Fahamu (Oxford)

29 September 2011

Africa: Making the Case for Digital Activism

analysis

Although Troy Davis was killed despite massive protests online, digital activism raised public awareness of racism and oppression in the US state of Georgia, writes Jessica Ann Mitchell. This case and others show that indeed digital activism works.

The recent Troy Davis case sparked a firestorm of digital outcries. Online protests were launched along with petitions. Amnesty International collected over 630,000 signatures in support of Davis. Twitter and Facebook were both taken over by hash tags and updates. Millions of people were discussing the case and educating others about it. The Davis case truly became an online phenomenon. Over 40,000 people tuned into Democracy Now's live stream of the vigil held outside the Georgia prison that was holding Davis. For many, this was the first time they had even heard of Democracy Now, a progressive independent source of news. The live stream went viral on Twitter and Amy Goodman was trending worldwide.

During this time period, Davis' supporters became a complete digital community in their own right. Many were desperately hoping for Davis to live. Unfortunately, our requests and pleas were denied. This was truly a heartbreaking moment for us all. However, not more than 24 hours after the death of Troy Davis, digital activism naysayers were on the prowl with a clear message: 'digital activism doesn't work'. The main reason they believe it does not work is because with all our prayers and protesting, Troy Davis was still killed by the state of Georgia.

Though Davis' death is a heartbreaking fact, we cannot allow ourselves to sulk in the negativity of, 'I told you so', and 'I knew it would not work'. Truth be told, the reason that Troy Davis died is because Georgia is still a predominantly racist and oppressive state. As a Georgia girl, I know what it is like to live in the backwoods of the KKK's resting den.

However, saying that digital activism does not work is an outright lie founded in lethargic negativity and ignorance of the power of ordinary people. Public support through online petitions and social media outreach played a vital role in making members of the public aware of the injustices occurring. Even though Davis was executed, that doesn't mean that all of our efforts have gone to waste.

Now the racial discrepancies surrounding the death penalty in the US are becoming more widely addressed. It could even lead to a movement to abolish the death penalty. This case will forever shed light on the prison industrial complex and the death of black men within it. The death penalty debate is now facing a rebirth, especially after the world witnessed what was essentially a lynching.

In these cases, yes, our voting rights play a vital role in making societal changes. However, before we can vote to make these changes, we must find a means to inform and reach members of the public. The digital era has afforded us the opportunity to distribute this information rapidly.

Digital outcries, protests and petitions are a highly effective means for change. Organizations like ColorOfChange.org have already proved that with their ability to garner public support (much of it digital) in support of the Jena 6, ending Glenn Beck's televised hate mongering and pressuring the state of Georgia to free Genarlow Wilson. Another organization, Change.org was vital in sustaining a digital campaign that resulted in clemency for a young African American mother convicted of a felony for sending her children to a school outside of their district.

Countless blogs, news articles, Tweets, and Facebook updates by millions of ordinary people around the world also supported these digital campaigns for justice. So, you see, digital activism does work. Sometimes when things don't go the way we want them to go, it's easy to allow negativity to take control. However, it takes true power and strength to continue pushing on for justice. We have to push for our humanity, 'by any means necessary', as Malcolm X once stated. Right now the digital era provides a means that presents us with a plethora of opportunities.

In the 1960s, when a small group of students in North Carolina began sit-ins in all-white restaurants and a young Baptist preacher was gathering people for marches, it was understood that civil rights would not magically appear the next day. What they were doing was a start. When things did not change immediately there were naysayers saying, 'It will never work', and 'It is a waste of time'. I am glad they kept marching instead of succumbing to unproductive negativity.

In 2011, it is time for us to uphold this legacy. With the help of countless organizations and ordinary people the struggle for human rights and freedom continues... And it is going digital.

Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of Black Bloggers Connect, an entity of Lamzu Media.

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