Real-Time Activism: What the Heck is an E-Alert?

If you’ve ever worked with an advocacy group, you understand how important it is to stretch your scarce resources. In the face of dwindling government grants, a looming recession, and the fear of losing your volunteers, the real-time web can be a boon in getting legislation passed. Today’s ReadWriteWeb Real-Time Summit attendees took time to discuss some of the cause-based tools that can help in this bubbling river of data.

Consumers Union employees Tim Marvin and Gregory Foster work hard to ensure that consumers have access to a fair and safe marketplace. The organization lobbies government groups around issues of health care reform, product safety and ethical advertising. Nevertheless, a number of today’s available advocacy tools fall flat. While organizations communicate with phone calls, videos, static sites, brochures, face-to-face lobbying and a spam-like email service called an “e-alert”, only a few are utilizing the real-time web. Rather than insisting upon these traditional methods, the group discussed new ways to hack the law-making process. Below are some of our ideas:

1.Real-Time Story Uploading: Voters can upload their stories via a microblogging service, tag it with a cause-related hashtag and geo-tag it to a specific constituency. From here the relevant representatives could be provided with a constituency feed and can search via the issues that affect them most. In this case, trending topics would indicate the most popular issues.

2. Legislator Meet and Greet: Similar to celebrity sightings on Twitter, users could Tweet when meeting their legislator and encourage nearby voters to come by and express their opinions. We call this “legis-stalking”.

3. Legislative Activity Stream: While legislation is already being tracked via sites like, there’s no reason your friends shouldn’t get your legislation-related activity stream and real-time commentary. From here machine-powered sentiment analysis could be used to show a politician’s popularity and overall happiness amongst voters.

4.Tracker: Similar to Pivotal Labs’ Tracker, consumer groups could collaborate on an issues-based project management tool. When representatives reveal their plans, each issue can be broken down into a smaller project with associated goals. If goals are verified by a specific percentage of voters, then the project is considered a success and reflects this percentage in real-time. If goals are left unfulfilled, then the project is considered a failure. From here a politician’s overall success rate can also be calculated as a real-time reflection of effectiveness.

We know these are just some of the ideas available with real-time activism. If you’ve got ideas on how organizations can better utilize the real-time web add your ideas in the comments below or in the event wiki. If you’d like to help Consumers Union build the tools we’ve discussed above email

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