Posted on September 25, 2000 in Washington Watch
(Note to readers: This article is about the Internet revolution. Even if you have no access to the Internet you should read on to learn how this revolution is changing our politics in the United States.)
Beginning this week, you can vote and give your opinion about the 2000 U.S. presidential elections by logging on to www.aaiusa.org. Before you vote, you can read all of the positions of all of the candidates in this year’s elections by logging on to the same Internet address.
In fact, you can find out about almost anything you need to know about Arab Americans, their concerns and their activities in this year’s elections at www.aaiusa.org.
The same website will also give you: the complete voting records of every member of the U.S. Senate and Congress; an evaluation of issues in dozens of congressional elections; the timing of critical legislation that can impact Arab Americans and U.S.-Arab relations; analysis, commentary and press coverage on all of these issues; Arab American demographic information for all 50 states; and much, much more.
In fact, what this internet address provides is a virtual visit to the Washington offices of the Arab American Institute (AAI), an opportunity to review all of our files and research and what amounts to a self-guided informational tour of all of our resources.
Currently tens of thousands of Arab Americans are visiting and downloading (i.e. reading and printing) hundreds of thousand of pages of our information and acting, as they see fit, on our issues.
Much has been made of the Internet revolution and its impact on information and commerce. There is also, however, a political impact resulting from this new technology. We can reach more people, with more information and with greater results then ever before.
And, of course, we are not alone. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has a website, www.adc.org. The American Muslim Council (AMC) can be found at www.amcnational.org and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) can be reached at www.cair-net.org. My weekly call-in television program that brings Washington policy makers directly before Arab audiences can be seen on ANA-TV in the United States and on MBC in the Middle East. But viewers anywhere in the world can watch it on the Internet at www.anatv.com.
In other words, the world of our activity is now available to the world–complements of this revolutionary vehicle.
The results have transformed our work and our thinking has had to change as a result of this new technology.
I remember when I first moved to Washington in the 1970s to start the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. Back then, the most sophisticated piece of equipment in my office was the telephone. Membership mailings and information letters all had to be personally typed on a typewriter. Membership recruitment had to be done in person, usually by visiting communities and organizing events across the United States. When documents had to be sent quickly, the cost of overnight mail was often a limiting or prohibitive factor.
Inexpensive photocopy equipment made our work easier as did the advent of the facsimile machine. Early data processing machines made in-office printing possible and made mailings more efficient. There was still the cost factor and the reality that mail had to be directed to a targeted audience of interested and committed individuals. There was, of course the concern that as our ability to mail was enhanced so was everyone else’s, resulting in a surfeit of mail being received by most Americans. The challenge we faced was how to compete for attention in that new age characterized by a glut of too much mail and too many faxes.
Here is where the Internet has had its greatest impact. While it is still necessary to supply information to a targeted audience of committed and interested individuals–the world has opened up to present unlimited potential for expansion. The amount of information you can project is unlimited and the audience you can reach is unlimited as well. Anyone, anywhere, at anytime can connect to your information and be impacted by it.
You don’t have to go to a community (although personal and direct contact is still very important), the community can come to you. You don’t have to compete for attention with a limited audience. Individuals, on a voluntary basis, can come to you. You simply have to be ready and have your information ready for them. It is as if each organization has an open house 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The challenges that organizations now face are new. An organization must still find ways to draw people to their website. But once their address is found, their information presentation had better be topical (changing daily), attractively presented, clear and compelling or else the first visit will be the last.
This year the major presidential candidates all discovered the power of the Internet. All of the campaigns focused significant resources in developing multiple campaign addresses.
So significant was the use of the Internet by the campaigns and their audiences, that this itself, often became a news story. Campaigns announced new issue initiatives on their websites. They would often first run their television advertisements on their websites. And when one campaign would attack another on its website, the response from the opponent often also came first on its website.
The ability of these websites to draw large audiences of daily visitors also led to their use by the campaigns to solicit funds and organize volunteers. Senator John McCain’s ill-fated presidential campaign made news when, after winning the Republican primary election in New Hampshire, it was able to raise $750,000 in 48 hours over the Internet. In all, McCain’s campaign raised a record $7 million in Internet generated contributions.
So many Americans are now connected to the Internet and use it so regularly that this year, one state, Arizona, experimented with Internet voting in its primary elections. This will, no doubt, increase in the years to come, but it has already spawned a new popular activity called “cyber voting”–where various websites sponsor regular votes among their visitors on the issues of the day.
One of the most successful of these new non-partisan political websites is www.voter.com. Each day Voter.com sponsors a “cyber vote” on a key issue–both to draw activity to their address and to test public reaction to issues.
Since Arab Americans are one of the most Internet connected ethnic groups in the United States, their “cyber votes” have presented the community with an interesting challenge. One recent poll conducted by Zogby International found that 64.3% of Arab Americans are Internet users, higher than almost every other group in the poll. And so when voter.com asked its visitors whether the United States should move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or whether the United States should recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, Arab Americans and their supporters organized an outpouring of votes.
In the case of Jerusalem, voter.com asked whether voters supported Texas Governor George W. Bush’s position that the United States should immediately move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or the AAI position that no action should be taken that might disrupt the Middle East peace process. Arab Americans won that vote 53% to 46% and were able to trumpet their victory in a press release that read “AAI Wins Internet Poll on Jerusalem American Voters Don’t Support Embassy Move.”
When voter.com recently asked voters whether they supported Senator Dianne Feinstein’s effort to punish the Palestinian Authority if it declared an independent Palestinian State or the AAI position that encouraged the United States to recognize that state, again the vote was 54% to 45%. Arab Americans celebrated this victory with a “Once Again, Public Supports Palestinian Rights.” headline.
The impact of this new phenomenon, now called cyber activism, is being studied for its positive and negative implications for our political process.
The fact, however, is that this phenomenon is here and for the foreseeable future, it will define and direct our work.
Personal contact will always be important, as will the ability to speak and articulate clearly on issues that matter. But in this new world of the Internet, it has now become necessary to communicate through this new medium to millions–friends, potential friend and adversaries alike. It is necessary to project ideas, to direct and influence opinion and to provide guidance to supporters to act –and to do all of this in an attractive format that sustains interest.
And so, if you are connected to the web and want to share your views about this year’s U.S. elections and the issues facing U.S. voters today, logon to www.aaiusa.org and join our world.
If you are not connected, I’ll bring you the results of our online poll next month.
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