It seems like forever, but has really only been several months, since my husband came home from a business trip to find me with two computers running, toggling back and forth between Twitter and Facebook and wikipedia and Change.org and YouTube and Second Life and Flickr…and completely blown away by the organizing and advocacy that activists, social service providers, and all sorts of nonprofit folks were doing in these media.
Since then, as I’ve talked with organizers and advocates about their use (or potential use) of social networking and other technologies for their work, I’ve encountered quite a bit of skepticism.
“How does this augment the real-life organizing we’re doing? How do we build authentic relationships without the face-to-face connection? How do we move people from clicking a mouse to taking real action?”
In part, these questions reflect how far we have to go in understanding that much of the organizing and advocacy landscape has changed; that, in some cases, clicking a mouse can be real action, and that, in fact, the relationships that people form in virtual communities can be every bit as real as those they build with their neighbors or colleagues in the brick and mortar world.
But there’s also some validity in these concerns. We can never confuse a means with the end, and we can never allow ourselves to forget about the tools that have helped to bring about social change throughout history. Ideally, we’ll find a way to use technology to build new communities and expand on existing ones, and then figure out how to complement that organizing with work in ‘real life’, too.
There was a post about this on Beth’s Blog, and, while they are all really exciting ideas for bridging this real world v. online world gap, I’m especially excited about the 350Actions model. While it’s focused around climate change, I think there are tons of other applications for social justice work–I brainstormed some ideas to get your creativity going and listed them below. The idea is that you use social media tools, email, and other technology applications to bring people together in ‘old-fashioned’ ways–working and communing and fighting together. But check out this entire post (linked above), because many of the ideas here are pretty inspiring, very successful, and a lot of fun. Let me know what you’re doing, or considering, to link your online activism and your “offline” constituents. Getting this right, I think, is going to be the critical test of whether these emerging technologies will be yet another failed experiment to short-cut our way to organizing or, worse still, another division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in our society…or whether we can use these tools to re-envision our relationships, recharge our organizations, and regenerate leadership for the struggles to come.