In David Karpf’s 2009 book The MoveOn Effect, Karpf addresses a shift in democratic engagement that is illustrated by the rise of MoveOn. MoveOn is a large progressive interest group that was started as a petition for Congress to “move on” from the Bill Clinton impeachment charges. MoveOn chronicles the rise of interest groups that are requiring less investment in time and resources. In fact, MoveOn defines membership as simply a person who receives their emails. Karpf also talks about “armchair activism,” a notion similar to “slack-tivism” which embodies the idea that people can support causes through Facebook “likes” and donating money online without actually doing anything to alleviate the problem. Furthermore, Karpf discusses this new “passive democratic engagement,” as people are passively tuning into politics without actually informing themselves and becoming involved and knowledge about what is actually going on in government.

I think this notion of “passive democratic engagement” is interesting, because while it sounds so opposite from what we imagine democracy should be, it mirrors how the internet generation is doing just about everything else – passively. In today’s society, people are becoming less and less actively involved in everything. From online shopping to skipping the newspaper in favor of free news websites, to watching church sermons online instead of getting out of bed every Sunday morning, people are becoming less actively involved in many aspects.

Anything that requires less investment is going to bring about less engagement. In MoveOn’s case this may not be a bad thing. As long as their readership/membership stays at such a large level, a good amount of people are being exposed to their material. For democracy as a whole, I do not think we should put so much focus on being totally engaged in everything that is going on in the political world. That would be a very stressful and time-consuming endeavor. It is okay that we do not know the ins and outs of President Obama’s immigration executive order and every other piece of legislation that has went through Congress and the General Assembly this year.

Habermas put a lot of emphasis on the public sphere where everyone gets together to discuss ideas and comes out with the best option, but in today’s fast-paced world, that simply will not happen. Most Americans would not take time out of their day to look into issues that they are interested in, much less issues that do not impact them as much. This is where organizations like MoveOn come in. They have the power to expose their readers to issues that are being discussed and from there, the reader can decide how much time and effort they want to put into researching and forming an opinion on the topic. Or maybe they will simply trust MoveOn’s message if their beliefs tend to coincide with MoveOn’s platform/ideological tendencies. Maybe “passive democratic engagement” isn’t so bad.

David Karpt. The Move On Effect. 2009

Jurgen Habermas. (1991). “The Public Sphere.” In Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds. Rethinking Popular Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


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