Community Organizing Through Online Mobilization: #NoDAPL

Social media has transformed community organizing. Every day, individuals are able to connect with millions of people online to spread information and mobilize others to take action.

On Tuesday, the #NoDAPL movement tapped into online networks to build their following and organize protests on a global scale to stand in solidarity with the indigenous communities against fossils fuels.  

In an interview with MediaFile, John Qua, a volunteer at 350DC and community organizer for the Stop Dakota Access: DC Solidarity Action protest at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Washington, D.C., explained how Facebook plays a large role in activism in two ways: “mobilizing your base” and spreading your awareness.

As one of three hosts for the protest’s Facebook event, he said that this feature is a good way to connect to those already involved in the movement so they they quickly see the event and participate.

Beyond a movement’s immediate support, these Facebook events create opportunities for people who don’t normally get involved. People can share the event with their friends, engage in discussion directly on the page, or even promote other related events.

According to the Facebook event page, 3,200 users were interested in the event, 1,000 said they were attending the event, and 2,800 people shared the event with others. Was this an accurate representation of actual number of people who turned out? According to Qau, the organizers had a headcount of almost 3000 people who attended both rally and march, a much closer figure to the number of people interested than those who committed to going on the Facebook event itself.

Facebook Live also played a role in creating awareness for those who weren’t able to attend the event. A live video of the DC protest, along with many other cities, was shared from Sacred Stone Camp’s Facebook page, one of the larger movement organizations that represents many of the indigenous people on the ground at the Standing Rock Camp.

“It has definitely blown up in the activism space, and just like [in] the progressive movement, because it can capture everything from like police brutality to terrible inhumane acts at the Standing Rock Camp live,” said Qua. “For activist events, it’s a great way to pull in people from across the country who didn’t have the ability to get to the event to watch amazing speakers and to see how many people got involved to hopefully inspire them to get involved themselves.”

On Twitter, the movement has three main trending hashtags: #StandWithStandingRock, #WaterIsLife, and #NoDAPL.

A participant has "WATER = Life" written on her arm, taken by Alexandra Kruse.

A participant has “WATER = Life” written on her arm. Credit: Aly Kruse/MediaFile

But easy access to activism online can also create laziness because people can show their solidarity with a simple tweet, share, and like without having to even leave their couch. This could be dangerous when community organizers are looking to gather people together in real life, not just online.

“A lot of people feel emboldened just by their social media activism,” said Qua. People recognize the issue, in this case at Standing Rock Camp, and decide to post an article, watch the Facebook live post, maybe even share the live post, but not go any further in their involvement in the movement.

“So I think one thing I’m constantly worried about is how we can use social media as a tool for further recruitment and mobilization and not just an end-all be-all for people in activism,” says Qua.

The #NoDAPL movement also relies other online platforms to mobilize people beyond social media activity.

The website, Action Network, enables individuals to find events to attend based on their zip code. Organizations, like those involved with #NoDAPL, post their events to the site, so people can RSVP directly through the site. Action Network informs individuals where the nearest events are to them, provides links to the Facebook events, and sends out reminders beforehand.

Another way these organizations can connect to individuals is through a text service called Hustle. The app allows you to create “person-to-person” connections through a more effective way of communication. This way, organizations can directly send people a text reminder that creates a personal connection without the time consuming amount of effort it takes to reach out to each person individually.

Through the use of these online platforms, the #NoDAPL, was able to organize around 200 protests across the world on November 15th.

“The numbers we see at protests and mobilization, I don’t think, would be possible without a lot of the info and the education and the recruitment we’re able to do with just a simple touch of a button,” said Qua. “And get that info to thousands and thousands of people, sometimes millions.”

MediaFile staff reporter Aly Kruse contributed photography.

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