John is a new website started by a group of young Australians interested in
motivating their peers to defeat Howard and the Liberal party in the 2004
The founders of the site do not belong to any political
party, but are both deflated and outraged by the way Howard’s hardline
conservative politics are compromising Australian society, environment and
The site’s initiators were motivated by the
significance of the youth vote in Spain, and the recent success of grassroots
websites for fostering community action in the US. Given the increasing power of
viral electronic campaigns to influence change overseas, it seemed that the
‘connected’ lifestyles of young Australians and the culture of forwarding witty
emails could be put to good use.
The founders decided to target
uncommitted voters aged between 18 and 30. The goal was to engage an often
cynical or disinterested demographic in the upcoming elections. Recognising that
many people have turned from being political in the traditional sense, the
site’s designers set out for the website to acknowledge and accommodate this
‘We did not want to convert voters to discuss
Politics with a capital P; we wanted to motivate young people to discuss and
debate the socio-cultural issues that determine the society they live
Many young voters’ disinterest in politics is related to one or all
of the following three factors.
First, diminishing belief in the
rhetoric of the empty sound bite: ‘All politicians sound the same.’
Second, increasing cynicism towards the power of mainstream news
media to independently report politics: ‘It’s not news, it’s spin’.
Third, a sense of being overwhelmed by information overload and
the responsibility to make an informed decision: ‘Don’t know where to begin or
who to believe.’
Stuart Geddes, site designer and co-founder of Dear
John, said: ‘In designing Dear John, our idea was to keep clear of the language
of journalism or politics and avoid citing articles to back up our convictions.
Instead we chose to make it personal; we would let Howard know that it was time
the Australian people dumped him, it was time for a Dear John
The website has been designed, not simply to convert, but to
spread its message by engaging young voters to download and forward material
within their community. The site offers Dear John projects and invites people to
download t-shirt transfers, badges designs, screen savers, and forward letters
and animations to their friends. There is also a gallery space on the site to
showcase material they have created themselves.
The website’s main goal
is to inspire networked communities of young people to forward e-mails amongst
their friends and begin to talk about these issues amongst their peers.
The measure of success for Dear John will be when ‘dumping John’ does
not feel like a weighty political decision but an intuitive humanitarian
Since going live the website has received media interest from
newpapers like the Australian and the Financial Review. And on the
street – Mathan Ratinam, aged 27, talks about how ‘from the first day I wore my
Howard is Naughty t-shirt I have had strangers come up and ask where I
got it from. It is like the ultimate conversation starter’.
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