August 12, 2009

Organizing Atheists: The MoveOn.org Model

Keep Moving
Keep Moving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As disorganized as the atheist movement is, we have been making slow, steady progress in some areas. As much time as we waste duplicating each others' efforts and retreading the same ground, it is hard to deny that atheism is experiencing something of a renaissance today. If nothing else, we are seeing increasing numbers of atheists making the decision to no longer conceal their atheism. As happy as I am to see this, I can't help wondering what more we could accomplish with even small improvements in organization. We have not even come close to realizing our vast potential.

I have written quite a bit about the benefits of increased organization, activism, community building, and the like. I'm not going to repeat that here. Instead, I just want to throw out something that I think should serve as a model of precisely the sort of organization I think we could accomplish. Best of all, I think this model has the crucial advantage of being perfectly suited for overcoming much of the resistance many atheists have to organizing. That model is MoveOn.org.

I encourage you to spend a few minutes looking around the MoveOn.org website. Forget about their politics if you need to, and just notice the layout, capabilities, etc.

MoveOn.org has signed up over 5 million members. Think about what that means. They have contact information (at least e-mail addresses) for 5 million people. That means 5 million voters, 5 million potential donors, and 5 million potential activists which can be mobilized.

MoveOn.org regularly polls their supporters and actually modifies their agenda to reflect what the majority of their supporters want. This is how grassroots is supposed to work. Imagine being part of an organization which not only listens to its members but tailors its agenda to represent them. What a welcome departure from how such groups usually seem to work.

Now that you've looked around their website, can you really tell me that we couldn't do that for the atheist movement? I may not personally have the technical expertise to design a slick website like that, but I am fairly confident that many of you could do so. What else would be needed? A web domain and host, a board of directors, a little money to get up and running, publicity, non-profit status perhaps? I'm sure it isn't quite as simple as I'm making it sound, but I cannot believe that we in the atheist community couldn't pull it off.

Just imagine the next time some jackass pundit or politician engages in anti-atheist bigotry. Action alerts go out to members via email, petitions are circulated, letters are written, calls are made, press releases go out to news agencies. And instead of every damn blogger, forum host, Twitter user, etc. having to do it themselves without necessarily knowing what others are doing, it is done from this sort of organization. Imagine the clout of a Pharyngula multiplied several times over! That is what we're talking about here.

I refuse to believe that this is beyond our means. Together, we could do this. The only question is why we aren't doing it.

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