By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For a moment, they peered at me in the sunlight. Then Blades said, “Oh, we have children, we haveto be home.” “We livein Berkeley,” Boyd put in. So it won’t be a problem? I asked. “No,” Boyd said, “we work from home. That’s the beauty of it.” Could they spare me 15 or 20 minutes either today or tomorrow to first ask them some questions here? Unfortunately that wouldn’t be possible, Boyd replied, but if I wanted to see them in Berkeley, I should contact Trevor FitzGibbon at Fenton Communications.
Fenton Communications . . . Fenton Communications . . . “Wait, I know Fenton Communications!” I thought to myself. I was reading something by David Fenton, its CEO, in a book titled MoveOn’s 50 Ways To Love Your Country just last night. A two-page introduction to a chapter called “The Many Faces of the Media.” The writing was dismal, though par for the course in corporate America. “This chapter contains tips from members on how they do all these activities,” went one sentence. “Today, the Right successfully dominates media outlets and thought itself,” went another. How many outlets? I wondered. Two, five, a hundred? Fenton wasn’t communicating.
A few days later, I called Trevor FitzGibbon as suggested. “Is this going to be a biased profile?” he asked.
The usual line about Boyd and Blades is that they look and sound like your standard-issue mom and dad. They’re normal people, living a normal life, who just happen to have lots of money and a remarkable knack for facilitating political action.
Standing outside their house on a lush residential street in North Berkeley, I take in the small front garden ablaze with flowers and notice a bright-blue plastic water gun lying on the porch: so far, so normal. Then the front door opens, and Joan Blades is saying hello and leading me into a large, airy living room with white walls, a pitched ceiling and handsome wooden beams, and from there into an adjoining dining room. A housekeeper works in the kitchen beyond. Blades, who has a slim, youthful figure, looks much younger and hipper at home than she did in D.C. She wears a formfitting Code Pink–Women for Peace long-sleeved shirt, a necklace of glass beads and faux pearls, and large, severe-looking glasses.
In the dining room, she sits me down at a plain wooden table and offers me a glass of water. I say yes to the glass of water, she brings it to me, and the interview is on, with no preliminary chitchat. I ask about her background, and she tells me that she was born in Berkeley but that Boyd was born in Alaska and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They met playing soccer 20 years ago. Her mother’s side of the family was originally from Denmark. Her father was a Democrat, and her mother a Republican. “I think things have polarized a great deal in the last decade,” she says, hinting, perhaps, that a successful Democrat-Republican marriage would be harder to pull off now than it was in her parents’ day.
“One of the things I love about MoveOn,” she continues, harking back to the organization’s origins, “is that the original MoveOn petition was one sentence that brought people across the political spectrum together: ‘Censure the president and move on to pressing issues facing the nation.’ You could be Republican, Libertarian, Democrat — people signed that petition because you could come together around that. It was the healthy, appropriate thing to do.”
Early in 2002, Boyd and Blades teamed up with a young peace campaigner named Eli Pariser, and with his help transformed MoveOn into one of the engines of the anti-war movement. In February 2003, MoveOn and another group, called Win Without War, organized a “Virtual March on Washington,” resulting in more than a million phone calls and faxes to the government protesting the war. Soon afterward the group was instrumental in setting up the “Vigil Around the World,” in which thousands of simultaneous anti-war candlelight demonstrations took place all over the globe.
Will MoveOn be organizing any protests for the Republican convention in New York? Apparently not. “We tend to step into vacuums,” she explains. “There was a vacuum of leadership on the issue of [Clinton’s] impeachment. No one was saying, Censure the guy. Tell him you did bad, but get back to work — that was our role. On Iraq, the administration was starting to talk about going to war, and no one was saying anything. One of the beauties of MoveOn is that if we see an opportunity to do something helpful, we can do it, and we can do it in short order. The “Vigil Around the World” was organized in less than a week. It just rolled around the world.”
“And you organized that?” I ask, amazed that an international display of anti-war sentiment and candle lighting could have been masterminded by a couple of private citizens in Berkeley.
“Mmm-hmm,” she says, so casually you’d think she was being asked if she’d remembered to pick up milk at the supermarket.
Looked at as a business venture, albeit a nonprofit one — Boyd and Blades don’t take a salary — MoveOn must be judged a stunning success, a testament to its founders’ entrepreneurial ingenuity. But there’s also the matter of their political vision, the enormous groundswell of liberal activism they have tapped into and begun to sculpt into a potent force. The group’s ability to raise money is extraordinary. In April this year, MoveOn managed to raise $750,000 simply by holding bake sales around the country. As Blades says, they may be the only bake sales ever to warrant an article in the Economist. MoveOn raised $3.2 million in the second quarter of this year alone.