Click on Democracy: The Internet's Power to Change Political Apathy into Civic Action, by Steve Davis, Larry Elin and Grant Reeher. Westview Press, Boulder, CO. (2002).
Three professors at Syracuse University, with the help of graduate students, tracked the growth of the Internet as a political tool. The first phase of online political activism is to build a network or community of like-minded individuals; the second phase is to engage and raise money from the community, and the third phase is to generate votes, either by participating in get-out-the-vote efforts or using the information gained from the community to convince others.
One of the book's most powerful examples of the Internet's ability to empower individuals is 80-20, initially a "virtual" PAC begun in 1997 by six individuals to work for equality, justice and greater representation of Asian-Americans in government and politics. Less than a year and a half later, by June, 1988, the group had an email list of 300 like-minded individuals, the vast majority of whom lived in California. Of those, about 50 attended a meeting in Foster City, CA in 1999, to form a real, face-to-face organization, 80-20. They raised $50,000 from 300 people (average contribution of $167) to pursue their vision.
Those 50 people also merged their email lists of Asian-American friends, associates and colleagues, and them out short, substantive, emotional emails to as large a list of Asian Americans as possible on a semi-monthly basis. Opt-outs were quickly processed to avoid charges of spamming. Working with the Committee of 100, a prestigious civic organization of Asian-Americans, 80-20 grew astronomically.
By Nov. 2000, 80-20 had an email list of 300,000 valid Asian American email addresses. It had raised $400,000 from about 4,000 persons -- a donation rate of nearly 1.5%, much better than impersonal, snail mail.
The group endorsed Al Gore in the 2000 election. As a result, two out of three Asian-American votes went to Gore. Recognizing the political power of the Asian-American community, President Bush sought to woo the community by appointing two Asian-Americans to his cabinet. "The glass ceiling over Asian-Americans in the federal government has been shattered, thanks in no small part to the organizing power of the Internet," wrote S.B. Woo, co-founder of the 80-20 Initiative, a University of Delaware physicist and a former DE Lt. governor.
Other examples of the impact of online communities from the book:
* One individual said the Internet connected him to gay Republicans and emboldened him to come out because he realized he "was not alone."