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Activism: San Francisco, 4/9/08

April 09 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I'm in San Francisco on business today. It's also the day the Olympic torch came to town.

As I went from meeting to meeting I was amidst the activists and the buzz. It brought the concept of activism into the forefront of my mind.

This blog is focused on Surfrider's mission. The achievement of our mission absolutely includes an activist component, thus I'm blogging on this larger topic.

I won't comment on the Olympic torch run here... as I'm not even sure there was one, the route was changed to keep imagery like this and this off media and blogs. So, a tree might have fallen in the forest but no one saw it.

The purpose of this blog entry is twofold; to restate the fact that the world is flat and further to suggest that the definition of activism is being reinvented in real time.

1. The world is flat.
Nothing new in that statement other than to see the communications, technology and cultures mash up in seemingly real time. Sure, CNN has been broadcasting world news images and video for decades... yet things seem different now. One of the guys who climbed the Golden Gate yesterday was holding something close to a virtual press conference with international media, while tethered to the cables. Today, in the midst of the route people were texting each other minute-by-minute updates. At the recent California Coastal Commission hearing Surfrider used Pinger and Twitter to bring along thousands more people who couldn't make it that day... they enjoyed a play-by-play commentary as the day unfolded. We built support before, during and after that event with these tools. My simple point here is that a shift has happened, more and more power is being transferred into the hands of individuals... in this case, activists. One of my meetings earlier today was with Google to explore ways for us to get our core intelligence out to millions of people; if the water isn't clean shouldn't people have the chance to know that before they take their children swimming? This leads me to my second point.

2. Activism itself is being reinvented.
Perhaps this point is simply an extension of my first point but I think it's a tad more subtle. A historic definition of activism is "the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc." (dictionary.com). My sense is that the binary "you are either with us or against us" mentality has mutated. It's melding into a more lightweight, friend-based association... tomorrow's definition might be closer to "action or involvement, physical or virtual, commited to lightweight supporting, as a means of achieving a goal, awareness and/or momentum towards a cause". My point is that in the SMS era a person might get pinged by a buddy about an issue or event and right then make a decision to throw a small resource toward supporting that issue or event... could be a SMS-petition, a microfund via PayPal, etc. The US political races are using these tactics (Obama raising a million in a minute); music tours are starting to get their heads around the opportunity (and execution)... as is any group that wants to maximize their effectiveness.

I am glad I'm seeing those two things on the streets of San Francisco today because, in my opinion, they enable more people to participate in the dialog around any given issue. The activists in San Francisco didn't represent just one side, there was dialog (albeit heated) around the issues.

Dialog is a good thing. It is one way we learn; it's how we form and sometimes change our opinions, habits and worldviews.

In my opinion, these shifts in the definition and execution of activism are exciting, especially because the shift is happening... right before our eyes. These don't replace our traditional approaches; there will always be a strong place at the table for face-to-face interactions, community-educating initiatives and campaign-managing practices.

The quiver of toolsets is exanding. Let's understand the tools. Let's test the tools. Let's use the tools.

For the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches.

Image: Banksy
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