Hamilton Stephanie Ross from York University and Peter Sawchuck from University of Toronto had invited me to be the first speaker to discuss organizing with a group of academics and activists coming together on a 5-year project called APCOL: Anti-Poverty Community Organizing and Learning, a collaborative effort to evaluate how organizations approach issues and campaigns and use popular education. The project is fascinating and it will be interesting to see how it progresses and what conclusions it draws over the years, but right now it was interesting for the discussion it allowed about organizing and the challenges before us.
Let me share just one piece of the richness of the exchange initiated by a caution and comment by one participant, Jesse Hirsh, when we wandered into the area of whether or not new social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter might play a role in popular education for members and leadership development in mass-based organizations. Hirsh had seen a poster for the discussion and popped in to see what it was all about, but after introducing himself as someone who worried and thought about these issues, as many of us do, indicated his skepticism about the tools. He started making his point by noting how difficult it had been for organizations and activists to get access to the modern flashpoints of concentration like malls. We laughed at the times we had all tried, been turned away, arrested, and what not. He then observed sharply that “Twitter is a mall!”
Without explaining he had made his point. Twitter is a huge mass of blurbs and belches of words and information streamed along a vast aisle where we walk and run or turn away in dismay unable to figure out whether to go in and shop or keep walking and gawking. Learning to use such a tool to actually organize poses challenges and even more so figuring out a way to jump into the torrent and vastness of this mall-like world is something that none of us have grasped successfully.
Worse, we have not even really figured out how to make it a two-way or multiple communication tool. Comments on Facebook at least are a sign of life in the universe. The twitter-verse is still mainly small shouts without much recognition of what is being heard much less how to move forward and participate.
Note to self: much work to be done!