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Rfl dfn internetact2


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Rfl dfn internetact2

  1. 1. Can Internet technology still revolutionizeactivism?by Robert Lebowitz, Digital Freedom NetworkPage 1 2A case study in e-activism: Woomera2002However, the right combination of innovative Internet technologyand careful on-line and off-line coordination can make a powerfulstatement and effect great change.One noted example is Woomera2002.On March 28, 2002, over 1,000 activists converged on a wind-swept patch of the Australian desert outside the Woomera RefugeeCamp. They had come from throughout Australia as well as Japanand England to protest the governments harsh confinement ofasylum seekers who had arrived on Australias shores withoutproper documentation. In previous months, the conditions for thoseincarcerated at Woomera—many of them of Afghani descentfleeing the chaos of their homeland—had become markedly worse:prisoners had sewn their lips together in hunger strikes and hadthrown themselves in desperation upon razor wire-topped fences.Activists encamped in the Outback for days, drawing mediaattention as they engaged in loud demonstrations and tore downfences of the detention center, helping several dozen refugeesescape. While escapees were recaptured, the worlds attentionupon Australias treatment of refugees remained steady in themonths following Woomera2002. In April, the Woomera DetentionCentre was permanently closed, even though Australian Minister ofImmigration Paul Ruddock claimed that his decision to close thefacility was of a purely managerial nature, made possible by lowernumbers of detainees.What was unique about Woomera2002 was not that its goal ofstopping the abuse at the Woomera Detention Center wasachieved, but rather that its coordinators made particularly effectiveuse of Internet technology to arrange the event and to publicize it.Various groups had electronically networked with each other priorto the event to arrange to meet in the desert near the detentioncenter. As the event got underway, computers were rigged up in atruck at the protest camp and an Independent Media Centre, whichacted as a clearinghouse of articles, photos, and opinions, wasquickly constructed. First hand accounts, links to mainstream news,transcripts of audio links and analysis were posted unaltered byeditors or spin-doctors."You didnt have to wait for the seven oclock news and wait for it togo through all the corporate filters," recalled one participant.Coordinators also employed innovative Internet technology toincrease world attention on the event. The Phone Indymedia PatchSystem (PIMP) allowed people to use a telephone to leave voicemessages in the form of an MP3 file on the Indymedia site. Activistsin Woomera2002 along with prisoners from behind the detentionPage 1 of 3DFN: Can Internet technology still revolutionize activism?7/11/2006
  2. 2. centers walls and escapees left messages using PIMP on theindymedia site. Additionally, the online Virtual People Smuggler(VPS) allowed supporters who were unable to attendWoomera2002 to send messages of solidarity to the protestors.Throughout Woomera2002, the Indymedia site allowed thoselogging in to get an immediate glimpse of what was transpiring "onthe ground," which was glaringly different from the sensationalizedmainstream news reports of the event.Woomera2002 was an example of a successful online campaign. Itused innovative Internet technology to greatly amplify the effects ofthe protest and involve people internationally. Its broadcasting wasfast and fluid, favoring large quantities of uncensored informationproduced by a large group of people rather than carefullyconstructed news feeds written by a select few. And, perhaps mostimportantly, all the online activity was simultaneously mirrored byreal-world, grassroots protests with concrete results.Real world first, then virtualHillary Naylor is unequivocal thatthis last point is the key tosuccessful Internet activism. AsEducation Program Manager atCompuMentor, an organization thatadvises NGOs on how to effectivelyuse technology, as well as onlinevolunteer network coordinator at Amnesty International, Naylor hasbeen involved with a number of Internet-based activist campaigns.From her experience, Naylor writes that "online advocacy (e-mails,petitions,etc.) can only be an adjunct to the off-line strategies (letterwriting, visits, town halls, newspaper editorials, etc.)."In an interview with the Digital Freedom Network, Naylor stressedthe necessity of personal contact. She pointed out that for a whilenow, politicians have been unresponsive to e-mails that come enmasse with the same subject heading. "It is important that peoplepersonalize the subject heading of their e-mail," Naylor said. "[But]if you ask people to send e-mail, you should also arrange for themto visit the congresspersons office."In the same vein, Naylor rejects the idea that e-mail campaigns willbecome more powerful as more business is done electronically."The personal effect will always be the strongest," she noted.Kevin Reid echoes Naylors viewpoint. As online organizer forAmnesty International, Reid has overseen many of Amnestysonline campaigns. Recent successes include Amnestys "CleanDiamond" campaign, where concerned individuals were asked toforward an animated Flash cartoon that depicted the path of adiamond from the time it is mined by abused and exploited workersin Sierra Leone to the time it reaches the ring finger of an Americanbride-to-be. The cartoon ends with a message urging the viewer towriter his or her member of Congress to support legislation thatbans the sale of diamonds that were mined under such brutalconditions and which produce revenue for armies to purchaseweapons to wage war against civilians and commit egregioushuman rights abuses, including rape, amputation and the use of"The personal effectwill always be thestrongest."—Hillary NaylorPage 2 of 3DFN: Can Internet technology still revolutionize activism?7/11/2006
  3. 3. child soldiers.The cartoon passed through thousands of e-mail boxes, resulting ine-mails, letters, and calls. In April, the Clean Diamond Trade Actpassed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives,ensuring that diamonds entering America come from legal sources.Yet for all such examples of Amnestys successful use of theInternet in their campaigns, Reid also maintains that "e-mails areonly a first step.""We want people to move beyond that," he told DFN. "We wantpeople to get out and join real groups where they live and join withothers who are also interested in campaigning for the cause inwhich they are interested. We dont want armchair activists."Sociologists have pointed out that only very rarely can individualsbe mobilized through "moral shock," an effect aimed for by actionalerts, electronic petitions, and virtual sit-ins. Rather, successfulactivist campaign which employ Internet technology build upon pre-existing networks which were first built from face-to-faceinteractions. To reach a high degree of success, todays politicalactivism must artfully blend Internet technology with the spark ofengagement produced by a human encounter.Page 3 of 3DFN: Can Internet technology still revolutionize activism?7/11/2006