Tens of thousands of Americans joined the voter rolls May 8 as Internet activists moved off their computers and onto the streets. MoveOn.org joined with a coalition of grassroots groups to mobilize 7,500 people to knock on doors to register voters. The same afternoon, 1,000 phone-banking parties generated more than 300,000 calls to swing state voters. Organizers called this a “staggering and wholly unprecedented feat.”

According to MoveOn.org, in Philadelphia, a huge crowd gathered to see speakers before fanning out across the city to register voters. From Seattle, Wash., to Lewiston, Maine, and 90 cities in between – including sites in all 17 of the key “battleground” states – MoveOn members talked to neighbors and registered voters.

Organizers say they plan to build a field campaign that will help MoveOn members across the country register and mobilize voters every day between now and Nov. 2. They cite studies showing that person-to-person contact is much more important in convincing someone to vote than advertising.

In an Internet message after the event, a participant in Philadelphia reported his experience: “A woman sitting with her two sons in a barber shop wasn’t interested in registering,” he wrote. “I talked about her sons’ future, the policies that affected their education, their potential military service when they get older. Nothing worked. Then the barber got on her. ‘Why aren’t you registered? What’s wrong with you? This is our community!’ That did it. She registered and promised to vote. Biggest success.”

The event’s organizers say that it’s good news for democracy that after decades of TV-driven campaigning, “people are beginning to talk to each other again about the issues that affect us all.” They conclude, “the power of our time and energy really is greater than Bush’s hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org.