Freedom Writer - October 1994
Using computers to fight the right
Scores of groups formed to oppose the hard right's political agenda
are springing up across America. Some are small, sustained by one
or two people; others consist of coalitions with hundreds, even thousands
In time, the mobilization of these groups will mean the ultimate defeat
of the radical Religious Right. While many concerned citizens are
looking for a quick fix to defeat the hard right — IRS investigations,
congressional hearings, the courts, or negative national press — the
truth is that the downfall of the Religious Right will come through
grunt work at the local level. In other words, plain old-fashioned
activism and organizing in local communities.
Working hard, however, isn't always working smart. And while the use
of technology is no substitute for hard work, when used wisely, the
two can complement each another. With technology available to the
general population, activist groups are discovering the effectiveness
Today's activists employ computer technology in three primary areas
— at home, in the field, and in communication with others. With a
computer, printer, and the right software, organizations can greatly
increase their effectiveness.
Nowadays, news spreads at the speed of light, literally. It is important
for activists to keep up to date about important events and to be
able to communicate with other groups and activists. Computers enable
local groups to communicate with others across the country and around
the world. This is accomplished through modems, e-mail, bulletin board
services (BBS), and computer-generated faxes.
A modem is a device in your computer or attached to it that sends
and receives information over regular phone lines. E-mail (electronic
mail) services are provided by companies such as MCI, and online services
such as Compuserve or Delphi. With e-mail you can send an electronic
letter to anyone who subscribes to an online service. If their computer
is not on at the time you send a letter, it is stored in a centralized
“mail box” until the intended recipient retrieves it. You can also
receive mail in the same manner.
Modems are also used to send and receive fax transmissions and any
file stored on your computer's hard disk. Any document in your computer
can be faxed without having to print it out and feed it into a fax
Bulletin board services (BBS), allow computer users to “talk” with
one another, or to post information for the other members of the service.
Hundreds of BBSs, dealing with every subject and interest, exist.
The hard right uses BBSs both to communicate among its adherents,
and also to monitor groups they oppose. Of course, groups fighting
the radical right can join and monitor the opposition's bulletin boards.
The Internet, the so-called information superhighway, may be accessed
through any one of numerous online services.
Research is a key to successful activism. Local groups formed to challenge
the radical right should know the opposition. One way to do this is
to carefully monitor the letters to the editor in your local paper.
Make a database file of letter writers who support the religious
right's agenda. (Of course, when you see letters in support of what
your group stands for, contact these people to let them know of your
existence, and invite them to join.) Each file in your database should
note why the person is listed, and where to find a copy of their letter
to the editor, or other information, in your vertical files.
Sometimes radical right groups announce their meetings in the newspaper.
On the other hand, you can often find out about these meetings by
visiting local Christian bookstores. Many Christian bookstores have
bulletin boards for public notices. These interesting stores are a
good place to find announcements about up-coming meetings for groups
such as the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Citizens
for Excellence in Education, etc. Note the groups and individuals
you find listed on these bulletin boards, and then enter that information
in your databank.
Some researchers visit conservative Christian churches in order to
gather information. This is often an excellent, but overlooked source.
Activist church foyers often display literature from local and national
religious right organizations. Another way to gather information is
by joining local and national religious right groups. Just by getting
on their mailing lists, you will receive information about their activities
on a regular basis.
Compile every article you can find on the radical religious right.
Enter pertinent information from these articles into a database, and
note where to find the original article at a later date. Maintain
data on national figures as well as local activists.
You never know when the information in your files will save the day.
Perhaps a minister in your community decides to run for public office.
There is nothing wrong in itself about a minister running for office.
However, you run his name on your computer and find that his letters
to the editor have been published over the years. Next, you look in
his vertical file for these letters and find that three years ago
he advocated some extreme position. Now, you are equipped with information
the public should know about this candidate. (How you use the information
depends on how your group is organized. Non-profit organizations are
not allowed to oppose or endorse candidates.)
Perhaps your group is involved in voter identification and mobilization
— activities which are nearly impossible without computers. If you
know who supports your interests, and if you can get them out on election
day, you will win every battle. Remember, the war is going to be won
on the local level, community by community.
Generally, an organization's activities cover three broad areas: fundraising,
membership, and activism. Without funds there is no organization.
As income and expenditures must be carefully tracked, good bookkeeping
is essential. Computers are ideal for this task. A number of inexpensive
bookkeeping and accounting programs are well-suited for the small
Information about donors and members is easily organized using a simple
computerized database. The database should include basic information
such as addresses, phone numbers (include fax numbers and e-mail addresses),
member's interests, a record of donations, and a list of volunteers.
The data base is invaluable when the need arises to contact members
quickly. The program can print a list of mailing labels, or phone
numbers — and even dial them automatically.
Computers are also useful in securing operating capital. Grant money
for almost any cause is available on both the local and national level.
Grant seekers can keep track of foundation guidelines, deadlines,
and grant timelines with a computer. Time management programs are
excellent for managing grant proposals. Calendars and built-in timers
remind the user of upcoming deadlines, and pop-up notes are useful
for keeping pertinent information on each potential funder.
Sometimes activists get so caught up in the work that they don't take
time to raise the needed funds. While this is often a problem, it
should not be the norm. Using computers to stay on track in fundraising
may mean the difference between success and failure.
If your group publishes a newsletter (an excellent way to keep members
informed and interested), a computer is by far the best way to maintain
a mailing list and print labels. A database program can also track
membership and subscription expiration dates. If your group wants
to publish a newsletter, there is no better way to publish an attractive
newsletter than with a desktop-publishing program and a laser or inkjet
Finally, if you don't set goals for your group you probably won't
accomplish much. Time management programs, as mentioned above, can
help keep your short-term and long-term goals on track. Of course,
using a word processing program for all of your writing is much more
efficient than an electric typewriter.
For more information on specific computers, printers, and software,
check out computer magazines, catalogs, or visit your local computer
store. Magazines such as _Home_Office_Computing_ review computers
and programs, and list the current best-selling programs.
Computers may seem costly at first. But without them, no organization
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