Activism…with a twist

Have you ever been a part of something that you were so passionate about that you were willing to go to great lengths to get the message across?  For Zeke Spier, he began to experience these emotions when he attended college and got involved with political activism.  Larry Elin writes an intriguing essay about “The Radicalization of Zeke Spier: How the Internet Contributes to Civic Engagement and New Forms of Social Capital.”  He begins the essay by saying that “No matter where one stands on the issues, the passion, resolve, and courage of committed protesters make temperatures rise, and onlookers are left either emotionally inspired or intimidated” (p. 97).  This is an apt statement because protesters are people who get their message across with the hopes that people will join them in their struggles to reach even more people–in a way, they are “the embodiment of the first amendment” (p. 98).

Zeke Spier was chosen for the article by Elin because he fit their requirements for “balance in representation across age, sex, ethnicity, political affiliation, and other demographics” (p. 99).  Also, Spier was an activist with a unique tie–the internet.  Elin writes, “The Internet became for him the link between education and motivation and the catalyst for action” (p. 99).  Spier has an interesting history because he has always had an interest in injustice and news.  He grew up in Oregon where “mass media–television, newspapers, and even theater–had played a major role in shaping his sense of self, but had contributed little to helping him find his place in a collective” (p. 101).  When he attended college at Brown, things changed.  He finally found students who thought like him and who were actively involved in making a difference.  He states: “‘One list led to another, and I started getting information about everything.  Meeting updates, discussions, teach-ins, scheduled demonstrations, you name it'” (p. 101).  This beginning helped him when he finally figured out even better ways to get involved with issues he thought important.

For example, his background helped him “feel right at home on the Internet” which led him “to connect [with] people with similar beliefs who were separated by time and space” (p. 101).  In other words, the Internet was the place that Spier was able to find people with similar beliefs and finally gave him that connection with a collective group that he had been missing previously.  The Internet is also a great way to find demonstrations and places that help people meet up and figure out who will be doing what during the demonstration.  The article also mentions how the Internet has made the Black Bloc and affinity groups much easier to organize and find to ensure the most success possible during a demonstration.

Spier says that perhaps the most important reason why the Internet is so influential with people who are interested in activism is because it makes Convergence locations–“places where teach-ins, training, and gatherings take place when protesters come in from out of town”–easier to find and locate (p. 107).  Spier says that without the Internet, “I don’t know how I would have found anybody” (p. 107).

With political activism, there is a constant threat of arrest.  However, for people, like Spier, who are so passionate about activism, this consequence is really not important.  In fact, it is almost like a trophy that one can talk about and show off with other like-minded people to show how dedicated to the cause one really was.  The Internet makes activism more interesting because it allows for the possibility of mass communication at the press of a button.  Spier believes that without the Internet, activism would not be as successful or jarring because the demonstrations would not have the numbers needed to make an adequate statement.

This is an interesting issue that will only develop further as the Internet expands and becomes more and more accessible.  It is hard to imagine how people in the ’60s and ’70s were able to demonstrate without the Internet, purely because it would be harder to communicate with mass numbers of people ahead of time.  However, it will be interesting to see how the Internet continues to affect activism and how it changes the look and feel of what activism is.



Article: Ayers Michael D. and Martha McCaughey. Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.


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