Posts about empowerment
Investigate how sustainable social change has transpired in the past, and you’ll be closer to effecting change in the future.
Online activism didn’t come out of nowhere. The methods and tactics of online activists — be they individuals or international nonprofits with hundreds of staff — are drawn on social change movements and community organizing strategies that have been tried, experimented with, failed, tweaked, and tried again, long before the Internet existed.
The subtitle of this workshop could be, “Social change has always relied on social networks — they just weren’t called Facebook.” I’m going to be talking concretely about the strategy of using online tools for social change. This won’t be an ain’t-it-cool presentation of shiny technology, nor will it be a technical exploration of complicated software. It will be an interactive how-to on making social change work more effective by using online social technology.
Gurus, mavens and experts convey information — they tell you the way things are.
Organizers, conversely, cultivate leadership and facilitate a community's exploration of its vision — they offer a way to see how things could be.
Naturally, we need an accurate picture of how things are before we can strategize ways to improve them, and so it's important to continually listen to and learn from the experts, taking from them relevant information and measuring it against our own experience and knowledge. But folks involved in social change — online or offline — can't stay there. We have to be willing to step up and do the difficult organizing work that leverages our knowledge and experts' data into something larger: a movement.
In this presentation from the Democracy in Action Community Conference 2008, I talk about some of the successful approaches for nonprofits in using social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and social media like Flickr and YouTube. I give detailed examples of how the Genocide Intervention Network, where I served as director of communications and Internet strategy coordinator for four years, used social networking to achieve its goals in membership development, advocacy and fundraising.
For the Genocide Intervention Network, involvement in the “social web” is really an outgrowth of our entire mission: To form the first anti-genocide constituency, and to empower our members with the tools to prevent and stop genocide. The words “constituency” and “empower” are key. We’re not simply looking for a mailing list or an ATM — we want an educated, active movement of people interested in preventing and stopping genocide. Our members need to be able to think for themselves on the issue, not to simply be another name on a list, but to be a hub in an ever-expanding network.
Offering concrete ideas for how to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem can give people a sense that they, as individuals, have a stake in an issue. The Genocide Intervention Network links to a list of “ten things you can do to stop genocide.” Ivan Boothe argues that these steps, broken down into easily digestible chunks, give people an easy way to participate. Although they also link to the Genocide Intervention Network’s main web site, that isn’t always the point. “A number of these steps aren’t even within our organization,” Boothe says. This sort of advocacy is similar to bottom-up, open-source collaborative projects like Wikipedia, in which no one group has proprietary ownership over an idea or a product; instead, the goal is a constant generation of awareness and ideas. A MySpaceMySpace is a social network that is not built around a single identity. Users can and do have multiple profiles, with no restrictions on the “names” they use. MySpace is used by many musical groups. page, says Boothe, isn’t simply an advertisement for an organization, “it’s a tool for mobilizing people for different kinds of action.”
It seems important to me to keep these different types of elites in mind as we think about the intersections of technology and social change. One way of achieving change is by appealing to the state’s powerholders — traditional power, that is. But throughout history, coalitions of people without this power have banded together to effect change. It may be that among the three other types of elites, a social movement can emerge that represents true democratic change.
Those groups that have found advocacy success on FacebookFacebook is a social network encouraging real identity — each user has a single account under their full, real name. Facebook began among US college students but has quickly expanded to people of all ages around the world. tend to adopt
an approach that USES the one-on-one nature of the site. As one small
example, I spoke to a group of pro-choice activists a few weeks ago,
many of whom work with students on college campuses. When I asked how
Facebook fit into their work, the overwhelming response was that it was
essentially an email replacement — they employed Facebook messages to
reach individual supporters or small groups of supporters when they
were preparing for events or promoting a particular message. The
Genocide Intervention Network demonstrates a much more comprehensive
and strategic approach but the same basic idea: as Ivan Boothe wrote last year<.
Note that Ivan is describing something very different than traditional
mass communications: heâ€™s talking about working closely (no doubt
frequently one-on-one) with people on Facebook and other networking
sites over a long period of time to help build a cadre of very
committed activists — something that most electoral campaigns (and even
most issue advocacy campaigns) simply canâ€™t do, whether because of lack
of time or lack of resources.
Ivan Boothe, for example, says his organization’s goal is to “involve people who are active and educated about the issue who become leaders as members. Our members are not just a mailing list. GI-Net is all about giving up control … Organizations need more than a membership card. We are creating a permanent anti-genocide constituency.”