Archive for September, 2009

Can Social Networking Change Our Political Consciousness?

September 24, 2009

Facebook’s membership transcends borders in the way membership of a nation cannot (despite Facebook’s stupid heavy-boots stance on disputed regions).


Harvey Milk Day Can Save Lives

September 4, 2009

Sign the petition.  Tell the California Legislature to pass the Harvey Milk Day bill now.

One of the best ways I can learn about myself and my country is forcing myself out of my comfort zone and the regular familiarities of my everyday life, which is why I love to travel and learn about new cultures, traditions, new perspectives of the world.

But, the longer I spend abroad, the more and more I also appreciate my own country.  America is unique.  It’s not our brute force or our “strong” economy that draws people to America around the world, it’s our culture.  And, understandably so. Nowhere in the world is there such a free-flowing, vibrant culture that enables anyone to live out their dreams.  Well, actually it’s only most anyone.  When I was in Turkey, a traveling partner made the statement that in America, a person can remake themselves more easily than in any other country around the world, that what separates America is its ability to give people the opportunity for a second chance.

I think that for a critical mass of Americans, this is probably true, and I know myself to be one of these benefactors.  But in no way do I think that this critical mass of people is by any means a majority.  Millions of Americans struggle everyday to not just be themselves but to accept themselves.  Here in America, we are one big melting pot until somehow you don’t quite fit in the pot.  Then it becomes a bit more complicated.

For those of us in this minority, we need heroes and stories of those who somehow made it into the pot and made who they were something of pride and something that others admired.  One of the most striking statements a colleague in Albania said to me was that “Albania has no heroes.” Without heroes, he explained – people who can represent an ideal or a value that helps to define a society and serve as a beacon for which to reach – it proves harder for a people to define themselves and for what they stand.

We have to create societies that uphold those who uphold the society’s most cherished values.  If none exist, we must enable people to become those leaders who can become those heroes. Fortunately, for so many inside and outside the LGBT community, Harvey Milk is this hero. He serves as a reminder to have courage, a reminder to stay steadfast, a reminder not to keep quiet, and a reminder to be who you are and live out your full potential in love and thus in life.  But we must continue to spread these values and the message of his life.

Watch this testimony of Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter for Academy Award winning MILK.  Then, pass this on and ask everyone you know to sign the petition to make Harvey Milk Day an official holiday in California.

Throughout my short life, I have learned that the only way to really live is to live truthfully, and the only way to live truthfully is to live comfortably in one’s own skin and to be honest about who you are.  So many LGBT Americans struggle everyday to live out their potential lest they hide who they really are because they think they’re alone in this struggle.  For every LGBT person, it is always a personal struggle.  But figuring out who you are always is.  It does not, however, have to be a societal struggle.  Heroes such as Harvey Milk, who gave his life to helping other LGBT Americans live out their dreams, must be recognized so that the world continues to get a little less lonely and a little less scary.  Without it, freedom is only that much harder.  And as we see in countries throughout the world, where people are forced to take on a certain identity, that is no way to build a true democratic, transparent and honest society where people can truly live freely.

Gurus Are Not Enough: A Call for Organizers and Organizing in Social Media

September 3, 2009

Really great article about the need for organizers… Read it from its original location on “Rootwork,” a blog on social meedia and social networking, here.

Gurus, mavens and experts convey information — they tell you the way things are.

Organizers, conversely, cultivate leadership and facilitate a community’s exploration of its vision — they offer a way to see how things could be.

Naturally, we need an accurate picture of how things are before we can strategize ways to improve them, and so it’s important to continually listen to and learn from the experts, taking from them relevant information and measuring it against our own experience and knowledge. But folks involved in social change — online or offline — can’t stay there. We have to be willing to step up and do the difficult organizing work that leverages our knowledge and experts’ data into something larger: a movement.

Everybody Organizing Everybody

Community organizers are a natural fit for “web 2.0” — the movement from one-way broadcasting on the web to two-way coversation and connection. I want to expand the definition a little bit, however, and suggest that online organizing goes far beyond the professional, experienced organizers.

One of the defining aspects of web 2.0 is social organization. People are constantly presented with their social circles in visual media: Facebook news feeds, MySpace top friends, Twitter updates, etc. In short, more people can see their network, in a much more literal way. This is especially true for young adults (currently Millennials) who might have social networks scattered across wide geographic areas and are less firmly rooted to a specific place through vocational, familial or other commitments.

Communities at the margins of society have always had a more visceral understanding of their social networks, which are often the sites of social change planning and strategizing — consider the role of black churches in the US civil rights movement, or gay bars and bathhouses in the early Stonewall era of the gay rights movement. So I don’t want to suggest that this phenomenon of a community visualized is necessarily new for everyone, but I think it is new for many folks in the mainstream of society.

The online “social web” — social networks and social media — allows people to organize their social connections, not simply to put them in order, but to connect and collaborate with others. Evite invitations and Facebook events are clear examples of this, as is Wikipedia.

Increasingly, the social web is teaching everyday folks how to be community organizers.

It’s usually gurus, however, who get — or take — the credit for this transformation. On the contrary, I see it as a much more grassroots bubbling-up of organizing skills. Everyone has the ability to organize and inspire others; the current tools are simply making those skills more visible.

Fewer Leaders, More Leadership

“Organizations and societies,” wrote Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey, “do need leadership, but they do not need leaders.”1 They argued for a shared value of leadership, in which many individuals took responsibility for the direction of a group, but didn’t invest the institutional power in a single person to call the shots. A critical part of this feminist approach relies on cultivating leadership among more and more individuals. Everyone has a stake, and everyone has a say.

While there are particular challenges putting that theory into practice in an organization, the good news is that movements, particularly those engaging in online social change, are particularly positioned to take advantage of this approach.

The fact that more people are organizers, and that everyone can exercise leadership, does not mean that there is no role for the full-time organizer. Indeed, the “professional” organizer becomes more important than ever, passing on stories and lived experience, and sharing a pedagogy for cultivating new leadership. What fades away is the positioning of some people within a movement as “experts” to whom everyone looks for direction.

Paulo Freire calls such an approach “co-intentional education,” in which each person is both teacher and student. Those with more experience may seek to inspire or ask questions to further dialogue, but as a way to further develop strategy rather than dictate to or control the masses.

Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated. … [T]he oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the … vocation of becoming more fully human.2

This may seem like heavy or strident language in the context of online petition drives or peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns. But my goal is to push social change organizers to look toward the larger picture. What sort of movement do you want to build in the long-term? What role do people play in that movement — is it a passive one of letter-signing and donation-giving, or an active one of working from the ground up for lasting change?

Selling, Giving and Cultivating

Want to support online organizing? Help promote a panel at SXSW 2010: Vote for us by the end of Friday!

Ivan Boothe is part of a proposed panel for the South by Southwest Interactive conference, “Connecting Communities for the Common Good: Owning Online Organizing,” along with Ben Rattray, founder of; Peter Corbet with iStrategy Labs; Sally Kohn of the Center for Community Change; and moderated by Kari Dunn Saratovsky from the Case Foundation.

We need your help to get this panel on the schedule! Please consider voting for the panel at SXSW (quick registration required). Additionally, please leave a comment on the panel’s page. Voting accounts for only about 30% of the decision to include a panel, so we want to demonstrate support for discussion around online organizing with your comments.

If you’re not familiar with the process, here’s a step-by-step guide to voting from the Case Foundation. There’s no limit to the number of panels you can vote for, so check out Beth Kanter’s list of nptech panel proposals and share the love!

Social marketing experts are adept at building brand loyalty, or encouraging the formation of an identity around an issue. They know how to sell the idea of “social good” to the public at large, using people’s goodwill toward a cause as a way to market to them through a given company, and increase donations to a partner charity. Well-known examples of this are the RED campaign and Starbucks’ Ethos Water.

Online organizers turn a skeptical eye toward “social good” and social marketing. It doesn’t mean such projects aren’t worth exploring or learning from, and it doesn’t mean that everyone involved is a charlatan simply out to make a buck. But selling people an identity, even a “good” one, is fundamentally different from organizing for social change. Freire again: “Conviction cannot be packaged and sold; it is reached, rather, by means of a totality of reflection and action.3

Movement building also goes beyond electoral organizing. Folks working for social change often form common cause with those organizing around a political candidate, and there is of course much to be learned and shared between the two practices. But whereas elections are centered around a single charismatic leader, a fully-engaged, vibrant social change movement consists of both shared vision and shared leadership. Elections give people an answer, while movements ask people a question — and then encourage them to speak for themselves.

Instead of selling or giving supporters a solution, then, onine organizers are involved in cultivation. There are pieces of both social marketing and electoral organizing present in online organizing, of course, and experts in these fields can be a useful source of data, but we should be wary of replicating these other models when it comes to leadership.

New Study Shows Online Usage Does Not Affect Stratification

September 2, 2009

Experts at the Pew Internet & American Life Project have found that online usage continues to enable the privileged few.  This seems pretty obvious, though this article is pretty interesting on the statistics of young people plugged into social networks and Web 2.0 activities.  The question is… How are we going to translate the online benefits and knowledge that is afforded to this privledged online minority offline to the majority?

Ted Kennedy and the Millennial Generation

September 1, 2009

In honor of the Lion…

Obama Nod Linked Kennedy to the Millennial Generation