Even a few years ago, you couldn’t be a proper activist without the heroic ability to march long and hard while sustaining enthusiasm for two-verse chants. Rallies are still a mainstay of progressive organizing in the 21st century, but now it is often just as important that organizers secure themselves a voice on the Web.
Though some nonprofit groups may not have the funding to get wired for the Internet, others are using it for everything from virtual sit-ins to creating their own alternative newspapers to holding online vigils for lost loved ones to keeping a close watch on opponents, and tracking hot issues.
What follows is a look at agitators’ cyber-agendas.
New Black Panthers Party for Self Defense (blackpanthers.com): Harlem chapter chairman Jah Jah Jah says his group plans to launch a Web and print magazine this year that will start reclaiming hip-hop culture from what Panthers consider the corrupting influence of big business, by bringing the art form back to its roots. The party is also preparing to start a “revolutionary newspaper” next month that will challenge the mainstream spin. His own top picks for related sites include blackplanet.com.
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (glaad.org): Loren Javier, GLAAD’s director of digital media, says activists are calling last month’s Millennium March in Washington “the first dotcom march,” since so many people got all their information on the Web. Javier also credits the Internet with creating a vast and essential support network for people in the gay community. If tragedy strikes, as when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming, the Net provides a place for people around the world to mourn publicly. For policy updates Javier relies on the Human Rights Campaign at hrc.org, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at ngltf.org, and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at lambdalegal.org.
Coalition for the Homeless in New York City (right2shelter.org): Deputy director Shelly Nortz says her organization trains women to use computers and the Net and teaches homeless children about the Web at the coalition’s summer camp. They’ve also set up Web pages to inform activists and journalists about new policies on homelessness and upcoming protests. She keeps informed through sites featuring government plans and statistics, including empirepage.com, fedstats.gov, hud.gov, and wnylc.com.
Housing Works (housingworks.com): This HIV/AIDS advocacy group compiles an online list of the thousands of local people who die of AIDS each year. The list is then read at an annual memorial service held at New York City Hall. Posting a name “is a way of not only acknowledging the person who was here but a way of telling others about that person,” says Duane Ebesu, the agency’s deputy director of information systems. He suggests people check out the activist Web zine at dosomething.org, which urges young people to get involved in their communities. He also recommends the site hosted by the nonprofit Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (cases.org).
International Rivers (irn.org): Doris Shen, a campaigner for the California-based environmental group, says the Net is a great resource for finding out about big companies’ development plans. A few years ago she had to rely on expensive databases to keep current, but now Shen just heads to a company’s Web site and signs up to receive regular press releases. The group also takes it to the Man by building links on its site that lure search engines hunting for corporate names. Surfers looking to apply for a Discover card online end up at International Rivers’s page, reading about Discover’s involvement in China’s environmentally disastrous Three Gorges Dam. Shen recommends onedemocracy.com and worldbank.org and spoof site whirledbank.org. Feeling inspired? Create your own spoof site at wallstreet.org.
Center for Community Alternatives (communityalternatives.org): Associate director Christine Abate says her nonprofit, which advocates alternatives to incarceration, depends on the Net to stay afloat and stay in touch. Already drawing on more than two dozen funding sources, the group uses the Web to look for more financing, keep current donors updated, and offer help for adult and youth offenders. Abate recommends the American Corrections Association site at corrections.com and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals page at nadcp.org.
New York City Central Labor Council (nycclc.org): Director of public policy Ed Ott says his organization is launching an ambitious campaign to persuade the 500 union locals to use the Net for everything from lobbying legislators to finding information on retirement. The AFL-CIO is creating a low-cost Internet service provider for its 13 million members, and Ott is working with the Consortium for Worker Education to design Web pages for local needs. For now, he recommends workers stay updated by checking out his organization’s site and aflcio.org. To get updates on New York City politics he turns to the online version of City Limits (citylimits.com).
Committee for Hispanic Children and Families: This advocacy group recently submitted a funding proposal to Bell Atlantic, seeking support to create a Web site. “The biggest problem is when you are a small community-based organization and you don’t have the resources to devote to technology,” says director Felix Gardone. But he does receive Internet newsletters daily, including an update from Kaiser Permanente (kaiserpermanente.org) on HIV/AIDS and women’s health and a report on health issues from a Latino perspective, published by the Department of Health and Human Services (hhs.gov). Gardone suggests reading updates on the site produced by the Puerto Rican Internet service provider coqui.net. and the international Latino news service QuePasa.com.
House of the Lord Church: This Pentecostal church in Brooklyn places heavy emphasis on social activism. Spokeswoman Sharman Blake says the congregation plans to get online. “We are prayerful that it will be relatively soon,” she says. Though ministers still resort to the old-fashioned pulpit for alerting members about political events, Blake relies on a handful of Web sites to keep the reverends informed. She says she tracks the gospel-music industry by checking in at gospeltoday.com, and gets information on the Christian community at both loveexpress.com and the “more right-wing, Pat Robertson-style” charismamag.com. Until Blake’s prayers are answered, her own ministry can be reached through the American Bible Society’s site at americanbible.org.
Other articles from Take Back the Net (Special Section)
LEFT BEHIND by Ward Harkavy
The Radical Right Got Wired Fast. When Will Progressives Catch Up?
RIGHT THINKING by James Ridgeway
Want to Understand Conservatives? Read Them.
FROM THEIR VAULTS TO YOUR DESKTOP by Russ Kick
Finding Documents the Man Wants to Hide
KEEPING UP WITH THE NAPSTERS by Eric Weisbard
At Pho, a Thousand E-mails a Month Track the Great Digital Debate
DOOMSDAY IN THE MP3 WARS by George Smith
Excavating Stoned Metal From the Internet