Laura Kriv is the campaign manager of TechRocks’ nuclear disarmament Internet campaign, DontBlowIt.org.
Monday, 14 May 2001
Some people think that the nuclear disarmament movement is dead. After all, the Cold War is long over. The fear is gone. But is it really? Or has it just been replaced by some other equally important issue of the moment, like economic globalization or environmental destruction? (As syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman noted, “How did we manage to overlook the greatest environmental danger of all — the mushroom cloud over the green space?”)
The fear of nuclear annihilation may be gone, but the danger is very real. There are over 36,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Thousands are on “alert status,” ready to be launched in minutes. Our government alone spends over $30 billion annually just to maintain the Pentagon’s nuclear arsenal of over 12,000 nuclear weapons — the equivalent of 150,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. And if that’s not bad enough, the U.S. has been fascinated with building a national missile defense system (properly dubbed “Star Wars”) since the Reagan era. With the hopes of protecting the U.S. and its allies from incoming missiles from rogue nations, Americans have already spent more than $120 billion on missile defense and have yet to see a workable system. The most alarming aspect of building a national missile defense is the grave risks it poses to U.S. and global security. Our allied countries around the world warn that it will provoke a new nuclear arms race.
Now, I’m usually not into scare tactics. But I believe that people would be afraid if they knew the facts. I’m afraid. Mostly I’m afraid for my three-year-old daughter and the kind of world that she will grow up in. I really don’t think we will blow up ourselves and the rest of the world. But I do think another Hiroshima — or something even worse — is very possible. And I guess fear can be a great motivator, because its one of the reasons I do what I do.
About a year ago, I launched an online campaign to raise awareness of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and to build a new constituency in support of nuclear disarmament. With seed money from the Ploughshares Fund and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, I began working with TechRocks, a nonprofit organization that works with other nonprofits and foundations to develop customized approaches to the effective use of the Internet. Together, we launched www.DontBlowIt.org.
DontBlowIt.org has already recruited nearly 40,000 citizens to take action online to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. People have heard about the campaign through email alerts, online advertising, or from the dozens of arms control and disarmament organizations that have endorsed the campaign. At TechRocks, we feel that the Internet is exploding as a channel for civic participation. DontBlowIt.org is using this participation to affect public policy.
I have my work cut out for me. Two weeks ago, President Bush announced a major shift in our government’s nuclear policy. He agreed to unilaterally reduce nuclear weapons — but at the expense of withdrawing our nation’s support from principles that have governed the world’s nuclear balance for 30 years. He condemned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) as a Cold War relic and vowed to deploy an extensive National Missile Defense (NMD) system.
Within days of Bush’s announcement, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called for the establishment of a new Pentagon post for what could become a new space force. He is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon’s space programs, sharply increasing the importance of outer space in strategic planning. In other words, our fears of “Star Wars” are coming true. If all of this isn’t bad enough, the Senate has confirmed the nomination of John Bolton to serve as the State Department’s undersecretary of arms control and international security — the nation’s chief arms control post. Bolton was championed through the Senate by his buddy, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), and has a terrible track record of opposing most international arms-reduction treaties.
All this makes for scary policies but great activism. As my week gets underway, I’ll try to fill you in on more of the political work I’m doing as well as the day-to-day trials and tribulations that make my work challenging, rewarding, frustrating, and let’s not forget, fun. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it and believe that I can change the world.
Tuesday, 15 May 2001
It seems like almost daily, I’m faced with an incident that makes me reflect on my decision to do the work that I do. This morning, it happened while dropping my daughter off at day care. Today she was particularly sad to see me go and started to whimper after I said my good-bye and made my way to the door. As I looked back, I could tell she was trying to hold in her tears and act like the “big girl” that every three-year-old tries so hard to be. She usually loves her pre-preschool. But a restless night, a stressful morning, or something else can set her off. As I left her this morning, my heart was in my mouth. The common but difficult dilemmas that working parents face rushed my brain. I did not want to go to work.
But by 10:00 this morning, I was busy planning how I would accomplish the many tasks before me and getting excited by what these tasks might produce. I checked my email and one of the first messages I received today was this: “I just wanted to thank you for this innovative and helpful website. I appreciate the opportunity to send President Bush an email postcard through your website and I just wanted to commend you on your excellent work.”
I’m glad to be at work, doing what I do. I usually am — but some mornings are harder than others. So, what is it that I do?
Today, my top priority is to get a funding proposal out the door (due tomorrow) to the Town Creek Foundation. My budget for DontBlowIt.org for 2001 is $235,000. We are asking for a $25,000 grant to finance the second year of our work on this important and inventive project. Whereas last year DontBlowIt.org focused on building a coalition of arms control groups to support this project and creating and developing a website where people can take action online, this year we are concentrating on an aggressive online marketing campaign to reach new supporters, a strong reengagement strategy to keep them active over time, and a local organizing plan to connect DontBlowIt.org activists with local and state organizations and activities.
We have an ambitious plan for the year, but we won’t be able to accomplish it without raising our full budget. It’s May and I already have raised nearly $100,000. Tomorrow I should hear if another proposal for $25,000 from a different foundation is approved. If this comes through, along with the proposal I’m sending out today, I’ll be in the home stretch!
But fundraising is, by far, not all that I do. Recently, one of my coalition partners offered me a free intern this summer, which is great news. Here at TechRocks, I’m the only person who works full time on the DontBlowIt.org campaign. (And I only work 30 hours per week!) There is so much more I could be doing with more staff. Today I need to work out the logistics of this internship. A student from the University of Central Florida is fired up to work on the issue of National Missile Defense and is excited by grassroots activism. I have found that energy and enthusiasm goes a long way! This, coupled with the ability to be a self-starter, should make him ideal for the job.
Wednesday, 16 M
One of the reasons I decided to organize online was because I wanted a job that was more flexible, and working in the virtual world has provided that. As campaign manager of www.DontBlowIt.org, I work 30 hours a week and still have time to spend with my daughter, Nesha. Wednesday is our day together. I still bring work home and end up squeezing it in before she wakes up (like now) and during her naps — but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I started to organize online for other reasons as well. I became excited by the organizing potential that the Internet offers. Organizing via the Internet can be effective for several reasons. Among them:
- Internet communication is very fast, allowing hot news to spread across the country — and around the world — virtually overnight.
- It’s inexpensive, and — in dramatic contrast to other media — costs increase very little as the size of the audience grows.
- Electronic organizing complements and reinforces the impact of traditional media campaigns.
People have access to so much information and are becoming more informed and active through the Internet. As a result, government is being held more accountable. For example, within minutes of a critical vote in Congress, constituents are being alerted through email, phone, fax, and (for some people) their palm pilot, with a call to action. This kind of instant information and communication thwarts efforts by decision-makers to make important deals behind closed doors. In other words, government knows that, through technology, the people are watching. The more people that are reached through the Internet and brought into civic participation, the more decision-makers are forced to listen. (Remember that great bumper sticker: “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”?)
I’m involved in a great project that clearly illustrates how “e-organizing” reinforces traditional organizing efforts. June 10-12, 2001 is a national mobilization in Washington, D.C., to voice public concern over the National Missile Defense System and to support reducing and, ultimately, eliminating nuclear weapons. People will be gathering in D.C. for a rally, activist training, and visits with their members of Congress. It will be the first public protest of President Bush’s new nuclear policy. The event is sponsored by dozens of disarmament organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Project Abolition. (To learn more about this event, visit www.projectabolition.org.)
Our role in this event will be a unique one. We’re recruiting people to come to D.C., but we know that our virtual activists will probably be more interested in other ways of participating. So, over the next month, we’re focusing on generating as many public comments as we can through DontBlowIt.org. For the June event, we’ll be printing out our nearly 40,000 emails from the public, separating them by state, and hand-delivering our email messages to members of Congress. We’ll actually be going door-to-door to Senators’ offices, dropping off packets of thousands of emails from concerned people in their state.
This kind of event will get our message to policy-makers, make a great visual for the media, give online activists a clear role to play, and illustrate how to use online tools effectively to organize “offline.” It’s a lot of work to print out 40,000 emails, not to mention the waste of paper, but the time has never been better to organize people on this issue. And we think that — finally — the press, policy-makers, and the public at large will be more receptive to our message.
Besides myself, the DontBlowIt.org campaign consists of our online community manager, Seth Merritt, and our web marketing manager, Kelly O’Neal. Both spend about 20 percent of their time on DontBlowIt.org. We’ve been meeting to figure out the logistics of printing all of these emails, what other information to include in the packets to Congress, how to raise extra money to cover some of the printing costs, and how to drive as much traffic as possible to DontBlowIt.org between now and early June, so we can deliver the maximum number of public comments. At this moment — if you haven’t already — I encourage you to visit www.DontBlowIt.org and make your voice heard on this issue.
My daughter’s going to be waking up any moment now. It’s time to put away grand thoughts of organizing and focus on something else I consider an extremely political act: raising a child to be a decent human being.
Thursday, 17 May 2001
In my first call of the day, I learned that the Compton Foundation approved a grant to DontBlowIt.org for $10,000. This is good news. This is the first time they have funded TechRocks, and I’ve been told that it’s usually very hard to break into a foundation’s grantee list. But it’s hard for me not to be slightly disappointed. I requested $25,000, so this is quite a departure from what I was hoping for. Now, I either need to find someone else who will give us the missing $15,000, or slightly scale back our goals and plans for the year. At this point, I’m not willing to do that.
Today I have a lot on my plate. We’ve been brainstorming ways to drive traffic to our website between now and June to hand-deliver as many public comments as possible to Senators during the 10 Jun.-12 Jun. mobilization in Washington, D.C. We have a few great leads that are extremely promising.
One of them is Michael Douglas. You probably know him as the actor and director. To those in the arms-control community, he’s also a U.N. Ambassador of Peace and a strong supporter of efforts to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. When we launched DontBlowIt.org last year, he endorsed our site, gave us a great quote to use in our press work, and provided a few links from his website, MichaelDouglas.com. To this day, his site drives more traffic to DontBlowIt.org than any other website. We’ve been discussing with his staff different ways to use his support to help our campaign. Some ideas include using his name and/or image in an email or in online ad buys. At a minimum, we hope to set up a DontBlowIt.org gateway on his site, allowing people to join our efforts and take action directly from his site.
We’re also in communication with the people from MoveOn.org. They launched a campaign during the time leading up to President Clinton’s impeachment in the fall of 1998. Their website was set up so that visitors could sign a petition demanding that Congress immediately censure the president and then move on to the business of governing the country. Visitors could also send an email to their friends, inviting them to add their names to the petition. Their “flash campaign” caught fire and without any paid advertising or media coverage, nearly half a million people signed their petition within two months.
MoveOn.org formed the nucleus of numerous other groundbreaking efforts. More importantly, however, it demonstrated that the Internet was a viable medium for grassroots organizing on a large scale. Years later, their activists still consistently take action whenever they receive alerts. They have expressed interest in alerting their people to the June mobilization and our efforts to oppose National Missile Defense. Today, I need to send them a draft email message, which I hope they will send out to their huge list of people.
Every few months, I write a campaign update to describe our recent work, our successes, our failures, and our overall accomplishments. I send this to our coalition partners, funders, and other key people and organizat
ions. These partners help fund our work and assist us in establishing campaign issues and priorities, lending credibility to the campaign and helping us integrate e-activists into the disarmament community’s grassroots activities. I haven’t sent out an update since the beginning of the year, so I’m way late in getting this information to them. If I don’t do this regularly, and follow up with phone calls, they lose touch, and without their support and involvement, TechRocks would not have launched this campaign. I’ll be working on this today and tomorrow.
Last on my “to do” list for today is to send an email alert to the DontBlowIt.org campaign’s few hundred “virtual volunteers.” These are people that, through our website, sign up to do more, such as post a message on a list serve alerting people to our site, or write a letter to the editor. These are people that want to do more than send an e-postcard. I want to let them know about my diary in Grist this week. I hope this will help personalize their experience with us, and help them get a glimpse of what’s on the other end of every email that they receive from us.
Friday, 18 May 2001
It has been a great week, and I appreciate having the opportunity to write for Grist. Consolidating my thoughts each morning and writing my daily journal entry has been a good exercise. It’s helped me to focus on my priorities and bring clarity to my work. After all, if I can’t explain what I do and why I do it, how will I ever succeed in motivating others to be concerned and active in the fight to reduce nuclear weapons?
Today I need to give some thought to the logistics behind the June mobilization. Delivering tens of thousands of email messages will be challenging, and I haven’t yet wrapped my brain around how to do it. For example, how many email messages can we fit on one page? Can we reduce the cost (and the amount of paper) by printing them front-to-back? Do we want to bind each packet by state, and if so, how much will this cost? Do we have enough people to deliver all 100 packets (one for each Senator)? Do we need to bring hand trucks to help us deliver these? I have a meeting next week to map it all out. But for now, I need to think through each step and research the costs.
We’re also looking at running a banner ad on a variety of different websites during the coming month. Just because you build a website, it doesn’t mean they will come. We are investing in online marketing to help draw people to our site. Following on the heels of Bush’s new nuclear policy and the confirmation of John Bolton to the top arms-control position in the government, we are using online marketing to capitalize on all the press coverage of this issue.
Online marketing is a whole new world to me, one which I find very interesting. Last year, we recruited tens of thousands of people to join our campaign from an ad we ran with Juno Online Services. In early October, when Juno email users checked their email, a DontBlowIt.org ad appeared, asking people to send e-postcards to Al Gore and George W. Bush to reduce nuclear weapons. We purchased over 250,000 ad impressions, which resulted in over 17,000 Juno users joining the DontBlowIt.org campaign — a response rate of nearly 8 percent. In comparison to the extremely low response rates generated by nonprofits’ direct-mail campaigns, this response rate is phenomenal. However, the jury is still out on whether or not the people we recruit through online marketing will stay active for the long term. This, in part, depends on how well we can engage them over time.
My work will continue to remain pretty busy throughout the summer. After the national mobilization in June, the Pentagon has scheduled another missile defense test. Sometime between the end of June and early July, it will test a single dummy target warhead with a single decoy, using a surrogate booster rocket for the interceptor missile. It would be one thing if the system worked. But to date, there have not been any successful tests of the full missile defense system. Imagine the enormous technical challenges the Pentagon faces. It’s like attempting to hit a bullet with another bullet! We’ll keep our fingers crossed that this test will fail again. It’s just more ammunition we can use to illustrate why National Missile Defense is a flawed system.
Before I close, I want to take a moment and tell you about TechRocks, the fantastic organization that I work for. TechRocks is the only national “dot org” that works in partnership with progressive, citizen-based nonprofit organizations to transform organizing and activism through the strategic deployment of Internet-based technology solutions. This past year, TechRocks worked with over 200 organizations to provide technology planning and assessment, and to help manage major Internet campaigns. TechRocks, partially funded by and a supporting organization to the Rockefeller Family Fund, is a leading social-change organization.
Thanks for sticking with me this week and learning about my work with TechRocks’ nuclear disarmament Internet campaign, www.DontBlowIt.org. For our kids’ future, help make nuclear weapons a thing of the past!