Hi-Tech Advocacy in Action
Thanks to cutting-edge technology, online advocacy campaigns are not only possible, but they can bring an issue located hundreds or thousands of miles away right to constituents’ backyard in ways that direct mail can’t.
The “I Love Mountains” campaign is a perfect example of this. A collaboration by local, state and regional organizations across Appalachia working together to end mountaintop removal, a type of coal mining where the tops of mountains are removed and mined for coal, I Love Mountains is operated through iLoveMountains.org, a site produced by Boone, N.C.-based environmental organization Appalachian Voices. It uses cutting-edge technology to inform and involve visitors in their efforts to save the mountains.
How does it do this? One of the coolest involvement features of the site is the pledge sign-up. When visitors fill in their name and contact information pledging to help stop mountaintop removal, they’re taken to a “personal impact page” that displays each person who has pledged as a dot on a map of the United States. A pledger can pass the word on to friends and invite them to pledge, and then their page will chart the number of friends that have been invited to support the campaign, and the number of friends their friends have invited. The personal impact page also shows the top 10 most active participants and the number of friends they’ve passed the word on to. These names link to each pledger’s personal impact page and, from there, connect to the personal impact pages of any of the friends they’ve invited.
“You can actually see the network of your influence spreading throughout the country,” Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of Appalachian Voices, says.
The site also includes an audio download of Willie Nelson singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”; two YouTube videos — which also are posted on Flickr — showing mountaintop removal in action and its environmental impact; and downloadable Google Earth maps and satellite images marking areas where mountaintop removal has occurred.
“We put a flag at half staff marking the locations of all the mountains that have been eliminated, and people can go and see them for themselves and read stories of the mountains, and they can even submit their own stories,” Hitt says. “So it’s this online, interactive memorial.”
The Google Earth technology probably is the most helpful in the campaign’s effort to put the issue into perspective for visitors because of the scale of mountaintop removal, Hitt says. The only other way to show its effects to people is by taking supporters in an airplane, but that’s cost prohibitive and wouldn’t allow the message to reach nearly as many people.
Hitt says, at its simplest, the goal of the campaign is to spread the word about mountaintop removal, with the hope that this will round up supporters who eventually will take more action.
“People are much more inclined to sign up to help spread the word or to receive more information than they are to write to their congress person,” she says. “And so part of the concept of it is, ultimately, to stop mountaintop removal we’re going to have to pass legislation at the federal level, and that is going to require a very strong network of people from all over the country to do that. So we’re building that network of people.”
Online advocacy campaigns involve an upfront technical investment, and Hitt says they’re no substitute for on-the-ground organizing. But it’s worth it, she says, in that online advocacy raises the profile of an issue and offers another way to engage constituents.
For more information or to contact Mary Anne Hitt, visit www.ilovemountains.org