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February 14, 2007

Comments

Mike Ananny

I think the idea of virtual protests (and online activism in general) is new and important but I wonder about the efficacy of such initiatives. I once heard a Congressman say that his office weights different constituent communications proportional to the effort taken to craft them: a physical letter written by someone who actually found a stamp and a mailbox will be given more importance than someone who submits a generic protest letter via a political action committee website.

I think the point here is that "protest" and "march" might not be the right words to describe what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing. It might be clever marketing to frame this as a "protest" -- invoking memories of engaged crowds and powerful speeches on the Mall -- but, long-term, such efforts won't garner the same kind of respect as material-world marches. We should be careful not to confuse relatively easy on-line actions with the commitments and risks associated with material world political presence.

shmuel

It's all a virtual march by employers to enforce their ability to put actual pressure on employees trying to organize and to deprive them from the right to organize.

This "virtual" business is a current technological implementation, as well as short cut, of the letter writing campaigns. Nothing new here.

Cindy Liou

I agree with the two comments above that there is something both new and old about this planned “virtual march.” While it is not new in the sense that signing online letters/petitions do not differ greatly in their goal of persuasion through the sheer volume of letters, the Internet as allowed a greater, wider audience to more easily and quickly participate in this form of protest. It simply is less effort to write a formal letter, print it, and mail it to your local representative.

Additionally, the Internet has allowed people to become active in global movements and other issues (e.g. Fair Trade coffee, animal rights, etc.) by reconfiguring the individual's sense of belonging to a greater community.

I also believe that we need to be careful in thinking that something like a “virtual march” can replace physical, in-person activism or protest. After all, the most prominent and successful images in our minds of protests trace back to the Civil Rights movement and protests of the Vietnam War, where protesters used their sheer presence and number to send a message out to the rest of America. Those protests were also marked by violent responses from the police, which in turn shocked the rest of America into passing new legislation (e.g. prime example of this was the passing of the Civil Rights Act in response to images of dogs biting peaceful civil rights protesters in Birmingham).

We also need to be careful to not allow virtual activism to replace traditional forms of civic involvement, such as the simple act of voting, or community service. The Internet, in all of its forms of connecting different communities, can also create an isolating effect if users begin to curtail (or significantly alter) their interaction with society only through cyberspace.

However, with the plethora of examples of Internet campaigns or letter-writing on the Internet, we should look to see how the Internet can be harnessed to promote activism and civic involvement—the “virtual march,” if not effective with the targeted audience, still serves a function in garnering the interests of potentially otherwise apathetic people in being engaged with their society.

Shani

Although critics have panned “virtual marches” as being useless or mired in laziness, virtual marches can play a critical role in our system of democracy. First of all, they create a system where oppressed or disenfranchised groups can express their frustrations with a seemingly distant government. In this way, online protests support the idea of a “release valve” that was one of the initial purposes behind Freedom of Speech in the first place. Second, they allow for people who may be restricted because of financial or physical handicaps to participate in the democratic process: online protests are truly equal opportunity. Finally, online protests permit people from all over the world to witness and comment on the democratic spirit of protest; not even a network news feed is needed. Therefore, while online protests certainly do not have the visual impact of an actual march, their benefits may yet and still outweigh their admitted deficiencies.

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