- Activist with the Ruckus Society
- Worked as an undercover labor union organizer
- Creative director of MoveOn.org
Exley was born on December 5, 1969 and grew
up in West Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating from the
University of Massachusetts, he went through a training
program for radical union organizers run by the AFL-CIO
and then took a job with the United Auto Workers. “For seven
months, he worked undercover at a Michigan auto parts
factory,” wrote Los
Angeles Times reporter
Joseph Menn in May 2004. “The unionization effort there failed, but
Exley later used a team of infiltrators to successfully organize
large nursing homes in Minnesota.” He remained a covert union organizer
throughout much of the 1990s.
the world of organized labor in 1998 and took a job as a
full-time computer programmer, work
that left him bored and unfulfilled. While performing that work, however, he began to notice websites such as
were advancing leftist views with which he was in sympathy. Eager to
find an outlet where he, too, could give voice to his political
musings, Exley began to explore the availability of various domain names that might be suitable for such a forum. In December
1998 he discovered that GWBush.com
was unclaimed, and he purchased
rights to that address for $70. In conjunction with
his friends at the San Francisco look-alike-website builder RTMark
(whose principals were described
by the L.A.
activists and pranksters”), Exley turned GWBush.com
into the Internet's first
political parody website.
Mimicking the official
Internet site of Texas Governor (and soon-to-be Republican
presidential candidate) George W. Bush, GWBush.com
bizarre articles purportedly written by Mr. Bush himself, as well as images digitally doctored to depict the governor as a
drunkard and cocaine user. “It
was totally Beavis and Butt-head,” Exley later told the Austin
“just a couple of guys bored and coming up with a way to get a
phone call from the Bush people.”
When Bush lawyers threatened to sue Exley for using copyrighted photographs that he had digitally
lifted from the official Bush website, and when Bush angrily described
Exley as “a garbage man,” the resulting publicity brought six
million visitors to Exley's site and made the young programmer an
overnight darling of the left. Exley quickly exploited the
opportunity by selling
an array of products such as T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing
slogans like: “Imperialism.
A Way of Life Worth Bombing For”; “Regime Change Starts At Home”;
“Bush is a Punk Ass Chump”; and “Capitalism: It’s Great in
Theory, It Just Didn’t Work in Practice.”
yet another website, CounterCoup.com, whose sole mission was to “question
the legitimacy of a Bush presidency, due to disenfranchisement and
disregard for the will of the people.” One page of CounterCoup
showed a devil (labeled “Bush Coup”) on the ground, and an angel
preparing to behead him with a broadsword labeled “The Spirit of
Democracy.” Another page displayed a picture of a screaming lynch
mob with the caption, “Sometimes Democracy Requires More Than
the fall of 2000, Exley (on another website) mused
about the possibility that in the upcoming presidential election, Democratic
might conceivably win the popular vote but lose in the electoral college. Urging
voters to stage protests if such a thing were to occur, Exley
received an overwhelming number of supportive e-mails from people who shared his concern. He then set up a system
for distributing messages free-of-charge to eGroup subscribers, as
well as an electronic bulletin-board system that was later purchased
by Yahoo. While the post-election Florida recount crisis was in process, thousands
of Exley contacts protested
of cities nationwide.
In early 2003 Exley
the multi-millionaire software creator, to work for the
Berkeley, California-based MoveOn.org.
Not long after Exley joined the organization, MoveOn
a contest encouraging its audience to produce negative ads about
President Bush. The group posted on its website two
of these ads which
co-mingled images of Bush and Adolf Hitler, thereby conveying a message that
the two men were eerily alike. While public outrage over this smear
prompted MoveOn to remove the images from its site, Exley
Rather, he dismissed
the complaints as “typical Republican bullsh**.”
Also in 2003, Exley spent two
weeks helping to develop the Web-based presidential campaign
organization of Howard
Dean. As the L.A.
the Dean staff how to use Meet-Up.com, which put volunteers together
in living rooms around the country.”
Dean's campaign fizzled out, Exley in April 2004 was hired
Kerry to serve
of online communications and organizing for
the Kerry-Edwards presidential
previously received activism training
at a workshop
sponsored by the Ruckus
in 2005 became the director
of online organizing for the UK Labour Party's re-election campaign.
Later that year, he co-founded
and served as president of the New Organizing Institute.
March 2007, Exley participated
in the Left
at Cooper Union College in New York City. That same year,
he founded Revolution in Jesusland, a blogsite that sought to
blur the lines between the secular left and evangelical Christianity.
Exley's target audience consisted of those whom he called
“last-will-be-first” Christians whose religious beliefs were rooted in egalitarian conceptions of economic and social
January 2008 Exley
took a job with ThoughtWorks, Inc., a global information-technology consultancy that
groups and campaigns.
He continues to serve as the director
of ThoughtWorks' organizing practice.
Also in 2008,
as a consultant and researcher for the Barack
presidential campaign. As an Open
Fellow, Exley in 2009 wrote
a series of articles about the organizing model used by the Obama
campaign and by numerous community and labor groups.
June 2010 Exley joined
the Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco-based entity best known
for hosting Wikipedia,
a chief community officer. He left
Wikimedia in 2013 but still serves as an occasional consultant
for the organization.
In addition to his other pursuits, Exley
online publication, the Huffington
For additional information on Zack Exley, click here.