Taking it Off the Streets: Activism Goes Online

Article ImageActivism has stepped off the soapbox and moved online. When Greg Hewlett, an amputee from Richardson, Texas, wanted to encourage his state senator to support a “prosthetic parity” amendment to a bill that was to come before the state legislature, he didn’t write a letter. He wrote a song called “The Peg Leg Blues,” filmed himself performing it, and posted the video to YouTube. With collaborative online tools like YouTube, Facebook, and many others at activists’ disposal, the streets and public squares are no longer the only place to turn for public demonstration.

When the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) began making efforts to raise awareness about the Canadian commercial seal hunt, it didn’t pass petitions door to door; it blogged about the issue. In late March of this year, the IFAW launched www.stopthesealhunt.org to encourage action against Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt. The website included an interactive feature called “300,000 Actions to Save 300,000 Seals,” a program that focused on building global community action against seal hunting.

The international site provided a central web location where people from all over the world were able to unite and share their opinions on Canada’s commercial seal hunt. The blog on the site included video footage from the seal hunt, updates and insight from team members on site at the hunt, photos, podcasts, and more. “Stopthesealhunt.org offers actionable steps where concerned citizens can make a real difference,” says Monica Media, deputy director of U.S. operations for IFAW. IFAW also has a presence on YouTube, MySpace, and Second Life.

The IFAW is only one of the latest activist organizations to turn to the blogosphere to raise awareness. On the Globe of Blogs, a searchable database of blogs, there are literally dozens of subcategories under the “Activism” classification. There are over 100 blogs on civil rights-related issues. But there are also blogs for smaller-niche issues, such as breastfeeding, a shorter work week, and dog-breed-specific legislation.

Carly Keidel is the website and media coordinator for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. She manages the Center’s blog, Rudd Sound Bites, which encourages global discussion of the most critical issues around food policy and obesity. Chief among the Center’s goals are combating the bias faced by overweight individuals and reversing the spread of obesity through research, advocacy, and policy change.

Keidel says, “The global reach of the internet allows us to locate and communicate with a broader audience that might otherwise be hard to find and reach out to. We are not competing for television airtime to get our message across. Instead, we have initiated a discussion that goes on around the clock. And we can learn how effectively we are delivering our message by tracking our traffic and examining direct feedback that comes in the form of comments on individual blog posts.”

Flesh-and-blood activism has certainly not gone the way of the dinosaurs or the slide rule. But if you can’t find an empty corner of your town square from which to wave the banner for your particular issue, you’re sure to find room (and plenty of like-minded activists) online.

(www.stopthesealhunt.org; www.globeofblogs.com; www.ruddsoundbites.com)