Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Patricia A. Adler

Second Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Third Advisor

Tom Mayer


I examine how the progressive organization uses the internet to organize citizens for both online and offline activism. The data are drawn from four years of online and offline participant observation in MoveOn, sixty interviews with members and staff, sixteen informal interviews with congressional office workers, five interviews with leaders of other online activist organizations, and hundreds of documents. This study connects MoveOn’s national-level strategic decision-making to the everyday realities of participation by MoveOn members, and contextualizes this within the media-driven contemporary American culture. First, I describe how MoveOn attempts to create a sense of community among members, and show how members react to these attempts. Next, I trace members’ paths to and through MoveOn, and explain how their participation affected their self-identities. Then, I reveal how members’ interpretations of MoveOn’s organizational identity are influenced by portrayals of MoveOn in the news and by the organization itself. Following this, I show how MoveOn’s strategy is fundamentally tied to the news cycle, and discuss how it stages and scripts its offline actions to maximize media attention. Finally, I investigate MoveOn’s effectiveness by focusing on its political advocacy, election work, message framing, and development of an online organizing model. I conclude by discussing how these empirical findings illuminate sociological understandings of the self, identity, community, media, and social movements.