P2P Book of the Week, Excerpt 2: Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, by Allison Fine

We’re pleased to present the second excerpt from Momentum today, following Ms. Fine’s introduction on Monday and the first excerpt on Tuesday.  Today, the author gives us a real-world example of how a small network came together to ignite social change.

Free Schuylkill River Park!
The Free Schuylkill River Coalition used e-mail advocacy, blogs, and constituent mail to:

·        Increase its list of supporters more than tenfold
·        Line up elected-official support at the local, state, and national levels
·        Increase participation at local rallies
·        Force a major railroad company to negotiate

In 2001 the good news was that a $14 million pedestrian pathway along Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River was finally close to completion. The bad news was that the CSX Railroad, one of the largest rail networks in the United States, was threatening to close existing track crossings that allowed users of Schuylkill River Park to reach the new path.

To the surprise of many, the powerful railroad company was forced to rethink its plans because a small band of residents used the Internet to organize dispersed constituents and elected officials into a dynamic force called the Free Schuylkill River Coalition.

Free E-Mail Advocacy Tools
For their first action, the residents launched an e-mail advocacy campaign to get people to e-mail the governor about their objects to the grade closings. To launch the e-mail advocacy campaign, they used a free e-mail advocacy service for grass-roots organizations called CitizenSpeak (http://www.citizenspeak.org). They created a CitizenSpeak account and filled out a form that asked for the text of the e-mail letter and the e-mail address of the governor. CitizenSpeak automatically generated a unique web address specific to their campaign. The coalition members e-mailed this link to the fifty members of the local neighborhood association that the association had e-mail addresses for.

The results were overwhelming. Over 150 people participated in the first week, thanks to a CitizenSpeak “Tell-a-Friend” feature, which allows participants to easily forward messages to their contacts. Using CitizenSpeak’s reporting functions, the coalition was able to download the 150 participants’ contact information. An overwhelming percentage of participants provided in their e-mails personal statements that helped refine the group’s issues. The additional demands were included in a second e-mail campaign, which netted a 30 percent increase in the group’s list of supporters, once again at zero cost.

The Blog
In the text of their e-mail advocacy letter, the coalition invited readers to link to their newly created blog (www.freetheriverpark.org.). The blog provided additional information about the campaign, including pictures of grade crossings in other cities that refuted CSX’s liability concerns.

To create its blog, the coalition used TypePad (www.typepad.com), a low-cost and easy-to-use hosted weblogging service that gives users a rich set of features for immediately sharing and publishing information. Users of TypePad can create photo albums, add text, invite and manage comments, add track backs, and monitor weblog statistics. No HTML skills are required.

Constituent Mail
To keep in regular contact with its growing constituency and to maintain high levels of interest and readiness to participate in actions, the Free Schuylkill River Coalition signed up for Constituent Mail (http://www.constituentmail.com)—an affordable and easy-to-use online e-mail management service that lets organizations maintain and segment a database of users for personalized, HTML e-mail communications with click-through and open-tracking capabilities.

The coalition used Constituent Mail to e-mail its list of supporters and invite them to attend the First Free Schuylkill River Park Presidents’ Day Rally. The e-mail directed visitors to the blog, where they could download flyers to promote the rally and learn more about the cause. Despite freezing temperatures, more than one hundred people turned out for the rally. Reporters were on hand from a radio station, three TV stations, and the Philadelphia Inquirer to help spread the word.

Campaign Outcomes
As a result of integrating various Internet tools with traditional organizing strategies, the Free Schuylkill River Coalition multiplied its list of supporters tenfold, averaged over forty hits on its website a day, totaled over four thousand hits on the blog’s photo album, and, most important, won a major concession from CSX. Despite the railroad company’s previous refusal to meet with the group or city officials, CSX agreed to negotiate with the city and to address the coalition’s concerns.

Website at http://afine.us.  Allison Fine: [email protected]
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