Politics 2.0 and Women Candidates

If the 2008 election showed women one thing, it’s "yes we can." Hillary Clinton’s dynamic run for the presidency has forever opened doors for women seeking higher office. But there’s still much to be done. Even after all of our years of progress, we still gained very little in Congress this year and, in government nationally, women still hold a small percentage of elected offices. Moving forward, the ’08 campaigns proved that in order to compete and win all candidates will need to embrace the power of the Internet.

As we move toward more models of small donors and mass collaboration in campaigns and governance, we need a new framework that encompasses both the top-down and the bottom-up, as we saw with the Obama campaign and my.barackobama.com. It’s not just about message control; it’s about embracing constituents and energizing voters. And it’s about reaching out online and pounding the pavement offline.

I’ve worked with women candidates and women’s political organizations now at local, statewide and national levels, and I’ve noticed a pervasive fear of moving online. What we need to communicate is that we’re not giving up on the tried and true fundraising schemas of major donors or message-driven content. We’re augmenting that by reaching out to younger generations and new constituent groups who want to be engaged but are more comfortable doing so via laptop or cell phone than at hand-shaking events.

Every campaign is different, as is every candidate, and with geography always a key factor in elections not all locales are ready for massive social networking endeavors. However, not taking advantage of the benefits of e-mail, websites, blogs, online invitation systems, Facebook and other existing tools of the web automatically puts candidates at a disadvantage.

Women candidates and organizations supporting women candidates need to understand that this is only the beginning of the Internet’s role in the political process. 2008 signaled a shift in how campaigning will work in the future. Politics 2.0 entails realizing that in future campaigns, the winners online will more often be the winners overall. As community activists, volunteers, supporters and participants in this process, we must encourage and assist women who run in every aspect we can if we are ever to shatter the glass ceiling and achieve equal representation in our government.

Sarah Granger directed Internet strategy and operations in Gary Hart’s 2004 presidential exploratory committee, launching the first blog by a politician. She’s Managing Director of FutureCampaigns and a Contributing Editor for techPresident and MOMocrats.

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  • Gloria Pan

    Campaigns and organizations may be afraid of getting online, but the fact is, all the people within those campaign and organizations are already online – they email and Google at the very least. Women, especially, are highly dependent on our computers and the Internet to juggle work, family, community and a myriad of other things, and women candidates and women’s political organizations, as individuals, are no exception. So why the hesitation? Part of it is resources, part of it is deeply entrenched organizational culture, part of it is constituencies who don’t like change – all hard things to get around, but it’s so important that they do. By embracing the Internet, they open the door to new supporters across generational, cultural and media divides that can help kick up a new wind behind them as they bang on the doors of Congress, a wind strong enough to push them through the doors and affect change.

  • Gloria–I wonder if part of the “hesitation” is also because you have to have communication skills to use online tools. On Twitter & FB, for instance, you have to know how to give and take, express yourself genuinely (or, sometimes, snarkily) in 140 characters or less, reach out without hard sell, remember details about people, and extend your “caring consciousness” to a huge group of people you’ve never met in person!!!! Women have been depending on these skills in their everyday lives as mothers, workers, students of the dominant culture…men do hierarchy, women do relationships…sure, it’s a generalization with many exceptions, but I think it holds, at least for my generation of BabyBoomers…

    Living online also helps disabled people get into the game, which is why I’m so happy that more feminists are getting online and into media…this is where I live…I worry, though, about women/girls who don’t have the communication tools so many of us have incorporated into our consciousness…how do girls who live in poverty get into the game?…I want to get them online and into the conversation. It’s critically important, imo, to include this population.

    Also, I want to take this opportunity to plug an organization that is working to bring multicultural girls/women into political process. Mable Yee of EngageHer is specifically targeting women/girls who right now don’t even vote. Yep, the stats are that a significant percentage of this population doesn’t vote. EngageHer is organizing a conference to be held in Northern CA, around April. I’m not a slated speaker, just someone who is concerned about the same population of women and girls.

  • Gloria Pan

    MadamaAmbi, you are absolutely right about the communications skills, and the word we’ve been skipping around is “control.” Before, organizational communications was very controlled – the message was massaged and shaped before being sent out. But effective online communications revolves around free give and take, and you can toss control out the window. Online communications is not about “this is what I’m telling you,” but “let’s talk and learn from each other.” And yes, women have depending on this kind of communication since the dawn of time.

    The other important issue you bring up is access, or the “digital divide.” The good news is that much of the Internet is moving to phones, which has a much lower economic threshold. If, in Japan (where the digital divide is not an issue), entire novels can be written and read by people on their cell phones as they do their daily 2-hour commutes, the way lies open for those in poverty to fully access the Internet through phones.

    And thanks for the heads-up about Engage Her – hope they hear about Fem2.0 and join us! It’s so exciting and inspiring that there is just so much excellent and important work being done right now by and for women.

    I’m so sad you won’t be joining us. We’re working hard to figure out how to live-stream it.

  • Thanks for bringing up the “c” work, Gloria. One of the many amazing things about the Obama campaign was the willingness to use the Internet in a truly 2.0 manner. Even now, we — or anyone with computer access — can participate in helping shape the country’s agenda. It is our fervent hope that the upcoming Fem 2.0 conference will help mainstream advocacy groups equally embrace these tools to teach and learn from their members and the many unidentified, non-members out there who are eager to participate in building a more fair and just society for women and families.

  • Teri Leavens

    Sarah, Gloria, MadamaAmbi and Suzanne, I agree with all you’ve said! Through reading about Obama and his relationship with the press, I sense Obama is not be a big fan of ‘traditional press.’ He understands the value of the internet and has has already instituted a blog on the White House website. Throughout his campaign, Obama compiled a database of supporters, 13 million email addresses strong, and it will be interesting to see how he will use this database compared to traditional media – it is mainly through the internet that he has gained such a large database. I think the media is increasingly growing fragmented and having a presence on the internet will be absolutely vital for any candidate here on out.