THE BLOG
12/03/2012 04:45 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity, and a Bottom-Up Revolution at MoveOn.org

A year ago, student debt wasn't supposed to be a potent political issue. Then a lawyer from Staten Island named Robert Applebaum launched a petition on SignOn.org, MoveOn's bottom-up campaign platform, calling for student debt forgiveness to stimulate the economy.

660,000 people signed and the issue lit up the Internet. Soon President Obama responded -- first by lowering loan payments for millions, then by staring down Republicans who wanted to let student loan rates double. Student loans were on the map.

It was a big step forward for progressives. Millions of people pitched in. But it wouldn't have happened without Robert Applebaum.

Progressives need more Robert Applebaums.

We need more grassroots leaders, with more great ideas, running more awesome campaigns, and racking up more victories.

Because, while this election offered a tantalizing taste of what can happen when America's rising progressive majority comes out in force, we still face enormous obstacles, from massive inequality to voter suppression.

We need to up our game.

And that's why we at MoveOn.org have decided to embark on a bold new path -- putting the Robert Applebaums in charge. We're turning over the keys of our technological toolset to our more than 7 million members, asking them to step up and lead their own campaigns, and putting them squarely in the MoveOn driver's seat.

For 14 years MoveOn has been at the forefront of online organizing. In 1998, our founders -- two software entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley -- started an Internet petition to prevent Bill Clinton's impeachment. Their stroke of genius was that when they found themselves with more than 100,000 signers, and their email addresses, they realized they could organize those people into a potent political force.

As MoveOn grew to millions of members, we developed online tools that made it easy to petition Congress, to raise big money online just by bundling together small donations, to run phone banks from your living room, and to use technology in dozens of other ways that are now commonplace in campaigns.

We helped change our nation's politics, helping lead the fight to end the war in Iraq, running innovative campaigns like the "Bush in 30 seconds" ad contest in 2004, and playing a pivotal role in helping Democrats take back the House of Representatives two years later. We were proud to see many of our innovations put to use by the Obama campaign and its impressive grassroots army in 2008. Shortly after, MoveOn's growing membership played a leading role in securing health care reform.

But given the challenges our country faces, we've been looking for ways to dramatically increase our impact. So we launched a series of experiments in organizing from the bottom up -- putting more power directly in the hands of activists. We built DIY organizing tools, like SignOn.org, which empowers MoveOn members to start petitions and enlist other members of the MoveOn community. We created the Share Machine, through which volunteer editors across the country have helped turn social media into a crucial part of the progressive echo chamber. And we've supported MoveOn members in launching more than 175 volunteer-led local Councils that have become the backbone of our national campaigns -- and that, increasingly, are running their own, kick-ass local campaigns.

The results have been amazing.

MoveOn members in dozens of communities led coordinated local campaigns which helped block racist voter ID laws during the election.

Earlier this year, when religious extremists in Utah tried to ban sex-ed in public schools -- meaning young people would be denied access to potentially lifesaving information about STDs, pregnancy, and contraception -- a school bus driver and retired firefighter, Paul Kreuger, used SignOn.org to lead 40,000 MoveOn members in convincing the Governor to veto the bill.

And after 16-year-old Jasmine Thar was shot and killed while preparing for a routine shopping trip -- and law enforcement wouldn't prosecute -- her Godmother, Treka McMillian, launched a petition that drew intense media scrutiny and attention from federal officials to a case that otherwise would have been swept under the rug.

Just last month, Angelo Carusone used SignOn.org to launch his #DumpTrump petition holding Macy's accountable for sticking with spokesman Donald Trump, despite Trump's race-baiting. Angelo hasn't won yet, but AdWeek credits his campaign with dropping Macy's consumer loyalty rating by an astounding 45 percent in 4 weeks. And Angelo's was just one of 6,140 petitions created by MoveOn members in November alone.

We believe some of the greatest potential leaders in America are MoveOn members. People like Angelo, Paul, Treka. But too often, they lack the tools, the know-how, or the connections to other like-minded folks to be successful.

We think we can change that. So we've decided to double down on bottom up. We're throwing MoveOn's full resources into this new organizing model -- helping grassroots progressives come up with compelling campaigns and ideas, connecting them with a growing army of people, amplifying those campaigns and then helping them win.

We'll be able to fully engage on myriad local and state issues that, until now, MoveOn simply had to take a pass on. But we'll also bring much more power to bear on big national fights like the fiscal showdown. More leaders means more strategic thrusts than MoveOn could ever manage before, along with new tactics and lines of attack our small staff would never think of on our own.

The old model was: MoveOn members set our direction, and then MoveOn staff decided which tactics to employ, and when. Our reach was necessarily limited by the small size of our staff.

We're turning that model inside out. Now our reach will be limited by the number of leaders we can empower. Imagine thousands of grassroots leaders, engaging over 7 million MoveOn members far more deeply than we ever have before, popping out victories from coast to coast. Imagine what it will mean for the dreams we all share -- of equality, of prosperity and opportunity for everyone, of a solution to climate change, of peace, and more.

At MoveOn, we've always believed that even in an age of big money and special interests, regular Americans working together can take our democracy back. Today, we're excited for the next step in that journey -- MoveOn's bottom-up revolution.