BWB bloggers on digital activism's past, present and future

The second annual Blogging While Brown conference concluded yesterday in Chicago, presenting a recharged enthusiasm for the potentials social media tools can present for digital activism. In what was possibly the largest gathering of African American bloggers and web content users since the election of the "Internet President" Barack Obama, there is a call from many in the black community to use Web 2.0 to actively campaign more on behalf of issues of most concern.

The online organizing and fundraising around Jena 6, led by Web-based activist group Color of Change, to date is still considered the most successful Internet campaign among African Americans. However, the ongoing protests and digital activism in the aftermath of Iran's presidential election last week have brought up some new thoughts on how the African Diaspora could handle social movements - past, present and in the near future. Some conference attendees wondered if the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Rwandan Genocide and the start of violence in Darfur could have had different outcomes if today's communications tools were around at the time of these events.

"What if black bloggers protested the Bush administration after [Hurricane] Katrina, like the Iranian protesters are doing now with their government," said one attendee. "We can learn a lot from the Iranians."

There was also discussion about how the black blogosphere will hold the first African American commander-in-chief and other politicians accountable on various domestic and international issues, such as health care, education, the war on terror, environmental justice, drug and criminal reform, unemployment and AFRICOM.

However, many agreed that possibly the next digital battle should be to make sure that the Internet is accessible to all. According to Megan Tady of the media reform group, Free Press, only 40 percent of Americans have access to broadband. When that number is broken down by ethnicity, Emarketer statistics show that African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 48.7 percent are online. Mobile technology is a widely used tool in this demographic, and text messaging was used by Katrina survivors after the storm.

With all the above discussed topics, clearly there is a yearning to take advantage of the new digital era. Gina McCauley, BWB founder, said she will make efforts at future conferences to make sure attendees will have all the available training to stay on top of their social media skills.

"Now is the time for us to stay ahead of the curve on this technology so we can make a difference in our community," she said.

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