One of the largest civil rights demonstrations in years is set to take place in Jena, Louisiana today, and blogs have been crucial in making this protest happen. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, popular black radio talk show hosts and other celebrities will converge in Jena today to protest the unequal treatment of African-Americans there. And, a number of news outlets are taking note of the fact that this is a protest driven by blogs. For example, Howard Witt writing for the Chicago Tribune notes:
“..this will be a civil rights protest literally conjured out of the ether of cyberspace, of a type that has never happened before in America—a collective national mass action grown from a grassroots word-of-mouth movement spread via Internet blogs, e-mails, message boards and talk radio. … As formidable as it is amorphous, this new African-American blogosphere, which scarcely even existed a year ago, now comprises hundreds of interlinked blogs and tens of the thousands of followers who within a matter of a few weeks collected 220,000 petition signatures—and more than $130,000 in donations for legal fees—in support of six black Jena teenagers who are being prosecuted on felony battery charges for beating a white student.”
One of the people that Witt goes on to quote in the article is Shawn Willliams, who publishes the Dallas South Blog. More from the Tribune article:
” ‘In traditional civil rights groups, there’s a pattern—you call a meeting, you see when everybody can get together, you have to decide where to meet,’ said Shawn Williams, 33, a pharmaceutical salesman and former college NAACP leader who runs the popular Dallas South Blog.
‘All that takes time,’ Williams added. ‘When you look at how this civil rights movement is working, once something gets out there, the action is immediate—here’s what we’re going to write about, here’s the petition, here’s the protest. It takes place within minutes, hours and days, not weeks or months.’
This new, ‘viral’ civil rights movement now taking shape still benefits from the participation of well-known leaders like Jackson or Sharpton—it just doesn’t depend on them, bloggers say.
It was black bloggers, for example, who first picked up the story of Shaquanda Cotton, a 14-year-old black girl from the east Texas town of Paris who was sentenced to up to 7 years in youth prison for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. The judge who heard her case had given probation to a 14-year-old white girl charged with the more serious crime of arson.
After the bloggers and their readers bombarded the Texas governor with protest letters and petitions, Texas authorities freed Cotton—days before Sharpton had scheduled a rally on her behalf.
Is there a new ‘viral’ civil rights movement driven by bloggers who can bypass the white-dominated mainstream media? Let’s hope so….and work to make it happen.