NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 7 November 11, 1996
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


You Can Lead Activists to the Internet, But You Can't Make Them Use It
The Virtual Activist Workshop
A Chance to Chat
More Resources
How to Help NetAction

You Can Lead Activists to the Internet, But You Can't Make Them Use It

The Right-to-Know Network (RTK Net) is a powerful example of how the Internet can be a useful tool for community-based activists. Sponsored by two non-profit organizations, OMB Watch and The Unison Institute, RTK Net is an easy-to-use online database that contains a wealth of information about pollution and waste within communities.

RTK Net provides online copies of the numerous reports that industries and businesses are required to file with various federal agencies, including inventories of toxic chemicals, incident reports on toxic spills, and information on EPA Superfund sites. This information is searchable by address as well as by company name, and information is available in both detailed and summary form.

The online network also has a wealth of information on housing, including the American Housing Survey (AHS) data and other information on bank and mortgage company lending practices and the demographic characteristics of individual neighborhoods.

Environmental activists who are already familiar with the Internet will find RTK Net easy to use. Unfortunately, many environmental activists who are working on local issues are not familiar with the Internet. Furthermore, local activist organizations may not have the resources to make effective use of this powerful research tool.

This was made painfully clear at a recent workshop that OMB Watch hosted in Oakland to introduce RTK Net to Bay Area environmental activists. Participants included volunteers from Oakland-based PUEBLO (People United for a Better Oakland) and San Francisco-based CBE (Communities for a Better Environment). Both are highly visible and effective grassroots organizations, actively working at the neighborhood level to expose and eliminate local sources of pollution.

Several volunteers from these organizations attended the OMB Watch training in order to learn how to use the RTK Net. With few exceptions, the volunteers who participated were not using computers regularly. Some had never used a computer before that day. Even the staff members from these organizations had reservations about how useful RTK Net would be to neighborhood-based activists.

What struck me as I listened to the discussion at the end of the day was how much of a difference it would make if these organizations had just one or two Internet-savvy volunteers to help get them started. With a very small commitment of time, Internet activists could train one or two community activists to use RTK Net and other useful online resources. If one or two Internet-savvy volunteers were available by phone to troubleshoot, volunteer activists could learn to use RTK Net and other online resources to research local environmental issues. If volunteer activists had someone to call when they encountered a problem, they would probably feel much less intimidated by the technology, and be more willing to try it.

Many activists who are using technology don't realize how intimidating computers can be to those who don't use them. We will need to pay attention to this if we want to see powerful tools like RTK Net put to effective use by neighborhood activists. If there's a grassroots organization in your community, I bet they would welcome your help in getting online. Why not volunteer?

The RTK Net database can be accessed on the Web at, and is also accessible by telnet, gopher, and FTP.

The Virtual Activist Workshop

NetAction and the Media Alliance are co-sponsoring a half-day workshop on how to use the Internet for organizing, advocacy, media outreach, and fundraising.

The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 16 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the San Francisco State University downtown campus at 425 Market Street (by Fremont), in San Francisco. For those who are outside the Bay Area, I will be providing a summary report of the workshop in a future issue of NetAction Notes. I also hope to organize similar workshops in other communities.

Guest speakers include:

Cost of the workshop is $20 for Media Alliance and NetAction members, and $25 for non-members.

TO REGISTER, call Media Alliance at 415-546-6491.

Media Alliance is a non-profit organization bridging the media and public interest communities of the Bay Area. MA strives to ensure the free flow of information and ideas necessary to maintain a truly democratic society and dedicates itself to fostering the diversity of voices and perspectives, holding the media accountable for their impact on society and protecting freedom of speech.

NetAction, a project of The Tides Center, is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting effective grassroots citizen action campaigns by creating coalitions that link activists using the Internet with grassroots organizations, and educating the public, policymakers, and the media about technology-based social and political issues.

A Chance to Chat

I will be the guest this week on HotWired's Electronic Frontiers, a forum for discussion of techno culture and digital activism. The online chat is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m. PST, (Friday 02:00 GMT).

Hosted by journalist/activist Jon Lebkowsky, formerly of FringeWare Inc. and a founding member of the Austin, Texas, chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, HotWired's Electronic Frontiers is a forum for discussing the social, political, theoretical, and practical issues of cyberspace.

For more information about the chat, visit the Electronic Frontiers Web site at

More Resources

If you haven't visited the NetAction Web site in a while, you will find a few changes. The site has been reorganized and a new section has been added with links to other online resources. The Web site is located at

How to Help NetAction

Membership in NetAction supports continued publication of NetAction Notes, as well as a wide range of organizing and training activities. NetAction projects include helping grassroots organizations harness the power of the Internet as a tool for outreach and advocacy; helping activists who are already using the Internet do a more effective job of building a base of grassroots support for technology-based social and political issues; and promoting more widespread access to information technology by organizing hands-on demonstrations of the Internet.

Please join NetAction today by sending a check payable to NetAction/Tides Center to: NetAction, 601 Van Ness Ave. #631, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Regular membership is $50 per year; student/senior/low-income membership is $25 per year; sustaining membership is $100 per year; non-profit organization membership is $125 per year; and corporate membership is $250 per year.

NetAction brochures are available for distribution at conferences and other events. If you would like a supply of brochures to distribute, send email to: , and include your name and the mailing address where you would like the brochures sent.

Thanks for your support!

Copyright 1996 by The Tides Center/NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source.

NetAction is a project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. NetAction is dedicated to promoting effective grassroots citizen action campaigns by creating coalitions that link online activists with grassroots organizations, providing training to online activists in effective organizing strategies, and educating the public, policymakers and the media about technology-based social and political issues.

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