Notes on Fostering Activism: Social Justice in the Digital Realm

by Guest Contributor Sam

Education, information, and communication are important issues in our collective struggle for justice. People must first become aware of injustices before they can be dedicated to fighting inequalities like racism and sexism, and educating folks about the realities that may have escaped them in school is an important first step.

Education and the power of knowledge, of telling stories and sharing new ways of knowing (and being), help us fight inequality, injustice, and cynicism. Without education, we can’t fight racism because we don’t know its causes. Education also helps us to understand things in ways that give us hope and make change seem possible.

Education occurs both in and outside of classrooms. The internet has drastically changed the way that we learn and obtain information.

Now, we have access to indy-media and blogs which provide a grassroots alternative to corporate mass media. Think of all that you’ve learned about from blogs like Racialicious. Just last week, I read about a fight for an Asian American Studies program at the University of Maryland that I connected to struggles on my college campus.

Indy-media (if you’re unfamiliar with this term, check out indymedia.org) also helps me to get a different side of a story that I may learn about in the mainstream press. For instance, earlier this week, a group seeking Hawaiian Sovereignty peacefully took over the Hawaiian royal palace, since turned in to a tourist attraction. I found more information about the take over on alternative media sites and then was able to find out more about Hawaiian Sovereignty through an internet search (by the way, everyone should check out the Blount Report and learn about the Mahele.)

Beyond sites dedicated to current events, there are also sites like Wikipedia, which provides opportunities for people to contribute to popular knowledge. It is a site dedicated to the democratization of knowledge, of grassroots education and fact finding in the ultimate peer-edited setting. I can’t think of all of the things I’ve learned from a quick Wikipedia search, both related and unrelated to social justice. It’s a great example of popular and free education.

We also have access to networking sites and listservs that help us to connect with others involved in struggle and provide new possibilities for organizing. The Anti-Racist Action Group that Carmen runs through New Demographic is a great example of this. It, and other sites and listservs like it, have helped me to build coalitions as an activist across the nation.

The internet has created new liberatory possibilities for building communities and creating change. It helps us to realize a new politics based on open access to information, better education, more communication, and new opportunities to direct and shape our future.

All of these aspects of the internet have been used to great effect within the social justice community. For instance, the protests in Jena last fall could not have happened without the internet. But now its time to branch out to the general population and use the internet to get them involved in—or at least educate them about—social justice work.

As socially just internet users, we need to engage in a broad-based, collective, and sustained effort to claim the internet as a tool for social change. Wikipedia is a great place to start. We can make the ultimate source of popular knowledge a place for sharing social justice. There is already a presence of socially just thinking on Wikipedia, but what would it mean to ensure its growth by actively connecting popular articles and ideas with issues of justice and equity? We can make powerful statements when we act collectively for a cause, especially when it’s about educating our global community.

There are a few things that are important to keep in mind when participating online. Most sites have rules. Like Racialicious’ comment policies, it’s important to familiarize ourselves with the rules that apply to sites we frequent. If we plan to write for Wikipedia this page is important to read, and just like all other sites, make sure your pieces fit the scope and requirements for the site. Another thing to keep in mind is that participation is a process, not a series of isolated actions. People respond to what we post on the internet, sometimes antagonistically in protest, sometimes to engage in conversation, sometimes with a voice of support. It’s important that we keep track of our work and follow up on it, whether it’s an encyclopedia post, a blog comment, a news story, or other work.

So, it’s time for us, who take time to educate ourselves on sites like Racialicious, to branch out. Participating in the construction of popular knowledge by editing articles on Wikipedia, taking part in online communities like blogs and listservs committed to justice, and actively living our justice ideals in our participation on the internet is a way for us to use the opportunities afforded to us by new technology like the internet to enact change.