Online Advocacy

WWWired for Freedom

When political uprisings began in Yemen in January to drive out Ali Abdullah Saleh from his 33-year dictatorship, Ahlam Said, a Yemeni-American activist, wondered what role she could play in the movement. At the time, Said was living in Phoenix and working as an online organizer for Promise Arizona, an immigration reform group. As she looked online for trustworthy websites and news sources on the demonstrations happening in Yemen, she came up short. "Unlike Egypt, there wasn't a clear bridge between the Yemenis and the Americans," Said explains. That's when she decided to partner with a friend living in Yemen to create their own website for the movement: Yemenis4justice.com.

Begun as a "Yemen 101" website that simply aggregated news stories in English and Arabic, Yemenis4justice.com has now evolved into an open source community of online and offline organizers and activists in Yemen and the United States. The website includes an interactive Google map where users can plot recent uprisings by location and attach live video footage; an open source Excel spread sheet tracking all deaths related to the revolutions; a synchronized Twitter stream that aggregates all Yemeni and American activists and reporters; practical guides for protesters; and videos, photos, and blogs from other Yemeni activists.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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A Web of Power

On Jan. 1, 2010, a group of four undocumented students embarked on the Trail of Dreams, a 1,500-mile march from Miami to Washington, D.C., to call for passage of the Dream Act, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who serve in the military or attend college. At the end of their first day of walking, a member of the team tweeted a message to the group's few Twitter followers: "VERY TIRED at the end of this first day, but going to bed with a smile and fully inspired."

Because their Twitter stream is synched to their Facebook page, they immediately received responses of empathy and encouragement on their Facebook wall. "It's worth the work ... long way to go but y'all are not alone," wrote Elder Eduardo Canul Montero. "We are with you and we thank you!" said Deborah De Santos. And Naomi Florentino-B offered: "As a Dreamer, it hurts too much not to be with you during this walk. However, in prayers and spirit, my support follows your steps. Be strong."

Gaby Pacheco, one of the Trail of Dreams marchers, says the online followers were an incredible source of strength. "They walked with us every step of the way," Pacheco says. But Twitter and Facebook were more than just lifelines to family, friends, and supporters; they were also strategic online organizing tools. By the end of their journey, Trail of Dreams had more than 6,600 Facebook fans and 1,500 Twitter followers. With a single tweet or Facebook post, thousands of co-activists could be called upon to contact their members of Congress, attend rallies, sign petitions, and circulate emails. This made a huge difference, according to Pacheco.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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MoveOn at Ten

MoveOn.org pioneered the art of online political advocacy. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, it can look at enormous successes and a host of new questions. Do politicians take mass e-mails seriously? Is advocacy by e-mail being replaced by text messaging and social networking? Can online activism be turned into on-the-ground organizing? They're questions that face [...]

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