Friday, May 16, 2008

The Civil Rights Battle Moves From The Streets To The Internet

By Heather Faison, NNPA Special Correspondent
May 12, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (NNPA) - One of the most important e-mails to land in Kourtney Addison's inbox was seconds away from being cyber trash.

As her eyes scrolled down the computer screen, the forwarded message read like a scene from a Jim Crow-era documentary. A tree that only Whites could sit under, nooses hung in a schoolyard, a Black teen facing a 22-year sentence for beating a White classmate.

Immediately, she thought it was a joke. "It just seemed so unreal," she recalled of the story later known as the Jena Six.

"It was just blatant racism."

Wearing a white T-shirt with the words "Free The Jena 6" painted in red block letters, the Temple University sophomore joined more than 700 students in a demonstration in front of City Hall last September. It was Addison's first protest. As she pumped her fist in the air letting her oversized cowry shell bracelet drop to her elbow, the 19-year-old was brought to tears by the passion displayed by her peers and the realization that "Dr. King's dream had not been fully realized yet."

The events of last year - the Jena Six protest, the firing of racist disc jockey Don Imus and the campaign for Genarlow Wilson, a Georgia teen sentenced to prison for consensual sex with a White classmate - resulted in a rebirth of political activism among African-Americans, unseen in recent years.

Many have wondered who is behind this surge. The leader of this movement is not on CNN or holding press conferences on the evening news. This revolution will not be televised - but you may find it in your e-mail.

Today's generation is turning technology into activism and using the Internet as a tool to carry its messages. With social media sites and e-mail blasts, a story about an injustice can be sent to millions in one mouse-click, garnering support en masse.

"The early Civil Rights Movement had the mimeograph and the Black press. Today, we have e-mail, blogs, text messaging, online petitions, instant messaging, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace," said Chris Rabb, Philadelphia-based Netroots activist.

Netroots (taken from Internet and grassroots) was coined after Internet users ignited the campaign of 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean through mass e-mails and blogs, bringing him national support and millions in fundraising dollars. Netroots uses the Internet as a platform to voice opinions and draw online users to a particular cause.

Though Netroots activism for African Americans is nascent, says Rabb, "it is by no means a fad."

Through grassroots petition signing and e-mail campaigns, these online activists raised the profiles of stories such as the Sean Bell shooting, long before the media or Black leaders noticed. Cutting no slack for offenders regardless of race, these individuals successfully challenged BET networks' negative portrayal of African-Americans and have exposed the faults of Black leaders in their candid blog commentaries.

"Black activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are pimping the 'man' in the name of civil rights," read a tongue-in-cheek entry from blogger, The Field Negro.

The mobilization strength of African-American bloggers has been the force behind this movement. These individuals share their views and social commentaries on blog sites that allow readers to comment, e-mail or link stories to other sites. While most blogs are created for leisure and better reflect an online diary, a group of bloggers known as the Afrosphere is dedicating its efforts to the progress of African-Americans. This pool of activists successfully motivates its readers to political participation, says Antoinette Pole, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University.

In her study "Black Bloggers and the Blogosphere," which was the first academic examination of this group, Pole found that Black bloggers had a greater desire and ability to encourage readers towards social awareness issues moreso than their White counterparts. Most Black bloggers used their sites to engage political activism by suggesting readers: vote or register to vote in elections, sign petitions supporting a cause, attend a rally or protest and donate to charitable causes.

Since Pole's November 2005 study, which is included in her upcoming book exploring political participation among bloggers, Black bloggers have grown from a sparse group and have situated themselves at the forefront of civil rights activism.

The number of Black-operated blogs is growing daily with 900 tracked in March by Electric Villager's Black Blog Rankings (BBR). A giant leap from the 75 blogs accounted for in September 2007.

The sites in the Top Ten Black Blog rankings attract an average of 500 visitors daily.

This network has used its heft to rally around social causes and draw the nation's attention to overlooked injustices, such as in the town of the once little-known Jena.

Though many have vied for credit, the organization of the mammoth descent in Jena was the property of Black bloggers, wrote Raquel Christie of the American Journalism Review in the first assessment of the media's response to the story. For months after the fight involving the Jena High School students now known as the Jena Six, the media and traditional civil rights organizations were silent.

While the mainstream media trailed in their coverage - even after Chicago Tribune reporter Howard Witt broke the story nationally - and Black leaders stood oblivious to the Deep South injustice, a network of bloggers and Internet-based civil rights organizations reportedly galvanized more than 220,000 people who signed online petitions and contributed more than $130,000 to the legal defense fund in support of the teenagers months before the protest.

James Rucker, co-founder of, says his group helped set up the fund and organized a "blog-in" where thousands of interlinked bloggers wrote solely about the story for one day to focus their readers' attentions to the case.

Playing catch-up along with the media, the Rev. Al Sharpton said it was through the Internet that he found out about the Jena Six story.

The influence of Black bloggers was first realized when their online petitions brought national attention to the case of 14-year-old Shaquanda Cotton who was sentenced to seven years in prison for shoving a school hall monitor in Paris, Texas. Citing racial discrimination, bloggers called a "Day of Action" where they united under the cause and simultaneously posted stories solely about Cotton's case. The bloggers and their readers began flooding the Texas governor and Texas prison authority with letters and holding protests in front of the courthouse. Their collective effort resulted in Cotton's release and an examination of the Texas juvenile justice system.

"That one issue kind of coalesced everyone around one central issue; that's when we began to link to one another," says Shawn Williams, creator of the blog Dallas South, which is based in Dallas, Texas. "Before that we were all sort of blogging in our own worlds."

Cotton's story was the catalyst for what would become the Afrospear, says Williams, which is a blog site for discussion among all bloggers in African Diaspora, to share ideas and plan solutions.

The diverse landscape of the Afrosphere mirrors a movement that transcends labels of class, gender and partisanship. These bloggers discuss a range of insights from conservative politics (Jack and Jill Politics) to Black misogyny (What About Our Daughters) to gay rights (The Republic of T) and are airing out topics once reserved for barber shops and sister circles.

Little technical skill is required to start a blog or engage in the conversations. Compared to the preparation and training needed during the Civil Rights Movement, activists today can fight injustice without extensive knowledge and with little time commitment, allowing everyone to make a contribution, says Rucker.

This culture of inclusion bodes well for closing the digital divide in which African Americans are statistically behind in Internet use and access.

"An increasing percentage of civic-minded Black people are becoming more and more web savvy," observed Rabb. "At the same time there is a proliferation of web-based resources and other technologies that make it free, easy and powerful for private citizens to amplify their voices and impact in ways unimaginable even during the dot-com craze a decade ago."

After the Jena Six protest there was an eagerness to coin this political drive the "new civil rights movement." Though flattered by the comparison, many bloggers avoid that moniker saying that it "puts them in a box" too concentrated on the ways of the past. One precedent they defy in the Afrosphere is the old-age idea that a movement requires a chosen leader.

"There's no one persona or personality that's kind of at the center of things," says Rucker. "I think hopefully we're able to move beyond centralized personality-based leadership that has plagued us in the past."

Many bloggers write under an alias to maintain anonymity, which Rabb likens to the Underground Railroad agents who could conduct their missions without ever meeting face-to-face.

This "faceless" leadership is especially appealing to youth who are discovering their voices through Netroots activism. While civil rights veterans are toiling over how this generation would fall in line with the rules set by their forbearers, they have overlooked a charge already in progress.

"The movement may not be as visible as it was in the '60s, but that's because the issues we face are not as visible. Racism and things of that nature are institutionalized now," says Addison.

The events that unfolded last year struck a cord with those in a younger generation, specifically Generation Y, igniting a display of activism and pride. The stories of Mychal Bell (the face of the Jena Six), Genarlow Wilson and the young women of the Rutgers University basketball team, who were object of Imus' verbal attack, resonated with younger generations. In those cases the victims were the same age as their best friends and classmates, which made them realize that the fight was no longer just their parents'.

For a generation that was introduced to a computer before a pen and a pad, this movement has come to Generation Y's favorite hangout spot - the Internet. The popular social network Web site Facebook has been instrumental in helping young activists share their opinions with peers and brand their own causes.

When a group of Temple students wanted a Black student union to bridge the gap with the community and create a support system for Black students, they created a Facebook group to rallying the university and the community behind their cause. Addison, an officer in the student organization, says the site has been a viral avenue of communication, with 707 people having joined.

"Because our aim is so wide its imperative that we reach out to a lot of people at one time, so we use the World Wide Web," says the New Jersey native.

"If each coordinator invites all of their friends on Facebook to an event we're holding, we can get the word out to literally thousands of people within a matter of minutes." The Black student union raised $800 for the Jena Six legal fund and organized the Temple protest that went from the campus Bell Tower to the steps of City Hall.

In these tech-rich times, one place these young activists don't seem to be running to is traditional civil rights organizations. Williams, a one-time NAACP college chapter leader, has seen first hand the exodus of youth from such organizations.

In recent years the NAACP has struggled to increase membership and remain relevant to today's youth who are more likely to meet with friends over instant messenger than at the library - a common gathering place for NAACP meetings. The organization's presumed shortcomings have more to do with a digital disconnect than with its "cool factor," according to Williams.

"A lot of the NAACP chapters are a little bit behind the times," he says, noting one local chapter that has a blog linked to the Afrosphere. "When it comes to activism and advocacy today, it moves at lightning speed."

This disconnection can prevent local chapters from furthering their agendas outside of their regional borders, adds Pole.

Efforts by the Louisiana NAACP and local chapters fell short when a rally they organized last March in support of the Jena Six teens drew only a few dozen people. Though well-intended, their outcome paled in comparison to the whirlwind of support that followed as a result of Internet campaigns.

Resources and skill sets from both online efforts and tradition organizations are needed and each could find greater success in a collaborative effort, Mary Frances Berry, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, noted in a recent interview with NPR. The former chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights suggested that when the NAACP selects its future president, the candidate should be someone who can bridge the gap with online activists.

"They need to get with it, and plug in with these folks. All this energy needs to be mobilized, so that it doesn't become a one-week show," says Berry.

And if the old guard refuses collaboration, she stated ominously, "new organizations will simply have to displace them."

Heather Faison, a former Black Press fellow at the NNPA News Service, is a copy editor at the Philadelphia Tribune.


Unknown said...

All the President's Nazis (Real and Imagined): An Open Letter to Bush

Posted May 15, 2008 | 07:48 PM (EST)
Read More: Adolf Hitler, George W.Bush, Israel, Knesset, Nazi
Germany, Political Dirty
Tricks, Politics News

Dear Mr. Bush,

Your speech on the Knesset floor today was not only a disgrace; it was nothing short of treachery. Worse still, your exploitation of the Holocaust in a country carved out of the wounds of that very crime, in order to strike a low blow at American citizens whose politics differs from your own is unforgivable and unpardonable. Let me remind you, Mr. Bush, of your words today: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along, "Bush said at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to Israel's parliament,
the Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an
obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

Well Mr. Bush, the only thing this comment lacked was a mirror and
some historical facts. You want to discuss the crimes of Nazis against my family and millions
of other families in Europe during World War II? Let me revive a favorite phrase of yours:
Bring. It. On!

The All-American Nazi

Your family's fortune is built on the bones of the very people
butchered by the Nazis, my family and the families of those in the Knesset who applauded you today: WASHINGTON -- President Bush's grandfather was a director of a bank seized by the federal government because of its ties to a German industrialist who helped bankroll Adolf Hitler's rise to power, government documents show.

Prescott Bush was one of seven directors of Union Banking Corp. (search), a New York investment bank owned by a bank controlled by the Thyssen family, according to recently declassified National Archives documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Fritz Thyssen was an early financial supporter of Hitler, whose Nazi party Thyssen believed
was preferable to communism.

Both Harriman and Bush were partners in the New York investment firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Co., which handled the financial transactions
of the bank as well as other financial dealings with several other companies linked to Bank voor Handel that were confiscated by the U.S. government during World War II.

Union Banking was seized by the government in October 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Oh, but there is much more too: The two Holocaust survivors suing the US government and the Bush family for a total of$40bn in compensation claim both materially benefited from Auschwitz slave labor during the second world war, Kurt Julius Goldstein, 87, and Peter Gingold, 85, began a class action in America in 2001, but the case was thrown out by Judge
Rosemary Collier on the grounds that the government cannot be held liable under the principle of "state sovereignty".

I cannot think of one Democrat who can boast this kind of lineage. Can you? No, I don't think so. But you can lie brazenly and attack a sitting US Senator on foreign soil by comparing him to Nazi sympathizers? Let us continue down memory lane to help those who applaud you understand just what it is they are celebrating.

The All American Traitor

Your family did not stop with supporting fascists and Nazis abroad, did they Mr. Bush? Surely you must know of your grandfather's role in the treasonous plot of 1933 to overthrow democracy in America? Let me remind you.

Grandpa Bush -- that is to say, your grandfather -- wanted fascism imported into the United States, or as you now call this type of transformation, "exporting democracy."Prescott went so far as to subsidize a coup attempt in order to achieve his dream of a
fascist America (see BBC report below): Document uncovers details of a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by right-wing American businessmen. The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell House &George Bush's Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression. Mike Thomson investigates why so little is known about this biggest ever peacetime threat to American

In other words, not only was your grandfather a self-professed
fascist, he was a Nazi sympathizer and a war profiteer who should have stood trial at the Hague instead of buying his way into the US Senate. He was also a traitor, twice over.

Now clearly the crimes of Prescott Bush are not your fault, Mr. George W. Bush. Let us therefore judge your actions and words on their own merit.

Iraq is your Poland

Your reminiscence today about the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany should have been seen as your own condemnation of your own abhorrent actions against Iraq. The morbid
irony of what you said will likely never register with you or your speechwriter. To truly grasp the grotesqueness of what you said requires that you have both a conscience and some understanding of history. We know you possess neither.

I will therefore make your history lesson brief, but to the point. The unprovoked attack on Poland by Germany was a war crime just as your attack against Iraq --based on lies – is a war crime. This is not my opinion. This is not a political attack. This is a fact. Consider the words of the esteemed former chief prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials, Benjamin Ferencz, regarding your war of aggression against Iraq:"...Prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."

Moreover, your reckless verbiage and partisan pandering using something as tragic and criminal as Germany's war of aggression against Poland is an insult to all victims of those atrocities.

My grandfather' s sister and parents were having supper in their Warsaw home when a German bomb erased them from this planet. Your evoking the German atrocities against Poland in order to play dirty politics against Democrats is as offensive to me as if you had
pinned a swastika onto your lapel.

Even your own words appear to be penned by Hitler's ghost all the while you imply that Democrats are Nazis and/or terrorists - something you have done over and over. Your lies and Hitler's lies even have the same purpose.

When you, Mr. Bush, said "see in my line of work you got to keep
repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda," were you aware of Adolf Hitler's eerily similar statement? Hitler said "If
you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."

Yet if words alone were your only weapon and words strung together into lies your only crime, you might be seen as simply the loathsome, unethical dilettante and despot that you are. Unfortunately, your crimes are many and so similar to those of the Nazi regime that at times one wonders if you are not yourself reenacting that very history you used today as an insult against a political opponent.

Your very own concentration camps

You ordered the creation of secret camps all over the world and on US territory where you also authorized the torture of countless men, women and children is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, international law, and domestic law. In other words, you authorized war crimes.

We don't know the number of people you have had disappeared, tortured, and possibly murdered. Although we have some idea of what these numbers may be, I doubt the full truth of it all will ever be known.

In 2005, I had a CENTCOM document leaked to me illustrating that since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, more than 70,000 men, women, and children have been
detained at one of your various camps Mr. Bush. We don't know what happened to them, if they were tortured, raped, or murdered. What we do know is that less than 2% of those 70,000 had any sort of charge brought against them in a court of law. None of those alleged crimes, by the way, were acts of terrorism. We don't know if that 70,000 figure was the actual and full count of detainees in US custody around the world
in 2005. But it is safe to say that in the last 3 years since this document was published, the number of detainees has likely grown.

What we also now know, in great horror, is that at least one of your camps had a crematorium in it, which some of the US soldiers stationed there suspected was used for burning bodies:

"We had some kind of incinerator at the end of our building," Specialist Megan Ambuhl
said. "It was this huge circular thing. We just didn't know what was incinerated in there. It
could have been people, for all we knew -- bodies." Sergeant Davis was not in doubt. "It
had bones in it," he said, and he called it the crematorium. "But hey, you're at war," he said. "Suck it up or drive on."

What we also now know is that Dick Cheney and senior members of your
administration carried out a plan of torture and abuse that violated international
and domestic law with regard to human rights, down to the type of torture tactics that would
be used against prisoners in our custody. This plan, we now know, was approved by you.

Has the mirror cracked yet from this much fact or are you still peering into the political sphere hoping to ascribe your own crimes to others? It won't work. It never has and it
certainly won't work now. We know far too much about you and yours.

I could continue listing the litany of your crimes, both against the United States and against foreign nations. I won't. We know what you are and what you have done. Having roughly 1,000,000dead Iraqis under your belt should have shamed you into the parasitic hole you came out of, attaching yourself to the blood of this nation and sucking it dry. Instead, you parade around, the globe-trotting horror show and anti- Semite that you are.

Yes, you are an anti-Semite

Would you say no, you are not an anti-Semite? Consider your own words when you thought no one was keeping score:

"You know what I'm gonna tell those Jews when I get to Israel, don't you Herman?" a then Governor George W. Bush allegedly asked a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.

When the journalist, Ken Herman, replied that he did not know, Bush reportedly delivered the punchline: "I'm telling 'em they're all going to hell."

Only an anti-Semite would think this type of humor is acceptable. Did you tell the Jews of Israel they were going to hell? No, instead, you told them that American Democrats are Nazi sympathizers and in an act of sheer indecency, the right wing Likud party orchestrated the greatest applause you ever got. For shame!

What this blind adoration finally proves to me is that the right-wing regime that has overtaken Israel cares nothing for its people, its heritage, and the tragic history that they
now honor by applauding a man whose family-fortune was built on the bodies of theirloved ones. Like their Republican (and Lieberman) counterparts in the
United States, Likud does not represent its people, rather, it represents its owners. Likud
has traded Israel, its Jews, their heritage and history for the same golden calf purchased and sold by the far-right wing in the United States.

I am ashamed of you Mr. Bush. I am ashamed of those who applauded your political porn played out against the hallowed backdrop of the Holocaust. I am ashamed of those reporters with you, who between them could not muster the moral courage to call you out on your ugly rhetoric and ask you about your own family Nazi ties.

You are, sir, the most abhorrent human being of my lifetime. I dare say, in the lifetime of this nation.

Unknown said...

Civil Rights are being perverted even more subtlely thn via incidents such as the jenna Six, and the Bell assasination.

We have to become effectual by becoming educated and passing that education along. I am not familiar with the ideal of blogging. but I know that it offers an opportunity for people that share our perspective to share and come together on our ideals.

We not only need civil rights, but our representation politically, to be moved to this venue.

But That is simply my perspective.