If you are a progressive or liberal and you are on Twitter, then you now it’s almost impossible to ignore the onslaught of “UniteBlue” accounts. In case you are wondering, UniteBlue is a hashtag, website, and Twitter account that is essentially designed to “unite” progressives on Twitter into one portal.
The hope/goal of UniteBlue is apparently to identify various progressives online and give them a place to talk, co-exist and eventually grow into a movement. It’s exact intentions remain unclear and it has spawned various criticisms, complaints, questions and even conspiracy theories.
If you “join” UniteBlue, your Twitter gets a cool little logo (in Twitter lexicon a “ribbon”) that gets placed on your avatar to signify that you are part of the group. The ribbon is what really helps other UniteBlue members find you and thus follow your account. This has also been a result of minor controversies as some users have claimed to be inundated with new followers and replies to posts.
Part of the “fun” of getting a UniteBlue account appears to be within the fact that once you do it, your followers grow exponentially. For some, myself included; the amount of followers you have is equivalent to measuring the strength of your social media voice. But followers, unfortunately, doesn’t always equal a movement nor does it actually give you power. Still, UniteBlue appears to owe much of its following to the fact that many progressives now know of each other’s existence.
The so-called leader/inventor of UniteBlue is Zach Green. Green, who recently had a fairly heated discussion with the unrelated Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee about UniteBlue’s goals, has long stated that one of the main (if not the main goal) of the group is to “help turn red states blue”. In fact, Zach Green recently linked to a new post onto the UniteBlue site about how they plan on accomplishing these goals.
Now, I’m not a prominent Twitter voice and while my blog audience slowly grows, it’s still nowhere close to any of the top places to go in the vast, progressive blogosphere. Still, one of the reasons I do not join groups such as UniteBlue is the lack of exact planning that goes with it.
The main plan that UniteBlue has in turning “red states blue” is the fact that they will allegedly let you know what’s going on in your own backyard. The good news is that they will “go national” with controversial local issues when can admittedly change legislation if it becomes a big enough story.
But how is that going to turn a red state blue? Ask yourself this question. If you are in a district represented by a Democrat and they vote for a legislation that’s against your exact political beliefs, will you consider voting for a Republican? Of course not, to many of these districts the idea of voting for a Democrat just simply will not happen.
One of UniteBlue’s ideas is this:
Pretend you are interested in women’s health and reproductive rights. Hopefully you actually are. Every time your state legislature brings up a bill about reproductive health you will receive an alert. Your State Coordinator can bring together a group of interested parties. Everyone can then tweet, fax, call, or email their representative and sway their vote.
Local representatives serve their district only and unfortunately with “national” campaigns such as this is that it turns races national. That’s usually not a great idea unfortunately as then locals may get rather upset that “outside groups” (and UniteBlue, if they hold true to their word will be just that) are trying to interfere with their local issues. Think of how you feel when SuperPACs air raid your television sets.
My main argument for people who are enthralled with the idea of UniteBlue is to get involved with your local political Democratic club. Here’s another UniteBlue quote that showcase one of the group’s weak points.
Working with other national and local progressive organizations is a key part of UniteBlue’s mission. We want to put our resources into the hands of activists on the Left at every level. UniteBlue members can use the contacts and information we help them gather to enhance their work with other groups. Most of these groups don’t have their own Twitter resources on the scale of UniteBlue. We can help them grow their followers and add our voices behind their actions.
There is a reason why many of these groups have less Twitter resources than UniteBlue and that’s because they are again, local offices for Democrats. UniteBlue is a Twitter machine, yes, but they are a national organization while say, “Orange County Democrats” focus solely on issues in that county.
UniteBlue, as good as their intentions are probably, serves as nothing but a middleman between you and the issues that go on in your own backyard. If you truly want to make an impact you must cut out the middleman and do your own activism. Phonebank, volunteer, fundraise, donate money straight to your own state Democratic Party.
Another topic that many, not just UniteBlue unfortunately, do not fully understand is that of gerrymandering; the so-called redistricting of areas to make them favor one political party.
No longer will Republicans be able to sneak through bills to restrict reproductive health choices or gerrymander districts quietly without anyone noticing. You will notice. You will alert the public. You will change the course of legislation.
Gerrymandering does not work as a campaign issue. It’s not really understood by the general public and unfortunately, the general public will not want to be educated on topics such as redistricting. It’s far too politically wonkish and remember, you are dealing with voters who do not really care about politics other than a select issue or two.
Also unfortunately your tweets will likely not change the course of legislation when it comes to gerrymandering. If the Republicans have the General Assembly and the Governor’s Mansion then you aren’t going to stop it.
The best way to combat this stuff is to not go national with issues but go local with them. Yes, Tip O’Neill was correct in suggesting that “all politics are local” and UniteBlue seems to be focused on making localized areas the subject of national focus; which will usually not work when there is always an election coming up.
But I’m not here to simply be a Debbie Downer, I hope to offer some solutions for you. I’m not calling out UniteBlue as much as I am pointing out the flaws of it and how you can actually contribute a difference to your races.
First, you have to focus on the races that “we” can win. If you want to start a movement, you have to pick your battles before you can launch a wave. I have the same end goal as UniteBlue (I like to assume at least) with my “Taking Back The House” series which highlights vulnerable Republicans whose seats could give us back the House.
The reason I conclude every post with various links of Twitter accounts and a request for you to donate to the local state Democratic Party is to actually get you close to the action. That’s the point, not to serve as a middleman when you can do this all yourself.
For a website that claims to be “empowering the Left”, it seems more that UniteBlue serves as a front to “make the Left feel good by having more followers”. I think it creates more separation between people and politics as opposed to doing just the opposite.
But another thing you can do is what I said earlier, get involved with your local politics and don’t always try to nationalize problems that can be best solved by intense local activism. Unfortunately, the 2014 midterms will have a depressed turnout compared to the 2012 election because it is not a Presidential election. Plenty of voters do not care about their local State Senator and by tweeting a hashtag you will not make them care anymore.
Instead, you can change this by fundraising to local parties/groups or knocking on doors and putting up signs. The old fashioned way serves better in this regard than the “tekkie” way. That’s not to say there isn’t advantages to the online world, but it’s simply dealing with history and it’s going to be nearly impossible to rewrite that.
You want to avoid GOP gerrymandering? Vote in your local elections ranging from school board to State Senator, that’s how you get maps to start swinging into “our” favor.
But always think before you join a group, is it worth getting new followers or is it more important to broadcast a message to a few?