From Phil Agre's excellent RRE list: "People read here and elsewhere about digital civil liberties issues and they ask me "what can I do?". My answer is, "pick something". I tell them pick some a specific small issue, learn all about it, set up a Web page, make contact with others who are doing the same thing, make sure that their level of commitment is sustainable, and settle in for the long haul. The goal is to know more and last longer than the other side, spread information, make a nuisance of yourself, keep it on a low boil, don't get burned out, and the world will slowly catch up with you. A good example of this strategy is the following article: http://www.latimes.com/print/asection/20001228/t000123590.html It's about a retiree who has committed himself to the cause of public access to police records. Granted, this is a complex issue, one of those classic open-records-versus-privacy things, but one where there are plenty of clear-cut areas where the public ought to be able to get access to information that their tax money is paying to produce. Of course the cops call him a nut, complain that he's never satisfied, etc. But I'm sure he regards such comments as the rewards of the job. The importance of the advice to "pick something" is profound. When you first develop a concern with a political issue, your unconscious mind is telling you that you're all alone and that it's you against the whole world. Sure, you know about the ACLU. You read the news. But that doesn't affect your basic belief system. What affects your basic belief system is picking an issue and then making contact with the other people who have picked issues. Once you feel yourself part of a network, and once you feel the positive energy that flows in a network of like-minded issue advocates, then your belief system will sort itself out and you'll believe in democracy. The problem lies in the gap between your initial sense of existential isolation and your eventual hooking-up with the like-minded. I wonder how we can use the Internet to help people bridge that gap. What if everyone who calls the ACLU could get referred to a low-overhead online institution that suits them up for combat and wires them with a hard-bitten network of allies in one minute flat? Once the news spreads through the culture that such a thing is possible, lots more people will step forward.


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