Get FISA Right Update and Retrospective

By: Harry Waisbren

We’ve had some big headway on our latest initiatives lately. Our support for Senator Feingold’s reelection has blown past our latest goal of $2,500, and groups just like us stepping up have certainly helped him as he has closed the gap to make the race a dead heat. We also have now concluded what has turned into a unanimous vote to sign the IAC Letter, which I have taken the pleasure to officially sign us up for–and simultaneously reach out to help more as an organization.

Considering we are at transitionary points with these two initiatives, I thought now might be a good time for a look back to remind everyone about some of our history. Our crowdsource model can really make it difficult to keep track of everything going on at once amongst our group, especially considering that we are likewise talking with so many other groups. Anyways, here goes…

First things first, the Get FISA Right concept began June 26, 2008 with a post from Mardi. He created a new group on the Obama social network, My.BarackObama.com, asking then Senator Obama, Please Get FISA Right.

Mike Stark kicked off what would become a robust blogosphere discussion about civic engagement and if Obama will feel the sting of social networking through his stance on FISA. The members rallied behind signing an open letter to Obama, and as the number of group members skyrocketed to 22,000, in unprecedented fashion, he was compelled to respond.

The mainstream media picked up this story in a big way, and beltway insiders and tech luminaries alike recognized this social networking based engagement as a new style of democratic discourse. Despite not successfully convincing Obama to get FISA right, we did force the issue into the national discourse, and simultaneously provided a model exhibiting the power of social media-based political activism.

Initial leaders spreading the word & coordinating discussion included Dawn Teo, Ari Melber, Aviva Dancis, Chip Pitts, John Joseph Bachir, Carlo Scanella, Andy Famiglietti, Jon Pincus, and more. Despite Obama passing on getting FISA right, that strong base of support helped keep our momentum going to bring attention to FISA and civil liberties in other new and innovative ways.

From that base, the tactics we used developed quickly, and soon we were utilizing a crowdsource model to conceive and fund 30 second TV ads through SaysMe.TV, taking part in the Change.org/MySpace Ideas for Change, and making sure that our language was adopted as part of the Netroots Platform.

Our transition to the post-election environment was catalyzed even more during the 2009 Computers Freedom and Privacy conferences’ birds of a feather session: New Strategies to Fighting FISA & the Patriot Act. Afterwards, we began holding regular conference calls and online chats, in addition to calls specifically for bloggers, to coordinate online activism stemming from our Patriot Act Action Hub.

The conference calls and online chat model facilitated writing transcript style notes, and ‘key takeaways’ were further recorded from every meeting on this very blog. Such tactics have provided us with a meticulous documentation of the development of our strategy, and is a very useful resource for anyone looking to catch up to what we have been up to or that wants to go on a trip down memory lane.

The individuals and organizations taking part in these calls have changed with the legislative timeline and individuals’ personal capacity. Organizations participating include the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, FireDogLake.com, the Association for Research Libraries, etc. New Get FISA Right leaders emerged as well, including Mark Dorlester, Korkie Moore-Bruno, Thomas Nephew, Sally Jane, Jim Burrows, Amy Ringenbach, Talat Gilani Hamdani, and many more.

Despite changes to the members involved and the particulars of our tactics, our group’s core strategies have always stemmed from the recognition that social networks provide a unique opportunity to engage diverse audiences in which we can convince them to activate. The consistency of this message can best be measured by its similarity to the goals from 2009 Computers Freedom Privacy conference, where building a broad-based coalition, including students and migrant groups, was the #1 recommendation, to the 2010 edition.

In that vain, I gave a presentation at CFP during the Activism and Social Networking: Advocating for Privacy (scroll down and hit the designated panel tab for video) this summer on this very topic. In fact, we still have hopes to engage further in the online/offline tactics detailed by my fellow panelist, Shahid Buttar of the BORDC, through taking part in their inspiring local model legislation initiatives.

We have come a long way as a group, but as anyone following civil liberties debates over the last few years recognizes, we still have a long way to go. Even the turning points in our current initiatives represent but a shift, and there is certainly more work to be done on both making sure Feingold gets reelected, and to further help promote the IAC letter as well.

Nevertheless, I for one am extremely proud to have been a part of this group, and am very much looking forward to moving ahead with all of you!

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2 Responses to Get FISA Right Update and Retrospective

  1. [...] discussed the latest fantastic news about Feingold’s surge in the polls in my update and retrospective post, but I dare say it’s worth expanding upon as we up the ante in our fundraising campaign for [...]

  2. […] (Some of this history, including a famous open letter to Obama, was detailed in an October 2010 retrospective by Harry.)  Obama’s response to the open letter was to say “judge me by my […]

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