|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 18||April 30, 1997|
We all know there is a dark side to cyberspace, a gathering place for racists, hate-mongers, religious bigots, and others who refuse to tolerate the differences that exist among human beings. All too often, this dark side gets our attention while positive aspects of the Internet are overlooked.
The Countering White Supremacy Workshop and the Nitrogen Project are Web sites that bring light and hope to cyberspace.
Each One Teach One
San Francisco activist Sharon Martinas has dedicated her life to fighting racism. She developed and teaches the Countering White Supremacy Workshop, which uses the community organizing model of "Each One Teach One," to train grassroots anti-racist activists. The Workshop's organizing strategy was inspired by the work of African American organizers in the southern-based freedom movements of the 1950's and 1960's.
Sharon doesn't own a computer; her first tour of cyberspace took place on a Sunday afternoon in early March when she visited NetAction. Nevertheless, with a little help from some Net-savvy colleagues, Sharon will soon be training anti-racism activists in cyberspace.
The Challenging White Supremacy Workshop Web site is a recent addition to the Web, online now at: http://www.cwsworkshop.org/. The Workshop will be offered via an E-mail list later this year. Activists interested in participating can pre-register by sending an E-mail message from the Web site.
Grassroots organizing in cyberspace takes many forms. Some organizations create flashy Web sites rich in such "bells and whistles" as Java applets, Real Audio, and frames. The Challenging White Supremacy site is simple in comparison, consisting mostly of a digitized version of Sharon's written materials. But as a tool for grassroots organizing, it can be just as effective. And it's a powerful reminder that the most important tool for a Virtual Activist is not a computer, but the information that it can store and transmit to others.
We Will Remember
All sorts of hate mongers are using the Internet to spread racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry. As a Jew, I feel a particularly strong sense of outrage over the Holocaust denial movement, which seeks to erase this ugly chapter from history. Hate speech, bigotry and other forms of intolerance are prevalent in cyberspace because the Internet provides an unfiltered medium of communication, and whenever people can speak freely, there are some who speak to the darker side of human nature. As offensive as this can be, I believe the best way to counter hate speech is not with censorship, but with more speech.
Web sites can be particularly effective forums for countering hate speech. The Nizkor Foundation, for example, exists specifically to refute the Holocaust denial movement. One of the objectives of the Nizkor Project is to archive material that deals with, documents, and exposes the phenomenon and history of hate, and -- of equal importance -- the nonviolent resources and tools that we can use to combat hate.
Nizkor is a Hebrew word meaning "We will remember." The Nizkor database, located at http://www.nizkor.org/ is the Internet's largest collection of Holocaust-related material. The thousands of documents on the site are designed to provide point-by-point refutation to the statements of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites on the Web. Free speech advocates who are looking for ways to counter hate speech will find the resources they need at this site.
The tools are different, but the techniques that activists need to organize in cyberspace are not very different than the tools that activists use to organize in their own communities. Electronic petitions and E-mail action alerts are digitized versions of organizing tools that grassroots activists have been using quite effectively for years. These tools can be more powerful in cyberspace because they make it possible to reach greater numbers of people, to reach them almost instantaneously, and to reach them with minimal cost.
For some useful tips on using E-mail, visit this week's Mother Jones Web site, at: http://www.mojones.com/hellraiser_central/show.pl?krause1.html and read my article in Hellraiser Central: The Online Activist: Tools for Organizing in Cyberspace.
Street Corners in Cyberspace
There may not be street corners in cyberspace, but that hasn't stopped activists from collecting signatures. Electronic petitions are an increasingly popular tool for mobilizing grassroots citizen action in cyberspace, especially when the goal is to get lawmakers to act in the public's interest.
Common Cause recently launched Project Independence, an electronic petition campaign to pressure Congress to pass tough, bipartisan campaign finance reform. Campaign finance reform advocates hope to gather an ambitious 1,776,000 signatures to convince Congress that the people who elect them want change.
Supporters of campaign finance reform can sign the petition by visiting the Project Independence Web site, at: http://www.projectindependence.org, or by sending an E-mail message to: .
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is one of the pioneers in cyberspace organizing. EPIC is a small but effective organization working to protect the privacy of personal information being compiled and stored electronically. One of EPIC's strategies has been to organize coalitions around specific issues, using E-mail outreach to build the coalitions, then setting up E-mail discussion lists so that coalition members can be contacted quickly whenever action is needed.
EPIC recently put these tools to work on two separate fronts.
Last week, an EPIC staffer sent an E-mail alert to members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), asking them to sign onto a letter to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressing concern over the prosecution of a Compuserve employee for making Internet access available to German subscribers. Within days, 27 civil liberties organizations in a dozen different countries, including NetAction, had signed the letter, which argued that prosecution of the Compuserve employee would "have a harmful impact on Internet users around the world." The coalition also expressed concern that Germany's action might encourage other governments to engage in censorship.
GILC has a Web site at: http://www.gilc.org where a copy of the letter is posted along with information about the coalition.
Earlier this week, EPIC staffers again sent out an E-mail alert, this time to members of the Internet Privacy Coalition requesting their signature on a letter to Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), urging reconsideration of one provision of his SAFE encryption bill while expressing general support for the legislation. The provision that concerns EPIC and other privacy advocates would criminalize the use of encryption "in furtherance of the commission of a criminal offense."
Again within a matter of days, EPIC was able to deliver a letter signed by 25 organizations, including NetAction. The letter is on the Web, at: http://www.privacy.org/ipc/safe_letter.html.
The Clinton administration is also using the Internet for outreach, both to share information with citizens, and to hear from citizens on important policy matters. Currently, the administration is soliciting comments on its draft guidelines for ensuring individual privacy on the Internet. The Information Policy Committee of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) Task Force recently issued a draft for public comment of its White Paper, "Options for Promoting Privacy on the National Information Infrastructure."
The draft is on the Web at: http://www.iitf.nist.gov/ipc/privacy.htm and comments may be submitted by e-mail through June 27, 1997, to: .
The rapid growth of the Internet and other advances in information technology have sparked growing public concern about the privacy of personal information. The draft White Paper provides an overview of the new information technologies, and describes how personal information is being collected, shared, aggregated, and disseminated in ways that didn't exist just a few years ago. It also examines the current laws and policies governing information privacy in government records, communications, medical records, and the consumer market, and describes the full range of mechanisms for ensuring fair information practices. The options that are discussed range from letting the market decide, to having government regulate information privacy in all sectors of the economy.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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