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THE BODY POLITIC : Hackers of the World, Unite

Once, the only highways the American Communist Party seemed concerned with were the ones they blocked with peace protests. But these days the Communist Party is demonstrating on a new road--the information superhighway; as of this month, communism has gone on-line.

“With this technology, we can reach straight to the people and they can do the same back to us,” explains Evelina Alarcon, chairwoman for the party’s Southern California district, which, she says, has 1,000 members. “There is the ability to reach millions. The system is opening up so those of us on the left can get our message out. The access has not really been there for the people’s movement, and we’re going to have to fight for it, but more and more working-class people are getting involved in computers.”

The transition from hammer-and-sickle to mouse-and-floppy has been a quick one. According to Alarcon, planning began late last year for the Communist Party bulletin board on the Internet system that became available this month. Like any good multinational corporation, the party has also learned the art of teleconferencing, and recently conducted a 54-city town hall meeting with the theme “For Real Change Today and Socialism Tomorrow.” The intent is to bring the Communist message to more people in less time, but the move is also good public relations: It helps counter the impression that the party is a relic. Membership hasn’t moved much beyond 20,000 nationally over the past five years, but getting hip with a computer chip offers an image makeover that could lure new, younger activists.

“People don’t see us as Soviet plants anymore,” says Alarcon. “We’re getting a positive response, and already have hundreds of e-mail messages inquiring about our positions on issues.”

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And if this plan works, what’s next? A video game? “Sure,” jokes Alarcon. “We’ll call it ‘Class Struggle.’ ”


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