Apps for Organizing and Social Change

Ideas and Issues

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 10.13.28 AMNew Orleans   Marching solidly on the trailing edge of new technology innovation, I want to make it clear that I’m no hater, I just want it to work for all of us. And, hey, maybe there’s some hope out there that some of the apps are coming our way and might be tools for social change.

In Taiwan for example, a free protest app available through the Apple Store named Bingela, after a Taiwanese phrase associated with overturning a table in rage, was downloaded 260000 times in a two-week period by users who wanted to determine if a product was associated with Ting Hsin International, a conglomerate at the center of a food safety scandal last year involving cooking oil. Now that’s interesting, and what a great tool to assist the difficult task of organizing a consumer boycott in these days when big corporations can so easily show one brand somewhere and hide others everywhere.

I’m not sure that the organizing was done with an “app,” but an interesting phenomena on the other side of the digital divide seems to be happening in Seattle as well with the organization of something that almost seems a contradiction in terms: the App Based Drivers’ Association or ABDA. It seems that Uber and Lyft drivers who work in precarious terms at the beck and call of smartphone and computer apps for these high-flying ride sharing services have organized in Seattle with the help of the Teamsters local union there to resist the downgrading of pricing in the city which has cut wages for some of these so-called subcontractors by as much as 50% in recent months. They have organized and gone to this very progressive City Council asking the council to establish a procedure allowing subcontractors to unionize since there is no provision for them to do so under federal labor law. Needless to say, the companies are saying no-way, but still for the rest of us the message may be that in the same way that apps can disrupt us, there may be ways and means for us to use apps to disrupt them.

Tunde Obazee, formerly the longtime public affairs and empowerment radio broadcaster with our “voice of the people” radio station visited with me recently in Los Angeles where he is now the IT director for UCLA’s Family Clinics in Venice. Sitting in front of his computer bank in the quiet of the clinic closed on a Saturday he showed me how I might be able to use a free application called U-Stream on a smartphone with an internet connection to broadcast remotely from the phone directly on the air. It was amazing. I can hardly wait to try this myself. Meanwhile, Tunde is finally going to walk me through how we can develop a separate internet radio capacity for ACORN International.

I have a Skype call this morning linking tech-perts in the USA, Abu Dubai, India and elsewhere to discuss how to develop a membership recruiting video that could be shared with or without the internet for organizing in India. My daughter just sent me a link to the podcast on Serial about the soldier’s dilemma in Afghanistan. All that says there’s hope for all of us if we can just develop somewhere between a cadre and a crowd of folks who can listen to us closely and then take us by the hand to be able adapt technology to the needs of organizing and social change.

Maybe they’ll help us develop an app for that?