Activism 2.0: myBLOC Rocks! | The Nation


Activism 2.0: myBLOC Rocks!

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Sabrina Ford

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May 17, 2007

The MyBLOC Jump-Off:

Ever looked at the jumble of sleazy personal ads, bad basic layouts and suspicious corporate forces behind MySpace and thought to yourself, "This ain't me!" Turns out a lot of folks feel that way, and, more importantly, an innovative group of them have put their heads together to make something more authentic. These same folks know that technology may be the next frontier for a new generation of social activism.

But technology intended to connect young activists needs to be culturally relevant and user- and value-centric, and support face-to-face organizing.

That's according to ibrahim abdul-matin, 30, a technology organizer at the Movement Strategy Center, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that supports young activists in the development of networks and alliances. This rubric is the result of matin and his colleagues' experience conceptualizing and developing myBLOC.net, a social networking website for young activists of color, as well as his overall organizing work.

"I document the progressive youth movement, and I help create technology tools to keep the youth activists and organizers connected," said matin. "We're trying to do some thinking around what social and racial justice organizations should be looking for in technology."

MyBLOC, the first website of its kind is the byproduct of the BLOC (Building Leadership, Organizing Communities) Network, a group committed to youth-initiated social progress. Generational Alliance, a collaborative of organizations, including the Movement Strategy Center, supports another first--a national database of youth organizations and organizers, the Future 5000 project.

Both sites are part of the Movement Technology Collaborative, which also includes the Youth Media Council and TUMIS, the design firm that built all three sites.

In the age of MySpace and Craigslist, young people are accustomed to going online for just about everything--getting information, meeting new people and connecting with friends. MyBLOC and Future 5000 are now using Web 2.0 to organize a movement. These organizations face the challenge of developing web tools in such a way that doesn't simply mimic those popular sites but addresses the specific needs and culture of young activists.

Kat Aaron, 29, is co-director of People's Production House, a media justice organization working with young people in New York. PPH provides media training to young people who want to create an independent media that speaks to and reflects their culture and concerns. Due to the nature of PPH's work, myBLOC is a particularly attractive alternative to MySpace.

"It's complicated," said Aaron. "A lot of the young people we work with are on MySpace, but they're also very cognizant of the political and regulatory issues of using a hub for young people owned by News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch. They're kids, but they're well-versed and they know who Rupert Murdoch is."

Whether or not her student's peers know who Rupert Murdoch is, they certainly know MySpace. This, said Aaron, is not likely to affect myBLOC. Facebook, Friendster and MySpace have already proven that people are willing to belong to more than one social-networking site. Besides, myBLOC offers what MySpace doesn't--an online experience free of intrusive advertising.

"It's important for young people to have a space to communicate with each other where the motive is not profit." said Aaron, "If the goal is to facilitate exchange, then that's a very different goal than trying to see how many eyeballs you can get on an ad."

Also, because myBLOC users have common interests and goals, it is a much more focused user experience. "For us the opportunities for connection that someplace like myBLOC affords is very important to us," said Aaron. "For people who are organizing about issues of national relevance with a very local focus, it's a nice opportunity to connect with people who are doing similar work."

Aaron points to the Allied Media Conference's new website as evidence that the use of Web 2.0 to connect organizers and activists is catching on. This year, participants have created individual profiles as a way to connect in the months leading up to the June conference. "It's a great way to build momentum and have a more horizontal exchange of information, rather than us just sending out information," said Aaron, who is on the conference's advisory board.

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