how do we get the net back to a local com­mu­ni­ty activist sit­u­a­tion?

Watkins: Well I can tell you one of the ways I deal with it is that I have dif­fer­ent lists of peo­ple that I want to get infor­ma­tion to. There are peo­ple I call. There are peo­ple I send emails. There are peo­ple I know I’m going to have a meet­ing with them in a cou­ple of weeks. And when infor­ma­tion comes in to me, I try to put it in one of those cat­e­gories, so that I’m pass­ing it along all the time.

And I’m also find­ing that when peo­ple get excit­ed about get­ting on the Internet, about get­ting on America Online and stuff, kind of the new­ness of it and the fresh­ness and the con­cept you’re gonna have accu­rate infor­ma­tion about your issue every day is one of the things that gets them involved in actu­al­ly doing things. You know, you can only say to peo­ple for so long, Write a let­ter to your Congressman,” before you actu­al­ly feel guilty and have to write one your­self.

And I’ve seen that hap­pen to peo­ple, you know. They get real­ly involved and they want to help by spread­ing the infor­ma­tion, and after awhile it’s like… And I ask them, Did you write your let­ter? You know. I know that you sent email to fifty peo­ple, did you write your let­ter?” I think that helps.

Sears: I’d add one thing to that, that it’s a process of time, I think becom­ing an activist. That peo­ple to have to start get­ting up to speed on what the issues are, feel­ing com­fort­able that they know some­thing about it, to be able to take action.

And the sec­ond thing I’d say is that you as some­one say, pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion, try­ing to use the Internet for this pur­pose and actu­al­ly putting out infor­ma­tion in any for­mat, real­ly think­ing about some very spe­cif­ic, sim­ple things to ask peo­ple to do. So you know, one might be here’s the phone num­ber of your local rep­re­sen­ta­tive, give him or her a call. Or can you go out and talk to four of your neigh­bors about this, or post this at your office, or just giv­ing peo­ple some sim­ple things they can do in a cou­ple min­utes so that they don’t have to think of it them­selves.

Watkins: I also want to just say that cit­i­zen activism and apa­thy, the apa­thy of the cit­i­zen­ship of this coun­try is like a glob­al prob­lem. It’s some­thing that we’re fac­ing all over the place. Pro-choice apa­thy is some­thing that you know…it’s very dif­fi­cult for orga­ni­za­tions like us because every­one believes the issue is safe. And every­one they know can get an abor­tion so what’s the prob­lem? And over­com­ing that apa­thy and get­ting peo­ple back involved with our gov­ern­ment is I think where we are at right now. We’re at the begin­ning points of that. And I’m hop­ing that we can boot­strap on Newt Gingrich’s and the Dittoheads excite­ment about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of doing that. I think they’re going to open up a bunch of tools that we can use, that I can use.

And I think that they are cre­at­ing groundswell of peo­ple get­ting involved with their gov­ern­ment again. I have a lot of faith in peo­ple. I’m an eter­nal opti­mist, so I think that even­tu­al­ly that’s going to sift out into peo­ple doing the right thing. I think we have to go through a peri­od of maybe…adjustment, and falling out around that. But I do think that we are at a peri­od in time when there is more grass­roots activism than there has been for ten years. I mean, there was not a lot of grass­roots activism except maybe in the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment in the 80s. But there are a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties right now. So I think the world is help­ing you excite peo­ple, and you have to help the world excite peo­ple and give them direc­tion. I think that’s the best way to get them active.

Stapleton-Gray: Apathy was not…in part engen­dered by the tools like the TV and like the com­put­er, and I can sit glued for six hours to a screen. But they’re not the sole caus­es, and they will nev­er be the sole sal­va­tion. We need to fix some real world things and use these tools, and in fix­ing the real world find bet­ter ways to use the tools.

Question here.

Audience 3: One of the things that you men­tioned right at the start of your con­ver­sa­tion was the idea that hav­ing all these access points would shake up dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions, and one of the ones you men­tioned was General Motors and I think NOW is anoth­er one. I could see NOW being tak­en up, but General Motors I just can’t see being shak­en up by the Internet.

One of the rea­sons is that General Motors has a fair­ly spe­cif­ic focus, which is mak­ing cars for prof­it. NOW has a large num­ber of peo­ple who might dif­fer at times with each oth­er, and as a con­se­quence will post dif­fer­ent things to the net in terms of try­ing to argue their point. And where this might lead with more and more orga­ni­za­tions with var­i­ous lev­els of pro­gres­sive intent adding more and more things to the net is no one will have a chance to actu­al­ly read all of the stuff. You won’t be able to keep up. You will bury your­self, which is what a large num­ber of my stu­dents do when they get onto the net: they spend all of their time on the net, they don’t do any of their home­work, they fail.

So, there are some down­side to all of this access to the net. I’m not say­ing that it can’t be used as a good tool and I think the one that you men­tioned, the mon­i­tor­ing of state leg­is­la­tures or the Congress and the state of par­tic­u­lar bills is a use­ful func­tion, but sad­ly it’s a mon­i­tor­ing func­tion. I don’t know how much the net can be used in a pos­i­tive way to com­mu­ni­cate, and if it does start get­ting to be a pos­i­tive thing, will it get flood­ed with a whole bunch of use­less mes­sages so that peo­ple end up wast­ing their time and then it becomes a use­less thing?

Stapleton-Gray: Oh, I think it’s been a use­ful thing that’s been flood­ed by use­less mes­sages often­time. So is your assess­ment that the net is no threat to General Motors? Was that part of the ini­tial ques­tion?

Audience 3: I just found General Motors an odd one to be on your list of things [crosstalk] that it was a threat to.

Stapleton-Gray: Oh, I think it’s an inter­est­ing case. It may be mov­ing off the issue of pol­i­tics, but maybe… I think this applies to large orga­ni­za­tions of any sort. You’re suddenly—you’re sort of rais­ing the acti­va­tion lev­el. I think the net maybe a threat­en­ing thing to any large col­lec­tion that had pre­vi­ous­ly held togeth­er either by like pol­i­tics of like geog­ra­phy. And that has a lot of inter­est­ing impli­ca­tions.

Watkins: I think that what’s gonna hap­pen is that you’ll see more and more inter­nal com­pa­ny debates in large cor­po­ra­tions get­ting out, where they’ve been able to keep them secret. What is use­less infor­ma­tion to one per­son is anoth­er per­son­’s absolute love. And if you are a car safe­ty activist, and if you lost a loved one to an unsafe car, you’re trolling the Internet for infor­ma­tion about car safe­ty. And if you run into some­body who’s a dis­grun­tled employ­ee inter­nal­ly who feels that maybe some­thing could be done to make the car safer but the com­pa­ny’s not into it, you have an oppor­tu­ni­ty right there for activism in a way that would have been pos­si­ble but improb­a­ble before. Because you could­n’t find each oth­er. And what the Internet offers you is that abil­i­ty to find peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in your thing. A lot of what I engage in every day is absolute­ly use­less to most peo­ple. But to me it’s real­ly crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion that helps me think I’m mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the world.

Sears: One exam­ple of that hap­pen­ing is we’ve seen as the World Bank has got­ten con­nect­ed to the Internet, var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions who active­ly work against World Bank projects mak­ing con­nec­tions with inter­nal staff who share some of the same feel­ings and inter­nal doc­u­ments…some­how becom­ing avail­able. So it hap­pens.

Audience 4: Hi. I’m sort of an activist myself in a num­ber of the same areas you are, Kathy, and some oth­ers as well. And I’ve got­ten a lit­tle pes­simistic. And that is that I don’t see, and per­haps I’m wrong and I hope I am, that the online com­mu­ni­ty is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence as far as influ­enc­ing pol­i­cy. Just for exam­ple the dig­i­tal tele­pho­ny issue, I’m sure prob­a­bly most of us were alert­ed. And most of us sent…I sent email and snail mail to all my rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

It did­n’t make a damn bit of dif­fer­ence. They don’t have to lis­ten to us. The peo­ple behind the Beltway know they can get reelect­ed with­out pay­ing any regard what­so­ev­er to what vot­ers think. And I think that’s the rea­son for a lot of the apa­thy, and I’m not sure—I mean right now we’re deal­ing with this Exon/Gorton thing, and we’re all of us going to be del­ug­ing the net­work with mes­sages stress­ing how we feel about it. And I’m not sure it’s going to make any dif­fer­ence. And if you think it will I’d love to hear you explain why you think we can do some good here. Thank you.

Watkins: I think it will make a dif­fer­ence if it’s say part of an over­all strat­e­gy. Congressional recess is com­ing up right now. They are going to be in recess. They’re going to be at home. You can go knock on their door and tell them, to their face, what you think of it. And the fact is that the pop­u­la­tion of the Internet is made up of peo­ple who can get an audi­ence with a con­gressper­son, fre­quent­ly. They are white, employed men who work in tech­nolo­gies that these kind of peo­ple have to fol­low.

And I think because they care, and because they’re orga­niz­ing, they’re learn­ing this process, we’re all learn­ing this process. I think there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty for some change around those par­tic­u­lar bills. I have faith that enough peo­ple have tak­en this on as their issue, that they’re going to fol­low it through. They will go to a con­gres­sion­al vis­it, they will go to a town hall meet­ing when their con­gress­man is in town, and they will call them on it. And you know, it’s kind of… I don’t know what to tell you except that I’m an eter­nal opti­mist. I believe that peo­ple are start­ing to get very inter­est­ed in tak­ing back their gov­ern­ment. And I’m very very hap­py to see how much activism is hap­pen­ing on the net around these bill, because I think it will spill over into oth­er kinds of bills as well.

Sears: I would say the jour­ney of a thou­sand miles starts with a sin­gle step, and what you per­ceive as the war lost I think many peo­ple would say was the first shot or the first bat­tle in some­thing that’s going to go on much longer.

When you’ve say, won the heart and mind of the Senate staffer who next time a bill like this comes up is going to give you the infor­ma­tion ear­li­er on so there’s a lit­tle more prep. Or when the next bill comes out and they say, Yes yes, we let you have dig­i­tal tele­pho­ny but not this one.” Or when a Congress— I’m sure there were con­gressper­sons whose minds were changed even if the out­come was what it would have been had none of all this net activism hap­pened. We don’t know what these many intan­gi­bles are gonna pro­duce and what comes lat­er. I’m inclined to believe that a lot of good hap­pened out of all that, even as most peo­ple in this room would prob­a­bly say that dig­i­tal tele­pho­ny was the dis­as­ter of last year.

Stapleton-Gray: Strategy’s def­i­nite­ly the key word to me. Just because the tech­nol­o­gy exists does­n’t mean it will do any­thing. It’s how you use it. I think yes­ter­day there was an arti­cle in The New York Times about how stu­dents at some incred­i­bly large num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties, it might’ve been 200—something like that, across the coun­try are plan­ning coor­di­nat­ed demon­stra­tions against what I call the con­tract on America. And because they were able to use the net to do that, they could get a much larg­er group of stu­dents to take part in it, that you could­n’t real­ly do in the same peri­od of time using any oth­er tech­nolo­gies. But again, it’s what the mes­sage is, how you craft it, how you tar­get. It’s not what the tech­nol­o­gy is.

Watkins: And the oth­er thing to remem­ber about activism is that it’s nev­er real­ly over. A bill gets passed in the House, it still has to go to the Senate. Gets passed in the Senate, it still has to go to con­fer­ence com­mit­tee. It gets passed and enact­ed into law, and the next year you start intro­duc­ing amend­ments to it to chip away at it. And that’s how the law is made. It’s an ongo­ing process and it’s con­stant­ly being cre­at­ed. It’s nev­er over.

Stapleton-Gray: And this year it’s an unfund­ed man­date and gosh dar­nit maybe we’ll have a reci­sion of that fund­ing.


Audience 5: A ques­tion for the pan­el. Recently when Senator Gorton attached the Exon/Gorton bill to the tele­com reform bill, when asked in the com­mit­tee hear­ing if there had been oppo­si­tion to it he said, Oh yes, those Internet peo­ple were very com­plain­ing,” even though the phones were jammed. Are we not slit­ting our own throat in using these net­works as our pri­ma­ry means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and being lumped into one small inter­est group when we in fact run the whole spec­trum in some cas­es?

Watkins: Well, I think that goes back to the issue of, it’s only a part of it. Sending your email, or writ­ing a let­ter is only a part of what you do. You have to per­son­al­ize your­self to those peo­ple. And you do have to get involved in the polit­i­cal process. You do have to meet their staff per­son and say, Look. Me and 300 oth­er peo­ple who live in this dis­trict are com­mu­ni­cat­ing by email, and we’re talk­ing to our friends.”

You have to talk the lan­guage of pol­i­tics, which is about num­bers and vot­ers and turnout. And pres­sure. And busi­ness. And a lot of us are actu­al­ly engaged in com­merce. We are the busi­ness­peo­ple of this coun­try, in addi­tion to being cit­i­zen activists. And we are the peo­ple that they are sup­posed to be lis­ten­ing to. We are the peo­ple dri­ving this econ­o­my. And we have to just keep mak­ing that clear. You can be both an activist and a par­tic­i­pant in the polit­i­cal process. And the way that they’ve been fram­ing it in the past is that you are either a participant—you know, you’re a busi­nessper­son and so you have access at the table and your issues are serious—or you’re an activist, which is you know, an out­sider carp­ing at the insti­tu­tion. And what I’m inter­est­ed in doing is break­ing those things down and hav­ing the peo­ple inside the insti­tu­tion be part of the activist com­mu­ni­ty, which I think can make a big dif­fer­ence.

Stapleton-Gray: A les­son to take from this is to do bet­ter net­work­ing in the non-electronic sense. I think one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing things to come out of both Clipper—well, I think specif­i­cal­ly dig­i­tal tele­pho­ny was to find out that in the same camp are you know, long-haired freaks like us, and Barry Goldwater.

And so, if you bring a AARP to the table against the Exon bill, because they have been edu­cat­ed past the ini­tial blush of child pornog­ra­phers, if they start think­ing that what this is is a lia­bil­i­ty for their own inti­mate con­ver­sa­tions, which many old folks tend to have, that it’s an assault on any cit­i­zen’s con­ver­sa­tion or thoughts, that it can affect them more than this first blush, you know. When Louis Freeh says there are child pornog­ra­phers lurk­ing behind every bush, if you can get AARP, which which the Congress lis­tens to, to stand up and say< We’ve heard your argu­ment, we’ve heard theirs. We’re not net­heads but we think they’re right,” that’ll sell a bill. Or sell the oppo­si­tion to the bill.

Audience 6: I want­ed to respond to a com­ment that you made, Ross, about large polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion and insti­tu­tion respond­ing to the new tech­nol­o­gy. And the point that I want to assert is that the tech­nol­o­gy already is mak­ing the deci­sions for us. And that the tech­nol­o­gy is actu­al­ly the source of all…is actu­al­ly the source, such that I think the peo­ple that’re real­ly dri­ving it are peo­ple like the cypher­punks and peo­ple like Phil Zimmermann, and you know, peo­ple work­ing on the [Digicat?], that they’re actu­al­ly mak­ing the deci­sions and it’s real­ly the insti­tu­tions that are respond­ing to it.

Stapleton-Gray: Well, what I said was large orga­ni­za­tions, whether or not they adopt it, will be affect­ed very strong­ly by it. And that I don’t think that it tends to sup­port a large orga­ni­za­tion even if they adopt it. If every NRA mem­ber was giv­en an email account and they could all con­fab about NRA issues, I’ll bet there will be an oppo­si­tion bunch up in Madison, Wisconsin that says, Preserve the right to own a hand­gun but machine guns we have a prob­lem with.” And imme­di­ate­ly when you have a lit­tle machine gun/no machine gun debate among the NRA that gets blown up in the press. And you end up with fis­sures and cracks in an orga­ni­za­tion that hereto­fore had done pret­ty well at pre­sent­ing a unit­ed face when what they had was newslet­ters, hier­ar­chi­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and their lob­by­ists.

Now when any NRA mem­ber can be their own effec­tive information-gathering lob­by­ist, and when many orga­ni­za­tions can net­work apart from the sin­gle nation­al struc­ture… All I was say­ing was that large orga­ni­za­tions, whether or not they adopt the tech­nolo­gies, may be in the same sort of twi­light that we saw in the Cretaceous peri­od, and that it’s the dawn of the lit­tle squeaky mam­mals. Maybe the the sin­gu­lar Zimmermans or the small herd of cypher­punks. But the large orga­ni­za­tions are under a lot of stress and at great risk.

Sears: Here’s anoth­er fun exam­ple, the AFL-CIO start­ed a forum on CompuServe they call LaborNet. It’s a pri­vate forum. The only peo­ple who can get access to it are shop stew­ards above a cer­tain lev­el. They don’t let any rank and file into it. You won­der why? You know, they’re afraid of their orga­ni­za­tion being total­ly trans­formed and maybe being forced to turn into some­thing that actu­al­ly rep­re­sents the rank and file again.

Audience 6: Well, is there any pos­si­bil­i­ty of them actu­al­ly sur­viv­ing that? Or how would they sur­vive, giv­en that indi­vid­u­als have so much more pow­er that they did­n’t have before?

Stapleton-Gray: I don’t know. I get fair­ly pes­simistic about the sur­vival of insti­tu­tions, and I know folks out there are cheer­ing at the death of many large insti­tu­tions. But it is our…sort of like the per­son­al fil­i­buster accord­ed to any­one in any orga­ni­za­tion in some ways. And we may have to move beyond that. We may have to declare a time out. No email this after­noon because we’re gonna get togeth­er face-to-face and actu­al­ly hash out some of our dif­fer­ences, as has been done in at least one com­pa­ny. We’d declare com­put­ers off lim­its because we’ve got more impor­tant things to do. I haven’t reached the Cliff Stoll extreme of want­i­ng to go throw pots and eat jam. But there’s a lot of prob­lems with these tech­nolo­gies that eat away at or oth­er­wise trau­ma­tize orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures we’ve enjoyed. In some cas­es for the good, some cas­es for the bad, but maybe we don’t want to sweep them all away at once.

Watkins: I think that insti­tu­tions have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to either rein­vent them­selves or crum­ble. And there is a way to sur­vive this, and that is to set up mech­a­nisms where the rank and file, the peo­ple who belong to the insti­tu­tion, have a say. Where they get to vote. And where the insti­tu­tion learns how to respond faster to things. Maybe they have to decen­tral­ize. Maybe there’s some­thing that they have to do that makes them faster, and sharp­er, and quick­er on their feet. But if they are a lum­ber­ing dinosaur, and they only have one way of relat­ing to the world and they refuse to change, they’re not going to make it, I think.

Unless they have…you know, they’re all dif­fer­ent. If you have a con­stituen­cy made up of a homo­ge­neous group of peo­ple who take orders very well, and who aren’t into ques­tion you, who will accept the infor­ma­tion that you send them via email and go do things with it and not talk back, you may also be able to sur­vive.

Stapleton-Gray: We’re down to about the two minute warn­ing so we’ll take the last two ques­tions, I hope.

Audience 7: Okay. I’d like to start by applaud­ing all three of you for being out and being pub­lic peo­ple and tak­ing stands that are unpop­u­lar. And one of the rea­sons it occurred to me to applaud you for this is because part of what we’ve been hear­ing from one anoth­er through this gath­er­ing is a fear that peo­ple will be tracked for their polit­i­cal beliefs, and that oth­ers who dis­agree with them will be able to find them, whether it’s a gov­ern­ment or not.

So, I was won­der­ing whether you think about this in terms of orga­niz­ing, whether you think peo­ple need to have an aware­ness of what they’re doing, or whether it’s safe and every­body might as well just you know, climb on in cause the water’s fine.

Sears: Well, I got death threats dur­ing the Gulf War. PeaceNet was not uh, pop­u­lar with every­body. That actu­al­ly cheered me up. It made me think we might actu­al­ly be doing some­thing use­ful. So, no, it’s prob­a­bly nev­er safe to take con­tro­ver­sial posi­tions no mat­ter how you do it, and how you’re known. And the net cer­tain­ly is well-known for allow­ing flame wars and peo­ple to behave in man­ners they prob­a­bly would­n’t behave in face-to-face sit­u­a­tion.

Watkins: Well I work on an issue where peo­ple are harassed and threat­ened and killed for believ­ing what I believe. So it’s some­thing that pro-choice activists have to think about all the time. I have to make the deci­sion about whether I’m gonna put a bumper stick­er on my car that’s pro-choice because you know, I attend so many places and ral­lies my car would be easy to iden­ti­fy out­side. You know, I have to think about where do I put my home address. So there are issues that you have to think about with all of this, but it comes down for me to some­thing that some­body told me a long time [ago], which is you either stand for some­thing or you’ll fall for any­thing. You either have to take a stand and be a par­tic­i­pant, or you’re tak­ing up space. So you know, there are things worth stand­ing up for and worth endan­ger­ing your­self for. And your life is going to be in dan­ger because you’re say­ing what you believe, what kind of a life will you have if you just qui­et­ly go along. My per­spec­tive.

Stapleton-Gray: Let’s take the last ques­tion, then. You were at the mic.

Audience 8: Is this all just going to degen­er­ate into hav­ing the fringe ele­ments on both sides send­ing mail bombs and flame wars and hack­ing each oth­er’s things, or are there any sort of mech­a­nisms that may kind of let each group do its thing with­out try­ing to sab­o­tage the oth­er one?

Sears: I think the net…the ten­den­cy is to allow a lot more ease of dis­rup­tion than of con­struc­tion. I don’t know—I think the solu­tion to that is off-net. I think we will by con­sen­sus among our­selves decide to make the world a lit­tle nicer than it is, not because the tech­nolo­gies help us and the net fos­ters that but because we decide we’re sick and tired and won’t take it any­more. And we need to play nice. I tend to be fair­ly pes­simistic about the abil­i­ty of the net to con­struct some­thing grand in the social sense. Too many tools for destruc­tion and not enough for con­struc­tion.

Stapleton-Gray: Thank you very much for a great pan­el. I think every­body learned a great deal and learned about some new things. Thanks to all three of you.

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