Activism online: an ideal place?

In the very beginning, I’m not sure that I know one exactly, so I go to Wikipedia to do the research and find a list of political organizations in alphabetical order. Another problem is, I cannot tell which one is belong to political party, thus I choose one named China Support Network (CSN), which cannot be an official websites led by CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and in the meantime, this is certainly blocked in Mainland China.

According to Rohlinger and Brown, and many previous scholars, compared to traditional media outlets, Internet is a well-know platform for public voice and higher-level citizen engagement. Since political shocks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 result in increasing fear and risks perceived by activists, anonymity, a principal nature of the Internet, “enabled respondents to voice dissent but in a much less public way” (p. 142). However, what the respondents said surprised me somehow as they mentioned they worried about “anonymity was not guaranteed” or “is this being tracked by someone” (p. 143). I don’t know whether American people would equal this kind of surveillance to censorship, as the latter is always linked to China context. In other words, there is no pure, absolute freedom and democracy even in cyberspace; is it reasonable to say the so-called free space might be just an “illusion”?

When China Support Network is juxtaposed with MoveOn, it’s easy to recognize that MoveOn puts more emphases on moving individuals “from the armchair to the street” (p. 134) by creating diverse political action such as Eat, Call Win Party. Both online and real-life participation are crucial for activists within MoveOn community.  Furthermore, participation contributes a lot to democratic process. But CSN seems like more “silent” by only posting some news articles and video clips. However, I just wonder whether CSN’s online protests actually have impact on current political climate. Does Chinese government really care about what the activists say overseas? I doubt.

In addition, weeks ago we found online political discourses often shaped polarized viewpoints. How about online political organizations? I have to say CSN is sort of egregious radical, at least for me. I don’t like their wording such as “Demand to Chinese government” or the slogan “Free Tibet”, it’s more anti-China than activism. When people discuss about democratic society, they always suppose government should allow diverse voice. But I don’t think it’s reasonable for government to allow everything—this is misunderstanding of democracy.

Burma’s issue reminds me of Iran’s protest via Twitter. It’s necessary to notice that “we don’t like things they way they are doesn’t mean we don’t like our country” (p. 144). Therefore, how to deal with being both patriotic and liberal is the crux. With respect to Rohlinger and Brown’s case study, MoveOn provides collective sense of belongingness while I think CSN does the same. But all the content on CSN is based on Tiananmen Square issue in 1989; without this historical event, CSN talks about nothing. This point makes its oppositional opinions less grounded and sound. Finally, it’s less risky for activists to conduct any action in a foreign country rather than in home country. Therefore I think CSN is a much more transnational community whereas MoveOn is definitely a local one.

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~ by luckymaggie on October 16, 2010.

11 Responses to “Activism online: an ideal place?”

  1. I like what you had to say regarding the collective sense of belonging provided by MoveOn.org and other political activist organizations. The feeling of community, or that “we’re all in this together” is an aspect of online activism that I wish Rohlinger and Brown had touched on more. Also, I think it’s interesting that you raised questions regarding the efficacy of the protests by CSN in impacting or changing laws and policies in China. I often wonder if the political activist organizations in the U.S. (such as MoveOn.org and Project Vote Smart, which I studied) have an effect on lawmakers. I think having these different organizations is good for creating conversation and contributing to democracy, but I wonder if it really affects the laws and policies that are enacted.

  2. I also used Wikipedia to look for political activist organizations. I sort of gave up though and eventually asked my friends.

    It’s really interesting that even the CSN uses the word “grassroot” to describe itself. I think every political activist organization uses that word. Is an organization formed by “grassroot Americans” against the present Chinese government considered grassroot? I don’t think it really is.

  3. It’s interesting you raise the question of false anonymity in cyber space. The so-called anonymity is not untraceable. The government could always trace our cyber identity back to us if they want to. But I think the US government wouldn’t interfere with citizen’s privacy unless they have to, which is not the case in China. I also noticed you use the word “silent” to describe CSN’s activity (interestingly i use the word quiet to describe my case). We both know it’s almost impossible to be a political activist in mainland China, and somewhat difficult in Hong Kong and Macau. For those oversea organizations, although they have no constrain in expressing discontent towards Chinese government, the influence is definitely limited. i agree with your analysis of CSN’s website, for me, it’s a little aberrant also. If they sound more reasonable, maybe they could get more attention.

  4. Haha, seems like you are a real Chinese patriot, I’ll refrain from talking about the Tiananmen Square or Free Tibet issues then. But there’s something that I agree with you on for sure. Remember I said about how we cannot or it is hard to regulate people’s moral behaviors with law in my presentation? I have started to rethink about this issue these days, and I concur with you as you pointed out that “But I don’t think it’s reasonable for government to allow everything—this is misunderstanding of democracy.” Yes, we must not allow overindulgence and freedom must be limited. There must be some kind of nationwide agreed-upon moralities that we can adopt. I believe absolute freedom is detrimental to the survival of a nation in the long term.

  5. Comments for blog 8

    http://francesca6612.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/online-activism/#comment-67

    http://tinamoore2222.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/67/#comment-86

    http://sadiecone10.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/activism-and-the-internet-project-vote-smart/#comment-86

  6. I totally agree with you that “I don’t think it’s reasonable for government to allow everything—this is misunderstanding of democracy.” There wouldn’t be a government that allows everything even in a democratic society. As we discussed in class, there is no pure democracy. I think CSN is not as functional as MoveOn.org and they seemed a little preoccupied.

  7. It seems that many people use Wikipedia to find the list of political organization for this blog post, and I am one of them! You brought up the issue about the “anonymity was not guaranteed,” I think it is something that sometimes related to democracy. However, I often doubt whether making online debate fully anonymous is good for society; what if someone use anonymity to spread hate speech? I think there will never be a “correct answer for it.”

  8. I think the point “it’s less risky for activists to conduct any action in a foreign country rather than in home country” you mentioned is really interesting. I never thought about the aspect before. It is true that online participating political organization which is in other country or which is run in other country will be less risky. Challengers may be able to have more confidence about their anonymity. However, I am curious about the “from armchair to street” thing. Will this incite challengers in other country feeling more willing to stand out? Or will it decrease their willing of participation?

  9. I love the fact that this class has expanded our borders a bit so that we’re considering the notion of democracy in nations other than ours, because I’ll admit to having a tendency to be a little America-centric sometimes because I study the First Amendment. I forget sometimes that not everyone is blessed with the freedom to say what they’d like about their government, or even seek information (or share it) as they choose. In that regard, I think there is opportunity for the Internet to live up to the potential the authors see in it for deliberation and discussion. In countries like ours, however, where information is a commodity, I often wonder how much we take for granted… and therefore choose not to participate. It’s unfortunate, but I think sometimes true.

  10. Hello to Mengqing Liu, this is John from the China Support Network. I saw your discussion here, and thought I’d say hello.

    You are right that some other political organizations have websites that are more interactive, while CSN’s only occasionally adds new information, and what it’s really doing seems like “station keeping.”

    That is due to change in the next upgrade of our website. It is not ready yet, but it will be by the end of this year. There is a lot of “Web 2.0” technology (techniques) that we have not yet applied, and so it is our target to do exactly that in the next iteration of the CSN web site.

    There have certainly been changes over the years in how CSN works. But you should know that Gainesville was an important part of CSN’s beginnings. During June 4, I was simply a 22 year old college student, travelling across the United States on vacation. When June 4 actually happened, I was in Arizona.

    I travelled back to my home in Connecticut to start the China Support Network.

    But, at the University of Florida, there was a group called Students for a Better World, started by UF grad student Charlie Grapski. (Are you on that campus? Ask older people about Charlie Grapski, I bet they remember or know him.)

    Students for a Better World became swept up in the drama of that time. Everyone wanted to help the students! Soon, there was a merger. Students for a Better World became a part of CSN, and Charlie became a co-founder of CSN.

    We were using the early internet, before there was a WWW. (Usenet and telnet existed before http.) And we were using something called the CompuServe Information Service. That made it easier to be a wide-area organization; online is how people like Charlie and myself found each other.

    We met in Washington, DC, and there are 21 more years of CSN history that came later than that! But UF / Gainesville was very important at the beginning! 🙂

  11. I think the China Support Network is a rather small organization in comparison to MoveOn.org.

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