Britain’s Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011

The Netroots UK conference has been a huge success. The ethos of the 570 delegates has been one of learning from each other but single-mindedness about the challenge ahead.

By any measure, today’s Netroots UK conference in central London has been a huge success. On the first weekend in January, over 570 activists with a range of skills, passions, and ideas have come together to collaborate and agitate. The ethos of the day has been one of learning from each other but single-mindedness about the challenge ahead.

It is worth reflecting on the key events that have led to this first, mass gathering of Britain’s online progressive grassroots community. Over the last five years a series of new technologies has increased the ability of activists to share information and organise. As Johann Hari outlined in a session this afternoon, the old campaigning model of marches and petitions is breaking down with online tools aiding a series of new campaigns. Just in the last year:

38 degrees have grown to 300,000 members raising funds from its membership to take out adverts in several national newspapers against George Osborne’s tax avoidance, place ironic ‘For Sale’ signs around the country on the forestry land that the Government is seeking to sell, and will – in the next few weeks – facilitate 200 local meetings on the government’s plans to dismantle the NHS;

Hope Not Hate has grown from 6,000 online supporters to 150,000 who mobilised to push back the BNP all around the country;

• The Robin Hood Tax campaign attracted 230,000 fans on facebook and is building up pressure on in the European Union for a transaction tax;

False Economy is capturing stories and testimony about the impact of the cuts to individual families and communities;

• Left-wing blogs have made great strides and arguably overtaken the right with a wealth of information and debate taking place outside the mainstream media;

• Rod Liddle was prevented from becoming editor of the Independent due to grassroots pressure;

• Trade Unions are catching up with, for example, CWU organising an active online campaign against post privatisation and, as mentioned by Tom Watson this afternoon, Unison is experimenting with online branches;

• The UK Uncut movement has organically grown (aided and abetted by Twitter) with activity in over 50 towns and cities on a single day before Christmas to get across the message about tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax justice;

• And, of course, the student protests and occupations at the end of last year were largely organised using social media and text messaging.

The right are clearly rattled with their bloggers and tweeters criticising today’s conference throughout the day. Sam Coates, the thoughtful Head of Digital Media at the Conservative party, even came along and told me that it was a “chaotically brilliant” event. But today has not been a celebration of the left’s advances online, it has been a call to arms for online tools to enable offline protest and articulate a different approach.

The first session of the day outlined the full impact of how the unfair and unnecessary cuts will destroy public services and affect people right across society (and especially women). Meanwhile, higher education budgets are being slashed while tuition fees treble; the NHS is being dismantled without any electoral mandate; the planet carries on burning; and poverty continues to rise at home and abroad.

All the energy and ideas generated by today’s conference will mean precisely nothing unless the activity can be transferred offline and used to put roadblocks in front of the coalition. The days multitude of workshops and panels looked at the means to do this. Delegates discussed how to raise funds for their campaigns, how to persuade the media to cover what they’re doing, how to engage politicians and get them to push for legislative solutions, how video can be used to enhance and enforce a campaign message, and how to generate local action.

Five years ago, Netroots Nation in the United States inspired a generation to organise online and campaign offline against the greed, human rights abuses, and economic folly of the Bush administration – ultimately resulting in the election of Barack Obama. In a video message at the start of the day, top US blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos urged delegates to mobilise against greedy corporations, the bankers who caused the financial crash, and the right-wing media. We must never forget that blogs and twitter are amazing tools that help spread information but they don’t by themselves change the world. Click-tivism must become activism.

So if 2010 was the year that the left overtook the right online, 2011 must become the year that the left uses the web to beat the right offline.

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34 Responses to “Britain’s Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011”

  1. Kevin Peel

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  2. RaidingTheParks

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  3. Sunder Katwala

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  4. Jose Aguiar

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  5. The Third Estate

    http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" Bolllocks to that!

  6. Jacob Bard-Rosenberg

    http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" Bolllocks to that!

  7. Old Holborn

    RT @thethirdestate: http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" …

  8. Watching You

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  9. EJW

    RT @jbardrosenberg: http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" …

  10. G.Dawson

    RT @thethirdestate: http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" …

  11. Jacob

    Mr Straw, I feel it is a bit high and mighty for you to deem this the “first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community.” I’m not from any party or any organisation that I’m going to push, but let us be clear that people have been doing mass grassroots activism for a very long time. Just look at the history of Climate Camp. Needless to say their national grassroots mobilisations are both larger and more effective than what you are describing. Indeed, if I had seen you at a single planning meeting for any of the mass progressive grassroots actions that have taken place in the last year, never mind the last decade, I’d be less inclined to take a pop at you over this, but given you seem to be broadly uninvolved I suggest you go look what’s out there and try to collaborate rather than deeming this to be something totally new.

  12. Jacob Richardson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  13. Get Labour Out

    RT @thethirdestate: http://bit.ly/gLBsPE Will Straw: #netrootsuk is "first mass gathering of Britain’s progressive grassroots community" …

  14. Protestwatch.org.uk

    #Protest Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011: By any measure, today's Netr… http://bit.ly/eZSdmw

  15. Jim Yongton

    Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest …: Britain's Netroots must turn online activ… http://bit.ly/eZSdmw

  16. Rowena Harding

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  17. Protestwatch.org.uk

    #Protest Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011: By any measure, today's Netr… http://bit.ly/dZRdop

  18. Tb

    Sounds like you’re preaching to the converted, eg 38 degrees, appeared with multiple accounts on forums I read, spammed it and left without entering discussion outside of the sock puppets they created. When the same posts appear in the same order from ‘new posters’ I’m not thinking grass roots I’m thinking AstroTurf.

  19. hilary gavin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain’s Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 http://bit.ly/hDJH4R Hmmmm, interesting

  20. william

    570 activists might like to spend some future time in developing policies that appeal to the English voter. We will need 2 million more votes next time to have any chance of winning. It is as simple as that:how about a positive approach rather than the barrage of negativity,it’s ‘unfair’,’unnecessary’,’women’,’public service cuts’,and the deficit was not our fault.

  21. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain’s Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 http://bit.ly/hDJH4R

  22. Hector Rafael

    Britain's Netroots must turn <b>online</b> activity into offline protest in 2011 http://goo.gl/fb/7uQAh

  23. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  24. DisabledPeople

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain's Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 argues @wdjstraw http://bit.ly/i6vTqO

  25. The Best of the Web » The Vibe

    […] demonstrated the larger role that new technology will play in British politics; Total Politics and Left Foot Forward offered different assessments of the event. Finally, a dose of psychology, with the finding that […]

  26. Richard Pope

    Offline vs Online is a bit simplistic. These days they blend together, people move seamlessly between various states of connectivity and interaction.

    More important is for orgs like 38 degrees to work out how they move from just being large collections of email addresses / predominantly top-down into empowering people and building genuine communities who can protest online/offline and all the bits inbetween.

  27. Will Straw

    Jacob – You raise a very fair point. That sentence was poorly drafted and should have included the word ‘online’ which i’ve now added. I think it is fair to call yesterday’s conference the “first, mass gathering of Britain’s online progressive grassroots community.” But I’d be pleased to know about any other event that came before it.

    William – Many of the delegates at yesterday’s conference have ideas about alternatives to the policy agenda of this coalition. That’s why I wrote about “a call to arms for online tools to enable offline protest and articulate a different approach.”

  28. Twitter’s WikiLeaks Subpoena, Government Talk of Online distinctiveness Lead News |

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  29. We have to embrace our differences when opposing cuts | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Will Straw on the growth and future challenges of the netroots movement. […]

  30. kieronam » Online activism is useless if it doesn’t lead to real-world action

    […] the very final remark of the day (and later in his blog), Will Straw said that all the ideas and energy generated by the conference would be mean precisely […]

  31. Netroots 1.5 « Though Cowards Flinch

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  32. Online activism and engagement can work locally too | Left Foot Forward

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  33. Charlie Holden

    RT @leftfootfwd: Britain’s Netroots must turn online activity into offline protest in 2011 http://bit.ly/hDJH4R

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