Most “ninja weaponry” was originally found not in an armory but on a farm. Items like the sai, the bo staff, and the mighty nunchuck were used by desperate, impoverished people in their fight for a better world. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, weapons progressed to the point that the “shot heard round the world” was fired from a black powder musket. Today, the weapons of progress and change are different. I’m not referring here to the machine gun or the nuclear warhead, either, but to something altogether more powerful: the World Wide Web. In each of these cases, the core power came not from the weapons’ form but from the ability to be heard.
We’ve already seen the power of grassroots movements in the online world. Two of the most prominent examples can be found with the Million Mother March of 2000, where, less than a decade after the first Internet browser was introduced, early-stage web tools were used to bring more than 800,000 mothers together for a political rally; as well as Barack Obama’s campaign, where an essentially unheard-of candidate received half a billion dollars in online contributions.
So, how can the green movement make a real change through these web-based grassroots movements? These past examples have shown us the basic framework.
Step 1: Begin with a Foundation of Strong Values
Your cause must be clear and direct, with a mission statement that shows your vision in a compelling manner. History has shown us that people are far more drawn to topics that are positive and noncontroversial. This doesn’t mean that you can’t oppose something — such as corporate waste, in the case of green movements — but that it must be stated in a positive manner. Using the corporate waste example, you’re not fighting against evil corporations, but for retaining natural beauty.
The Million Mother March gave us an admirable precedent. Although its campaign could be stated as “against violence directed toward children,” its main campaign message was focused on “for protecting a child,” which far more strongly conveys the anti-violence message than a direct statement could.
Step 2: Know Your Arsenal
The weapons in your online armory need to be learned if they are to be used. A few of the tools to familiarize yourself with include: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, podcasting, StumbleUpon, Digg, PPC campaigns, email marketing, and RSS feeds. Not every tool should be used universally, but it’s crucial that you understand the purpose and appeal of each. Additionally, you should understand the advantages of keeping all your resources and platforms online. A single website can serve the same purpose as neighborhood canvasing, handing out opinion surveys, sending updated information, scheduling events, and far more.
Step 3: Make Involvement Easy and Immediate
Once you have decided how to frame your presence, make getting involved with the cause as simple and immediate as possible. Make your navigation clear and direct, provide materials and resources that answer visitor questions, and make the “next step” obvious. Whether it’s providing step-by-step directions on local organization, giving utilities to take action directly from the web page, or something else entirely, getting people involved increases both their level of contribution and commitment.
The case in point here is the mass cold-calling labor force that was organized through the Obama website in 2008. More than a million calls were made using this tool — all from grassroots users who gladly volunteered their time.
Step 4: Know What You’re Selling
It may just be that there’s no such thing as a completely unselfish action. In the case of green causes, your contributors and volunteers act because working for the common good, promoting social responsibility, and feeling like they’re making a real impact are all empowering things. Further, a sense of community involvement and connection provides substantial positive reinforcement during the course of action. By understanding these motivations, you can build a platform that more effectively involves contributors at every level.
The Million Mother March illustrated this point incredibly well with its Tapestry of Woven Words forum. Intended as a place to share stories, this forum (according to Donna Dees Thomases, founder of the Million Mom March) became a real family, largely thanks to users sharing their own stories. By allowing for this sense of community, the Million Mom March opened the door to unprecedented success.
Step 5: Make It Personal and Impact-Oriented
Too often, citing a problem and focusing on it will create nothing more than a sense of helplessness. The best approach to creating a message is to focus on the impact of solutions and to do so in a way that brings the need for such solutions home.
Yes, you must write with conviction, and yes, you must encourage users to spread the word, but it’s the connection to their own pre-existing desires that will truly involve them. People rarely connect with abstracts, such as being “environmentally friendly.” However, these same people will become quickly enraged when a small local lake is polluted. The answer is connection.
It’s important to use a personal angle in your campaign structure. One example of this comes from the Million Mom March, where the greatest source of monetary contributions came from donations made in the name of a child. Here, it was not about violence against children but violence against a specific child.