Blogging the AGM 2008 #11 (The changing face of activism)

7:45pm  The changing face of activism: Vuyiseka Dubula (Treatment Action Campaign) and Ben Brandzel (MoveOn.org / Avaaz.org). Chaired by Bruce Wylie (AIUK Head of Activism)

Two very different perspectives on activism today, one from South Africa, the other from the United States. One dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis healthcare situation at the sharp end, the other involved in cutting edge techno-activism in the space that hovers around and between NGOs and mainstream politics.

Vuyiseka and Treatment Action Campaign is involved in a wide array of types of campaigning – from lobbying to street protests to litigation. It's a tough environment within which to operate, but Vuyiseka feels they are making some progress.

Ben talked about the social networking / activism breakthrough that was MoveOn.org in 1998. He is an enthusiast for the 'revolutionary' potential of online organising and the exponentially expanding avaaz.org, which he tells us has added a million activists in the last fortnight on the back of their campaign for Tibet.

Ben says that there is no online versus offline activism – it's a false dichotomy. The first can be a communications tool to boost the second. For instance, MoveOn.org reckons it helped bring a lot of people out to vote in the US elections.

Vuyiseka recognises the organising potential of online activism for her groups's work, but says that cell phones are a better technological tool for them – there is near universal access to mobiles among her membership while only 20% would have easy, regular access to the internet.

Ben talks about the internet lowering the 'barriers to entry' for activism – i.e. online actions are easy to take. The challenge can then be to help people move up the scale of activism so that they get more and more involved in campaigning, including 'offline', traditional activism.

He notes that social networking activism has created a campaigning 'arms race' in the sense that in the US, a million-strong petition is nowhere near as impressive as it once was. The challenge now is to keep upping and meeting the ante – getting more people involved, taking more actions, raising more money, etc.

8:33pm  In response to questions from the floor, Vuyiseka talks about the postive role of trade unions in supporting their work, particularly that offered by COSATU (TUC equivalent).

Ben notes that 'hard to reach' regimes like Burma / Myanmar can be affected by mobilising people in democratic countries to put significant influence domestically on their own leaders to 'take on' the despots. This is not really news to Amnesty, but he certainly has techniques we could apply readily and (relatively) cheaply. Social networking is the key, he reckons. For the quick and easy, self-run, online campaign he recommends www.weebly.com as a web-tool. Will have to have a look.

Bruce brings us to the situation in Zimbabwe. We were due to have Jenni Williams from WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) with us this weekend, but she couldn't get a visa given the situatiion in the country. We're making a video of support messages from the AGM to send out to her and her colleagues as a gesture of solidarity.

9:00pm  OK, business over for the day. It's time to dance.

Link to post #12

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