I was recently the subject of a front-page profile in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the nation’s major daily. I’ve reproduced the entire article below, which focuses on my work at the Obama campaign and my interest in promoting digital activism around the world. I also like the title a lot. They really got my number!
Obama campaigner spreads the digital word
By John Nery
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: July 29, 2009
MANILA, Philippines—She helped run Barack Obama’s campaign in cyberspace but never got to meet the man up close. She also passed up a chance to work for America’s first black president at the White House, choosing instead to resume a job that inspired her most: Promoting “digital activism” in developing countries.
On the day the Democratic candidate for US president visited his New Media campaign headquarters in Chicago last year, Mary Joyce was not in the office—“because the bus was late!”
But the 27-year-old managed to catch the bus that mattered: the one that rode into history.
Joyce volunteered to join the digital side of the Obama presidential campaign in June 2008, as a summer intern from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A month into the job, she became a full-time staff member.
From July to November that year, she called the shots as operations manager of what she considered “the biggest digital activism campaign in the world.”
Joyce shared her experiences in Manila last week as a speaker in forums organized by Computer Professionals Union (CPU). Taking notes among her audience were political operatives preparing for the 2010 elections.
She could have stayed with the Obama camp following its victory. But when asked last year if she wanted to work in the new administration, she declined.
“What I really care about is digital activism, particularly in developing countries or where the political system is still in some way open and changing, where people are still trying to create more transparent and accountable government,” she said.
“That’s what I find really inspiring,” Joyce told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the sidelines of the forum held at Sofitel Hotel.
“When I was being offered a job, they asked me, ‘what do you want to do after the campaign?’ And I said, ‘go back to DigiActive (a group she co-founded February 2008).’ They thought that was kind of cute, because I didn’t want to work in the White House!” she said.
“I never even made an application. I always knew that I wanted to come back to doing the work that I’m doing now.”
Established four months before Joyce joined the Obama campaign, DigiActive is an “online organization” dedicated to the spread of the digital gospel.
“We’re all volunteers,” she explained. “We’re basically people from around the world that are drawn together by a mission, which is to help activists around the world use digital tools.”
“Most of what we do is not specific to any particular country, but it’s collecting examples from around the world, analyzing and publishing them on our site.”
Twitter, Facebook activism
On www.digiactive.com, Joyce and company have published “The DigiActive Guide to Twitter for Activism” and “The DigiActive Guide to Facebook for Activism” in easy-to-download PDF files.
Joyce attributed part of the success of the Obama campaign to its ability to connect old media, such as television and newspapers, with the new media, such as blogs and mobile phones.
Like the Obama machinery as a whole, the digital side that Joyce ran during the crucial, general elections phase of the campaign broke many records.
It raised over half a billion dollars in funds, much of it from small donors. It networked with over 6 million “supporters” on Facebook, it deployed e-mail to millions of recipients, and used websites to “fight the smears” in real time.
9/11 a turning point
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States were a turning point for Joyce as a digital activist.
“I was already interested in activism and politics” even before the terrorist strike, she later said in an e-mail. “When 9-11 occurred, it made me more interested in international affairs, (particularly in) the politics of the Middle East.”
“I also became very interested in democracy in this region because one theory at the time was that political repression fostered terrorism, whereas people whose rights were respected and had a political voice in their society would be less likely to seek power through extremism,” she added.
In 2005, on a Fulbright grant, she served as a program assistant at the National Democratic Institute in Rabat, Morocco, dealing with activists in political NGOs.
“I was interested in activism and politics in [the] developing world, and then I kinda changed into the digital side of things because I wanted to have a website… that would link democracy activists in different countries to one another,” she said.
Soon she was sharing lessons with other activists in different countries through a site called demologue.com.
Keep engine running
Joyce founded DigiActive.org while still at Harvard. She campaigned full-time for Bill Bradley when he ran for president in 1999; she voted loyally for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Her initial task as an Obama campaign volunteer was to assist then New Media director Joe Rospars and deputy director Macon Phillips in running the unit’s daily operations.
(After Obama’s victory, Rospars, a founder of Blue State Digital, moved back to political consulting. Phillips joined the administration as White House director of new media, with the rank of special presidential assistant.)
As operations manager, Joyce managed daily strategy meetings, “making sure the wheels were spinning, so that the engine can run.”
Her responsibilities expanded to include the budget, travel arrangements, “connections between field and campaign,” specific staff problems, health insurance.
In the last few days of the campaign, Joyce moved to Pennsylvania in response to the need for more field workers in swing states to get out the vote.
‘This isn’t going to happen’
She could still recall the loads of supplies she personally managed on election day: 5,000 yard signs, 200 cases of water for people waiting in line to vote, 30,000 brochures about Obama.
Later on election night, Joyce and fellow staff members crammed a hall while waiting for the results on a big-screen TV. “I think it was about 10 o’clock that night (when) they announced that Obama had won.”
The place erupted in cheer, yet somehow the announcement left her stunned. “We had worked and worked and worked, and yet there was some part of us that said, ‘this isn’t going to happen.’”
“And then it happened,” Joyce recalled. “And I was just sitting there. And I felt, you know, even if I don’t do anything else with my life, I’ve been a part of history.”
Aside from her work with DigiActive, Joyce is also principal of ZapBoom, a political consultancy. Her curriculum vitae can be found at zapboom.com.