Why We Should Develop a Strategy for Online Activism
In the last few months, I've had concern about the growth and direction of both my chapter (Sacramento/Davis) and Zeitgeist Movement as a whole. I often feel as though we're not growing and expanding at the pace we should, and I'm not sure if we're engaging people enough on a mass level around the ideas and objectives of the movement.
When I started out as a political activist back in the late eighties and early nineties, most of my activism centered inside the college and university settings. These venues allowed for daily awareness building, meetings, and events with fellow students. Of course back then there was no Internet, emails, or YouTube videos. We didn’t do Facebook, we did face-to-face, and lots of phone calls. Today, however, the current generation has an unlimited amount of choices and distractions in terms of how to use their time. The fact that so many people have responded positively to the Zeitgeist Movement by way of Peter's videos shown largely over the Internet is evidence of the power and reach of this online medium.
This influence even reaches to my chapter, as it no doubt does to other chapters. Since June of this year, exactly 10 people have found their way to the TZMSacDavis website and joined with little or no influence and work on the part of us core members. When new members respond to why they are signing up on the group site, they typically say because they saw the "Zeitgeist movie" on Netflix or YouTube, or because a friend told them about the movies. These ten members showed up not because they were talked into doing so, but because they agreed with the content of the movies and how the world could possibly be changed for the better.
However, while only two of the ten members have become somewhat actively involved in the chapter, we, the core members of the chapter are faced with the challenge of how to engage new, and even unseen potential members who join the Groupsite. People sign up for a reason; it's our job to see how we can get them involved. But get involved for what purpose?
The Necessity for Online Activism
Recently, I and another core member engaged in a discussion about our concerns with the growth of the movement, and we wondered about what it is that we're asking people to do when they join the Chapter. In other words, we discussed why should people get involved? What's the purpose?
As we talked, my response was that one of the things we could be engaging in, as part of the movement, is Online Activism. This is not a new concept, and in many ways we members of the movement already engage in such activism. Even this, the main TZM website, represents online activism and community building. But here's a reason I still bring it up: Only one core member of our chapter at this time is a student on the college campus. The rest of us work full-time, have families, and engage in many other social and personal activities — the movement being one of them. But even though we can't always get out and do the street activism that we want or should be doing, I think it's important that we don't overlook the importance of online activism.
What I mean by online activism is using the various communities that we and others created online to engage each other and other people outside the movement around the ideas of a resource-based economy, as well as the economic, political, and social problems we face throughout the world. Clearly many of us are already engaged in this type of online activism, but I'm arguing that we more consciously strategize on chapter levels how we do online activism. While ultimately the best way to engage people is through physical meetups, such as Town Halls, street activism, and festivals, the conditions for that type of activism may not always be possible until the chapter has built a significant membership base and resources to sustain those type of gatherings. At the same time, online activism could support physical community activism — not be a strategy separate from it.
Ideas for Online Activism
Online activism as a strategy can be done by both individual members and collectively by core members of each chapter. This is what makes it so practical for all members. For example, online activism might include:
1. Building online communities via our chapter Groupsites. Getting people to engage in Groupsite threads and forums. Or using other online tools such as Ning or BuddyPress, for example.
2. Holding audio and video discussions and debates using Google Hangout, BlogTalk Radio, UStream, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other spaces where we can engage a cross section of people.
3. Building communities around chapter blogsites and YouTube channels in which we try to get as many people to sign up as possible and leave comments.
4. Start Q&A forums where people can ask questions and get answers from members of the movement, not just Peter.
5. Become members of existing and relevant forums, such as Reddit, and engage and debate participants concerning the topics and ideas of a resource-based economy.
1 in 4 people spend more time online than they do asleep. Thus, like street activism or online marketing, online activism if done in a committed, planned, and strategic way could be strong force in building the movement.
With the tools of the Internet, there should be no reason why TZM Global Radio is the only show in town. Several chapters can raise their voices using the same medium and tools. Each time Peter posts a new episode of his television show, there's no reason why 10 to 20 online podcasts, Google Hangouts, and Facebook threads can't engage viewers about the content of his online shows. In fact at the end of each episode, there might be a list of online communities where people can engage with TZM members around the issues raised in each episode.
Any individual, organization or company will tell you, building online communities takes time and persistence, but when a core group of chapter members work together, the tasks don't have to be overwhelming. There's mountains of resources and ideas for building communities, but such communities won't build themselves. It will take people committed to the movement and its ideas.
I look forward to reading what others think about strategies for online activism. Online activism is not a new idea, but I'm wondering, are we as a movement consciously building communities or are we relying too much on Peter's videos to do so?