I’m off this weekend to attend the Righteous Indignation conference at Hebrew College. Dan asked me to present with him on online organizing, which is the bestest way ever to build a loyal friendship! When it’s my turn, I’ll talk about some of the things I love about the rise of online advocacy – the new ability of grassroots activists to grab hold of the steering wheel of social movements.

Hmm. Grab it away from who? Who are the leaders, if not the grassroots? How do things happen in the Jewish progressive world? Here’s a hint: the leaders are the social class that donates heavily during the primaries. The grassroots are the ones that ride on the bus to Iowa and New Hampshire when it’s freezing. We are younger, poorer and full of energy; they are older, wiser, and know how things work.

Not. The truth is, age is not a good marker. It’s more about the chain of influence. The insiders care what a famous political figure now running a Jewish nonprofit has to say. The grassroots just want to help Darfur. The insiders belong to the best synagogues, the better to network with. The grassroots can’t afford the dues. The grassroots have lots of opinions and enthusiasm. The insiders have meetings to decide who gets the grant.

And there you have it, grassroots: the grant makers up on the 23rd floor, making decisions about what groups should merge, who should die off, who should take off. Do they ask you? Are you significant in their calculations?

Yes and no. If you stay away from the oxygen sucking, tie wearing, PR savvy, self promoters that want to recruit you, they will probably die off or mutate. But if you get all enthusiastic, it feeds the beast and they raise more money on the basis of metrics you provide, just by showing up.

Personally, I’d rather have more power in the efforts I participate in. Ask me: do I approve? Can I vote for board members? Is there transparency about your strategic direction? The fresh scent of purity, having not allowed big donors to determine your agenda? Real data about impacts, on your website? If so, I like you. Where can I sign up?

Online organizing methods not only grant power to the grassroots, they take it away from the insiders – federation and foundation executives, congregational rabbis of large synagogues, Jewish Weekly columnists, Democratic donors and high priced, gateway consultants to the stars. Or rather, they could, if used properly. Used the wrong way, they create a false feeling of empowerment, the equivalent of astroturf for Avodah’niks.

C’mon fellow grasshoppers, let’s take the reins together. We know what we want, and we know – or should know – that being dependent on the wealthy is a recipe for being tamed. If the wealthy want to help – let them donate via credit card, and hit the anonymous checkbox if they want. I want their money, not their leadership, thank you very much.

Down with the gatekeepers – long live the grassroots!

PS: hey, progressive funders, I love you! Please don’t take this the wrong way. Do you need a consultant on online organizing by any chance?

Great article about the problems of the nonprofit industrial complex

Dan on Funding Revolution

How New Voices Got Silenced by Funders