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Stateside with Rosalea: Michael Moore Party Talk

Stateside with Rosalea

Michael Moore Party Talk

So. Now I've been to my first political therapy group session, a house party organized by a political action committee around the audio link-up with Michael Moore on Monday night. The audio from this link-up is available at the website.

The party I went to consisted of a couple of dozen people gathered around the PC in the hosts' living room. We'd been organized by email to bring food and drinks, and everyone was in plenty of time for the show to begin. The Flash graphic on the website showed a map of the US with increasing numbers of dots in areas where parties were coming on-line. If all the people who'd been in both the earlier East Coast and this West Coast link-up had been together in one place, they would have filled a football stadium.

There was an opportunity for people to ask questions by inputting them via a form on the screen, and the warm-up act was a slideshow of photos from previous MoveOn events. MoveOn, by the way, was started by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who, in 1998, started an online petition born of frustration "at partisan warfare in Washington D.C. and the ridiculous waste of our nation's focus at the time of the impeachment mess".

One of the functions of political action committees here in the States is to hold fundraising events, which often take the form of house parties like this one. However, in this case the hoped-for outcome wasn't money - though I'm sure you're more than welcome to go to the website and donate! The hoped-for outcome was that a certain percentage of the people at each party would pledge to hold the next party.

The next house parties, on July 11, will be for phone banking. That phrase means something different here than it does in NZ. It's what you'd call... well, I don't know what you'd call it actually. You go and sit in a room full of telephones with a list of people's phone numbers and you call them up with whatever your message is. Maybe polimarketing is the word for it in this context.

MoveOn is relying on the high penetration of cellphones here in the US, so you take your own phone along to the house party and the host gives you the list of phone numbers to call that s/he has been given by MoveOn. The phone numbers will be in swing states. The polimarketers will have a list of people who haven't registered to vote and will get their details so they can be sent a voter registration form.

I don't quite see how MoveOn can get hold of the phone number of people who *aren't* registered to vote, although it's perfectly legal for political action committees and political campaigns to get name, address, and phone number information from the registrar of voters in most, if not all, counties in the US. And if MoveOn has those details anyway, why do they need people to call them?

Anyways, Michael Moore did a good old rave about how the reaction to his film had been so phenomenal at the weekend, and read several newspaper reports of folk, even in what are called the "red states" -- those whose Electors voted for Bush in the 2000 election -- having the scales lifted from their eyes by the movie. And he urged people to take one weekend in October to go on a road trip to talk to voters in the swing states.

Like I've said before, I just don't see the benefits of this tactic of harassing people via the telephone and on their doorstep -- in fact, I think it has the opposite effect to the one intended. It may work to consolidate a view that's already held, but it's not likely to convince people to change their minds about something. But then I didn't grow up in a land where the hard-sell tactic is the norm for everything.

Back to the party. It was mostly white middle class Bay Area liberals, but the presence of people from other countries lent a couple of good perspectives. A refugee from a formerly communist bloc country said that the atmosphere in the US under the Bush administration had become like the atmosphere of a Communist nation, where you never knew if you were under surveillance. A member of a Middle Eastern family talked about their feelings of isolation, despite having lived here for more than 15 years, as people increasingly said to them that "our boys are dying because of you".

What was most interesting to me at this party, though, was that so many people said how anxious they are all the time, feeling like no good can ever come of anything. For some there were very real, immediate reasons for this feeling - a number of them worked for non-profit organizations helping the poor and are seeing the worsened plight of their clients as funding for welfare programs dries up.

Perhaps the real value of Monday night's parties was that 55,000 people crawled out of the dark holes they are seemingly living in and learned that they are not alone in feeling that way.


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