Lessons from ShaQuanda Cotton case have refined new civil rights movement

Back in March of this year, the U.S. learned of a young girl in Paris, Texas who would supposedly spend 7 years of her life in prison for pushing down a teacher.  When people read the story by Howard Witt in the Chicago Tribune, many were moved, but to what end no one really knew.

As the days and then weeks progressed, a strange thing happened: the seeds of a movement sprang forth.  Everyday after the Tribune article there was a swelling of attention and emotions directed towards Paris.

Nowhere was this more evident than on the internet.  Who would have thunk it?  Black folks were on their computers writing about the injustices they saw in the Cotton case.  Alliances were formed and impromptu think tanks were created to address the plight of the Cotton family.  There have been three important lessons learned by internet activists and advocates since last Spring:

1.  Get all the facts – In the initial days after the ShaQuanda Cotton story broke, there was a lot of misinformation about the case.  After piecing all the info together, people were able to make more informed opinions.

2.  We're better together –  As more instances of injustice have popped up, bloggers have decided to write about the same topics on the same day, e-mail inside information that they receive as well as utilize internet tools to reach more readers.

3.  They are reading too – I have been surprised at how often mainstream media is now reaching out to the blog world.  I think that interaction has increased since March, specifically between the mainstream media and African-American citizen journalists. There are also more government officials who are using these websites to help spread their message.

Eventually the broader media picked up on the Paris, Texas story, including broadcast television, local and syndicated radio shows, and other newspapers.  After the Cotton efforts, other actions have taken place:

*  In April, Don Imus was fired after protests from multiple fronts mounted against his derogatory remarks toward the Rutgers women's basketball team. 

What About Our Daughters almost single handedly took on BET and the show formerly known as Hot Ghetto Mess.  The movement helped result in the loss of sponsors to the show and changing the show's name to We've Got to do Better.

*  The AfroSphere Bloggers Association was created to unite African-American bloggers of with similar goals and aims.

*  Kenneth Foster was granted a stay of execution by the Governor of Texas after worldwide calls for his life to be spared. 

There have been additional efforts to taken place since then, like addressing the so-called "N-word",  marching against gun violence, and protesting against radio stations who play demeaning lyrics in music.  But these efforts, led by traditional entities like the NAACP, the National Action Network, and Rainbow-Push have not effectively embraced the internet community.  

Fast forward to the Jena 6.  The support for these young men, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, has continued to grow since they were charged with second-degree murder. There has been a significant buzz in the blogosphere (including here at Dallas South) regarding Jena since Howard Witt's May article regarding Jena, while I continue to get e-mails from folks who are just hearing the news.

On September 20, people from all over the country will descend upon Jena in show of support of Mychal Bell who is scheduled to be sentenced that day at 9 a.m.  There have been many people from many organizations and walks of life that have contributed to what looks to be a historic day.

One website, ColorofChange.org , has collected over 157,000 signatures in support of the Jena 6, while another online petition,has collected over 195,000 signatures.  Friends of Justice   helped to bring this case to the world's attention, and has helped to raise money for the defendants' defense funds.  A Day of Blogging for Justice was held on behalf of the  

So now this informal network, which has tentacles all over the country and throughout the world, is ready to spring into action whenever the need arises.  At the protest on the 20th, you can expect media from every outlet though they have ignored this story all summer.  Michael Baisden  is expected to broadcast his show live from Jena that day.  But the engine that helps pull it all together is the electronic revolution.

Moving forward, I'd like to see organizations like the NAACP and National Action Network better utilize the African-American blogging networks who have the same goals that they do.  Strategy sessions take place daily between people who have never met, while the brick and mortar style activists try to coordinate schedules, locations, and menus. 

This time, the revolution may or may not be televised, but it doesn't matter.  Whether you see it or not, it's happening at www dot something.

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