organizing tools

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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From the Editors

Using online and wireless communication to organize large, diverse groups of people has been a key component of the nonviolent Arab Spring uprisings. But these tools aren’t just for deposing dictators -- organizers are finding new ways to use them here in the U.S., from defending individuals under threat of deportation to spurring nationwide public rallies around key political issues. As Jeannie Choi writes in our cover feature, "A Web of Power," the best tech-savvy organizers are rooted in the same priorities that have shaped successful movements for decades -- listening to, learning from, and communicating with people to mobilize them to create change.

We’re finalizing this issue soon after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Some former Bush administration officials have claimed that without so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," bin Laden never would have been found. But CIA chief Leon Panetta explained that such techniques actually provided false leads in the search for bin Laden. Writing in The Washington Post, torture survivor Sen. John McCain countered the Bush officials’ claims and asserted the need for moral clarity when it comes to torture: "Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are."

The church ought to be a source for such moral clarity -- but in fact many American Christians are in favor of the use of torture. In "The Body in Pain," Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center, writes about efforts by church activists, ethicists, and leaders to educate Christians on why torture is anathema to our faith and to spur more of us to lift up a voice of conscience in the public debate.

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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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Is Facebook Changing the World?

In recent weeks, Facebook and other social media have clearly demonstrated their capacity to do far more than just allow us to keep in touch with our family and friends. They have proven to be powerful organizing tools, capable of assisting in the creation of broad international movements for social change. Social media has proven to be a particularly powerful tool in countries in which basic democratic rights such as a free press and the right to assembly are severely restricted. At the same time, Facebook and YouTube are increasingly rendering international borders as meaningless. Western media coverage of the recent popular uprising in Egypt consistently emphasized the catalytic role of Facebook in galvanizing youth and young adults to take action against an entrenched regime that had long been viewed as impenetrable. In the days after Mubarak's departure, both the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times published lead stories describing the role of certain Facebook pages in not only serving as a call to action, but as a space in which emerging activists in Tunisia and Egypt were able to share lessons with each other. These young activists had not only managed to evade the reach of both nations' security police, they had also sidelined older opposition parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

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