Emailing 101 for activists

This morning I got a phone call from an activist friend because her Internet service provider was not letting her send out emails to 200 addresses at a time from within her own personal email account.

Um, yeah they do that, because, as far as they are concerned you are spamming! They really don’t care if you have a coffee-stained form where folks printed out their address for you at that big rally in 2003. Oh, they might care, if you could just explain it to them — but that office is in India somewhere, and I don’t think it’s been staffed since 1999. Closed tight without a forwarding address, or a farewell wave or anything. AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, are notoriously unavailable for such issues. I doubt Cox or ATT, etc.  are much better.

Recently another Oklahoma activist got their email account completely shut off by a large ISP without warning for this very behavior. So that list of thousands of addresses is … who knows where? Maybe India? No, it wasn’t backed up locally — ever.


Look, thanks for your hard work on keeping people connected and informed,  organizing events for change, and sacrificing your personal life for the betterment of your community and world, but please be smart about it!

Any list of people (over say, 20 of your closest friends) that you send to regularly, should NOT be mailed to individually, not from your home computer with Outlook Express, not with your laptop using your Yahoo/Gmail account, etc. etc. Instead, you make a listserve, and send to the list’s email address, and everyone on that list gets the message and everybody’s happy — especially the business providing you with email service.

(I don’t want to get too technical here, but just because it’s quick and easy to send email, and it feels like it’s just freely flying off into the air towards its intended recipient, that “air” or bandwidth, is not free. Every typed character sent takes up room in that “air” and somebody pays for that.)

Fortunately, there are free listserv services available, notably Yahoo Groups and Google Groups. Riseup also provides free lists for progressive activists.  All of these also provide list owners the ability to download and store, in a safe location (i.e. on your hard drive AND a CD-ROM), the names and addresses of your group members. (By the way, your personal address book should also be backed up regularly.)

If you or your organization has a hosted account for your Web site, then chances are you have an install of Mailman or some other list manager available (check your control panel — in cPanel, for instance, look for “Mailing Lists” under the Mail section). This is a good option if you are concerned about privacy (but know that only operating your own highly secured server will really address all those concerns). If your host doesn’t have it available pre-installed, Mailman is a free download and can be installed on your account by your favorite techie.

There are also other means of mass communicating to folks for activists, and those options are expanding rapidly; I’ll write about some of those options later.