query: cell phones and organizing
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Sat Nov 3 11:42:00 CST 2001
Thanks to Gene, Kelly, and Nathan for the interesting and
impassioned responses to Linda's cell phone query. A quick
thought from me at the end.]
From: Gene Allen <gallen at UNHS.ORG>
I find a cell phone to be absolutely necessary to stay in touch. With
my job I am often out on the road. It is the best way to stay in
touch with everyone. I even have voice mail on my cell phone, as
well as at work and home.
Do you see email as being pretentious? Probably not. It's the same
with cell phones. Communications technology is there for us to use
to its greatest potential.
Gene A. Allen
gallen at unhs.org
From: "Kelly Pierce" <kellyjosef at earthlink.net>
**The questions above seem focused on the appearance of cell
phones rather than any analysis of the technology. Yes, many
individuals are using cell phones, including many with low incomes.
In a growing number of urban areas, cell phone service, now called
wireless service because of the different technologies used in
addition to analog cellular technology, is cost competitive and
frequently less expensive than comparable wire line service. That
is the situation here in Chicago.
the writer suggests that cell phones are universally good or non-
important or a possible liability for the organizer. I question this
essentializing. With any technology basic questions should be
asked in deciding whether or not to use it. What problem will be
solved with the technology? Is the technology a solution for a
particular need? Like the questions asked by the writer, the focus
is often on the technology or the gadget rather than the personal
and organizational needs, problems, and challenges. When the
time is spent clarifying needs and defining problems, it often
becomes obvious what solutions, including technology-based ones,
might work best and why. It is also much easier later to evaluate
the effectiveness of the solution when the original issues are
reviewed and considered. There are a lot of technology-based
tools out there. Cell phones are one of them. Others include
Internet access, e-mail lists, organizational web pages/sites,
streaming audio/video, pagers, laptop computers, hand held
organizers/computers, and databases. It is important for each
organizer and organization to consider if a particular technology
would help with their work and if the cost of the technology is worth
the benefit that is expected. Might the resources be better used for
another project or activity?
One often overlooked aspect of cell phones is the efficiency factor.
Cell phones can be used to provide greater time efficiency and
increase productivity. Often this is not considered because an
organizer's time is often not thought of in dollar terms.
From: Nathan Henderson-James <caacornres at acorn.org>
Linda brings up an interesting question with the accessibility of
organizers and the technology of cell phones.
Our experiences here at California ACORN lead me to believe that
these devices, if not essential now, will be in very short order. The
simple fact is that they allow organizers to be more flexible and
responsive and are important logistical tools for organizing large-
scale events and demonstrations. Randy's point about the Seattle
demonstration is instructive. On a smaller scale, cell phones were
invaluable for helping coordinate 250 ACORN members, 3 actions
and a march in May for our California ACORN Convention in
But cell phones can be useful beyond this important coordination
function. In September California ACORN, in conjunction with 3
coalition partners, got the state legislature to pass an important first
step in the fight against predatory lending. While not perfect, AB
489 outlaws the worst abuses and sets the stage for future efforts.
However, as you can imagine, this bill was fiercely opposed by the
industry, who spent money like it was going out of style in the run-
up to the vote. Despite a solid Sacramento lobbying effort from us
and our coalition partners, it was clear that the only thing that was
going to move legislators in the Assembly was pressure from
constituents back in the district.
This requirement played to ACORN's strengths because of our
membership base in California's biggest metro areas, our
relationships with allies, and our door-to-door outreach model. It
became clear that this was going to take everything we had when
the Assembly sponsor of the bill, Carol Midgen (D-San Francisco)
could only count 12 votes out of a necessary 41 about 6 days
before the vote.
Many of these votes were from outside the districts where our
members live, so we needed to send field organizers into the
targeted districts, knock on doors and stop people at transit sites
and ask them to sing letters and petitions in support of the
But we also knew that the most effective thing to do on such short
notice was generate blizzards of calls into Sacramento and district
offices. So every organizer with a cell phone programmed in the
appropriate numbers and as people indicated their support for the
issue, we called the office and handed the person the phone. They
registered their support for the bill right then and there with the
Those offices with caller ID were getting annoyed, figuring it was
the same person calling again and again, but we insisted that they
start taking names and addresses and they realized that it was one
phone and many people. Over the 5 days that we used this
technique we generated over 500 calls, proving to be an essential
part of the larger field campaign for the bill.
The field campaign itself was a strong combination of media
events, placing op-eds, getting calls and letters from allies,
targeting strategic legislators, and mobilizing our own members; the
cell phone tactic but one of many.
What was exciting about this effort was watching the instant
feedback from the field work. The first night we had 12 votes. This
was a Thursday, with the vote tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
By 9 PM the next night, 24 hours later, the field work had generated
15 additional yesses, taking the count to 27. Over the weekend the
work didn't stop and by Monday night we could count 40 yesses.
The momentum stopped cold the next day, for it was September
11, and the country stood still. However the next day, the
legislature resumed business and we we able, in the last 2 minutes
of voting, to get the remaining yes!
Despite the tremendous resources of global capital, a group of
committed citizens organizations was able to beat them.
While not the full story of this victory, the cell phones played an
important role, and continue to be a feature in our campaign work,
as well as our day-to-day organizing. In fact, we are researching
new options to standardize the phones, reduce billing and possible
adopt Nextel's DirectConnect technology that gives you the ease of
two-way radios with the range of cell phones. (There were what was
used during the Seattle shindig.)
[ed: Kelly's response reminds me of my involvement with the early
days of the Internet (we're talking six years ago here). As we
began a project here in Ohio to develop a "community network"
linking community organizations thorugh this new technology I was
reminded by someone who had tried to do something similar even
earlier to "not let the technology drive the project." It was wise
advise. We did some participatory action research with the
organizations on their information uses and needs. Then, once we
knew what the groups had and needed, we looked at a variety of
ways to meet those needs, including use of the Internet. Part of the
goal was to get out ahead of the technology, trying to shape it to be
useful, rather than just profitable. It seems wireless
communications technology is in a similar state. ]
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