Online Tools to Promote Community Action

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Nathan Clinton

There are an incredible number of tools available to engaged communities working for change. However, relying to heavily on one form of organizing tool can leave people alienated from the issues effecting them. For example, many groups have chosen to focus solely on door to door organizing, and telephone campaigns. Though "face to face" neighborhood organizing may be most preferential it is not always the most viable. It can be a slow and costly process resulting in only a handful of citizens being prompted to action over a relatively long -time frame. Using online tools can speed the process and facilitate in the necessary information reaching as many people as possible.


For years activist and community organizations have relied heavily on the distribution of information for the purpose of prompting community action from mail, to telephone, and of course door to door community outreach. Despite relative effectiveness in creating movements across the country we still have seen a dangerous lapse between the speed of corporate and government descision making, and the citizens' ability to organize and voice concern about these decisions. The ability to get the information and speak out in response weather in support or opposition is vital to our democratic process, and is necessary for a more participatory approach to creating the society we want as citizens.


During the 1960s the United States witnessed a social upheaval as citizen response to the Vietnam War grew in vehement opposition, but that response wasn't witnessed overnight. It took several years before the opposition took hold of the American mainstream. Despite seeing young soldiers die daily on the TV screen, the call to action was slow in appearance. The communication tools of the day were mainly relegated to flyers and telephone campaigns to seek the support of anti-war demonstrators around the country. Though effective once the campaign ball began to roll it took an enormous amount of effort to build up the necessary momentum to carry it nationwide. Though the citizen action organized by these various methods worked it took longer than many would have hoped.
In light of the relatively recent advances in technology new tools in the attempt to create strong community organization have emerged. Tools like e-mail list-serves, message boards, chat and instant messengers, visual and audio data transfer, all of which add a new dimension to the work of connecting people around issues. Within the last 5 years we have seen an explosion in electronic tools being utilized for the purpose of community organizing. This sudden race to jump on the band wagon has come about because these tools work well. The most notable and apparent outcomes of this kind of organizing can be seen in the "No-Iraq War" protests that were held world wide. Millions of people conversed through electronic methods to reach their goals, much of which was done mainly through e-mail. People were able to enhance there connections and mobilize quickly in the face of the impending war, rather than being in the dark for months, even years before the citizens response could be heard. If these tools had not been utilized in the ways they were during the months preceding the protests most of us would have still been in the dark.


It is imperative that as activists, community organizers, and average concerned citizens that all available tools are brought to bear in the attempt to facilitate the mobilization of concerted community action. The effectiveness in e-mail list serves, instant messaging, community forums, live video feeds, streaming audio and other forms of online communications is undeniable. These applications are dynamic and interactive lending themselves to be used in a wide variety of situations. They are fast, relatively easy to use, and comparatively cheap in cost. How do we know this? Because these tools show themselves best when they are put to the test in real live situations. As they get more use in situations that require timing and quick organization we will see these tools only help to add solidarity weather it be local or global.
Through adding more outlets for communication we open up the ability of carrying information and reaching more people than ever dreamed. We must continue to push our knowledge of these communication technologies to the limit. By doing this we can bring forth the best and most apt responses as the moment arises around the world.

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