New project at Colorlines for the Drop the I-Word campaign: Immigrants in their own voices speak about impacts of the "i-word":
There is nothing more powerful than learning first hand about the personal experiences of immigrants who are affected by the i-word, or of non-immigrants bearing witness to the impact the racial slur has on our communities. So today we launch our “I Am” storytelling project, in which people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language as a way for media and others to describe their neighbors, children, families and themselves. Dara Craven, the first to share her story, inspires us to all be determined to get rid of the i-word and the dehumanization and hate it generates.
Since January 25th I've been thinking that some link to the people's uprising in Egypt would be a perfect way to update this blog. I finally found one (via Twitter) in a post at The Awl by Maria Bustillos. Here's how she begins:
There was a lot wrong with Malcolm Gladwell's super-ballyhooed piece, "Small Change," in the New Yorker last October. In it, he suggested that the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. took place without Twitter or Facebook, because they hadn't been invented yet. Now that the same questions have come up again with respect to recent events in Egypt, Gladwell hopped right onto the New Yorker blog to complain some more about how not-important Twitter is.
I remember reading Gladwell's article last fall. While I appreciated his recounting of the lunch counter protest in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February of 1960 (not that far from where I was attending 8th grade in Chapel Hill), I did not resonate with his accounting of social networks in the context of social activism. And I totally missed most of the subsequent discussion around Gladwell's take on it.
Here's where Bustillos's reaction to Gladwell's reprise of his social network critique in relation to the Egyptian uprising really grabbed the heart of my attention:
It is really hard to believe that a famous communicator like Malcolm Gladwell wouldn't understand instinctively what it means to people simply to be heard. That goes double for people who are suffering in a just cause. It is strengthening to speak and be heard, and most strengthening of all to hear words of support in return, even (and maybe in this case, especially) from very far away.
This idea has come up for me as one of extreme importance on several fronts. It has a lot to do with why I started this blog.
In my practice of psychoanalysis and my volunteer work in grassroots social and environmental justice, I have become acutely aware that we humans can share our lived experience very precisely simply by speaking it. Such acts of speaking -- even if only to ourselves -- have power that is transformational, power that can heal. But if our suffering has arisen in relationship with another person, or a group or a nation in which we are marginalized and oppressed, I think we can only be whole again if we can speak our truth and know that someone has heard us...really heard us.
Just out of curiosity, I did a 2 Google searches using "Malcolm Gladwell on social networking" and "social networks and activism" to see what would come up. Clearly, I missed most of the discussion after Gladwell's "Small Change" article and his round 2 offering last week. Looking through the search results, it was interesting to see the variety of specific "slipping points" (or maybe "splitting points"?) over the role of social networks to global protest.
In my review of 50+ articles and many comments attached to them, I did find a few that seemed headed in a direction similar to that of Bustillos.
More than a year ago at the HuffPost blog Technology as Anthropology, Jose Anotonio Vargas wrote of the world's response to the Haiti earthquake:
In his post last December, Bearing Witness, One Tweet at a Time, Vargas comes back to this theme in sharing a link to an article on a homeless man who became an advocate for the homeless:
Take Eric Sheptock, a former crack addict and now homeless advocate who is the subject of a remarkable story in today's Washington Post, written by Nathan Rott. It's one of the most insightful and nuanced articles written about social media this year -- a must-read for anyone who questions the value of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
In other words, it's not the tools, it's the people. But the key difference is, unlike the printing press, radio and television -- largely top-down mediums controlled by a relatively small group of people -- the Internet as a communications and organizing tool places the power squarely on the individual. The individual has a voice. The individual can be heard. The individual can fight back. Which altogether redefines our sense of community -- "I" easily grows to "we" online. You don't need to be an American to realize that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, among others, are rebooting the first three words of the U.S. Constitution for our hyper-connected, borderless era, redefining the meaning of citizenship across the globe. Online, "We the people ..." takes on a whole new meaning.
Despite Gladwell’s disinterest, the courage of protesters in China (over the suppression of the Nobel prize winner Lui Xiaobo), Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, to face violence and then share their story using social media is important because of the infinitely scalable connectivity it enables.
After briefly outlining how social media enables the empowerment of activists, Mainwaring says:
By offering these six levels of engagement, social media provides a complex and deep infrastructure perfect for the activist processes of social transformation—which include information acquisition, knowledge development, transfer and sharing; ideation and thought leadership; empathy and emotional connection; and the spread of credible ideas that inspire cognitive dissonance. These tools are accessible to everyone, available 24/7, infinitely scalable, real time and free.
The opportunities that blogs, interactive online media and social networks have given me to speak are pretty awesome, but opportunities to hear and to bear witness have been profound as well. I don't think Gladwell hears me, and I think his concept of activism is way too tight.
I found some other articles that challenge Gladwell's social network ideas, and speak to possibilities for something beyond activism as many of us know it. Here are the links: