It was before my time, but there are stories passed down from elders, historians, and episodes of “The Wonder Years” that tell of a time long past when people cared about what was going on in the world. It’s a remarkable, almost miraculous phenomenon to us now. We look at the Civil Rights Movement as a time when people were moved to action by the want of social justice, not just for themselves, but for others. They marched, protested, and actually changed things. But somehow political apathy seems to have seeped into our mainstream social climate. Has civil rights action altogether disappeared? Where has all the fire gone?
There are people who care about issues now, but it’s an arguably more subdued sort of “care”. One might yell at the TV news when a politician has done something deplorable, but the agitation would end there.
Enter technology as the new outlet for social justice awareness. The Internet is a vast wonderland of information, and is increasingly becoming a medium for social action. There are countless numbers of blogs drawing awareness to world issues, ranging from racism to environmentalism.
The website, Change.org, aggregates many of these modern concerns into one place. Here, bloggers write on issues of homelessness, women’s rights, genocide, and everything else under the sun that manages not to get the light of day in mainstream media.
The subjects are varied, but there is an underlying call for change in all the posts. For instance, blogger Mark Horvath comments on homelessness among veterans. He blogs, “The stories of homeless veterans are among the hardest to watch, if you ask me. These are men and women who were willing to wear the uniform, willing to put themselves in harm’s way. It must be tough to come to the realization that their country – the people and ideals that they fought for – are not half as eager to heal their pain, to have their backs. […] It is critical that this talk [of change] become real, tangible solutions. Our veterans have waited long enough.”
The website also provides petitions for action, such as: “Being a Woman Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition” petition, which lets users sign a letter asking representatives to make health insurance reform fair for women who are commonly charged higher premiums for being “at-risk” for pregnancy.
The website, GlobalVoicesOnline.org, is unique as it has dozens of blogging correspondents all over the world. Readers can choose their country or region of interest to narrow down their news focus on India, China, the Middle East, or Sub-Saharan Africa. It also takes international blogs and translates them into 18 different languages for the world wide online audience with its Project Lingua opens lines of communication with non-English speaking bloggers and readers of [Global Voices].
Resist Racism (resistracism.wordpress.com) and Racialicious.com often remind their readers that America is by no means a post-racial society. Resist Racism’s “no bull” approach to blogging often illustrates the subtle irony of racism and racial identity in some of the shortest blog posts possible. From a November 3 posting: “I heard the word “Oriental” used to refer to people three times this weekend, and somebody told me that her kid had slanty eyes just like mine.” Blogger “Jenn” of Reappropriate.com guest blogs on Racialicious about the growing Asian American vote and its older, foreign-born demographic as having a larger influence in Los Angeles County.
The common thread through all of these blogs is that each one attempts to bring worldwide attention to an issue without the directness of a march or a riot. The Internet is still a comparatively passive outlet; writers can pour their hearts out through a blog all they want but the venue seems like a rather shy way of doing it. It’s a shyness many people seem to share – perhaps that’s why in our current social climate, we elected a president who promised the most fundamental action: Change. Narins Bergstrom, a UW student who has goals of establishing schools for disadvantaged Asian women in the developing world, discusses how two American events in recent memory had given her the ultimate hope for a more politically-active America: the 1999 Seattle WTO protests and the election of Barack Obama. “I worry about the apathy that seems to render many useless in the face of so much opportunity,” said Bergstrom. “Those two events showed me the kind of promise I thought was worn out by the ‘60s and buried by the ‘80s.”
No one doubts the changing face of social action is on the Internet, but only time will tell whether online readers will be moved to action.