SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Operators of the liberal pundit Web site MoveOn.org say they are not moving out of politics like some had hoped or expected after President Bush won re-election.
On a Sunday night two weeks after the Nov. 2 election, the group was back, hosting 1,600 house parties across the country where about 18,000 members gathered to vent and vote on how MoveOn should refocus after such a decisive Republican victory.
“With 56 million people not signed up to the Bush agenda and the Democratic establishment in exile, people are looking for ways to move in another direction,” MoveOn founder Wes Boyd said. “In the current circumstances, we are more needed than ever.”
A year ago, the Berkeley, Calif.-based MoveOn was hailed by many as “the next big thing” in political organizing. Having won fame as the voice of the anti-Iraq war movement, MoveOn was gearing up its cyber-community of activists to wage a high-profile battle against Mr. Bush’s re-election.
MoveOn plans a formal announcement in the next few weeks to lay out its agenda for the coming year. But at the November house parties, members voted to prioritize efforts to remove barriers to voting, such as requiring electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts. They also vowed to pursue ways to create a counterbalance to the right-tilting Fox News.
“Our whole approach was to take people who are online members and get them into offline activity,” said Adam Ruben, MoveOn’s field director. “We can get a lot done on the Internet but we know that to reach beyond the choir, there are essential parts of political activity we can’t neglect.”
The group was founded during the Clinton impeachment debate as an online petition urging Congress to censure him and move on to other business.
In the short term, MoveOn’s leaders say, its mission remains the same: mobilizing rapid response on issues of concern to the organization, from the Iraq war to future battles over Social Security privatization and nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the long term, Mr. Boyd said, the group will seek a more substantial foundation for the progressive movement, from creating think tanks to counteract the conservative Heritage Foundation and Hoover Institution to building grass-roots networks that rival the Republican Party’s deep ties to evangelical churches.
“People really feel like they’re at the beginning of a movement rather than the end of a campaign,” Political Director Eli Pariser said. “It’s such an exciting feeling for a lot of these people, and it mitigates some of the heartbreak of the next four years.”
Armed with more than $30 million raised from donors ranging from students to billionaire financier George Soros, MoveOn moved well beyond cyberspace — organizing star-studded concerts, airing television ads produced by A-list Hollywood directors and mobilizing 70,000 members to walk precincts in key battleground states.
But the efforts proved unsuccessful, and amid the inevitable postelection recriminations, MoveOn came in for plenty of heat.
Republicans took aim at the group for allowing a member’s proposed TV ad comparing the president to Adolf Hitler to be briefly posted on its Web site.
Others complained that MoveOn and other so-called 527 organizations like America Coming Together and the Media Fund sometimes worked at cross-purposes with the Kerry campaign, creating a hodgepodge of confusing messages.
For his part, Mr. Boyd said MoveOn always would remain a “progressive, populist” organization that represents a broad cross section of middle America, with many members new to the political process.
“People are engaged and they’ve learned two things: They are very concerned about where the country is going, and that even if you lose, being involved in politics is a positive thing,” he said.