Nate Prosser is an online outreach coordinator at a Canadian free legal aid organisation. In this guest blog he writes about a new activist site he started with a friend from Italy after they spent six months as interns in Greenpeace. We are accepting applications for our online communications internship right now. Please apply if you think you'd be a good match and would like to join us in Amsterdam for six months.
I know there was a time when the internet didn’t exist. I do. But this fact occupies that same vague space in my memory as, say, the fall of the Berlin Wall or cassette tapes. For all intents and purposes the internet has always been around for me and my generation; it’s an integral part of my everyday life. It’s no surprise then that online activism has seen a major surge in recent years. Using the internet for activism has always seemed like a natural extension and I’ve had plenty of discussions on the practicalities, techniques, and nuances of online campaigning in the office, classroom, and bars. Ironically enough though I could never find a place online to have these discussions with a wider audience. That’s why Oriana and I, both former Greenpeace interns, decided to create clicktivist.org; a site to share, discuss, and dissect the world of online campaigning.
The project kicked off a few months ago, after several weeks of emails, thousands words of planning, and a dozen Google Docs. The idea behind it is simple: by examining online campaigns and tools we hope we can learn from each other’s successes and failures so that we can create more engaging and more effective campaigns. What inspired this idea, at the source of it, is our shared experience at Greenpeace with the online communications team. This is the story (at least from my point of view) of how Greenpeace played a role in the creation of clicktivist.org.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I found myself standing outside Greenpeace’s international headquarters for the first time. It’s an unassuming building - 3 stories, grey, and not exactly covered in banners - and I had to double check the address to make sure I was in the right place. That was until I stepped inside and was almost immediately whisked into an all staff briefing; it turns out that about 5 hours before I showed up a group of Greenpeace activists had scaled an oil rig off the coast of Greenland - it was kind of a big deal. That set the tone for the next 6 months. I think it was my second day working there when I was asked to help write an email campaign that would go out to all of Greenpeace’s supporters around the world. That’s a lot of people, a lot of responsibility, and a lot a trust. That’s when I knew that the next six months weren’t going to be your regular run of the mill “go make me some copies” type of internship.
I was like a kid in a candy shop working with Greenpeace’s online team. You see, before going to Greenpeace I had spent years studying the uses of digital media for activism around the world. To be able to go into work and see these principles in action was a dream come true. I don’t think it’s any surprise that I wasn’t the only person there that felt that way. Everyday we’d have discussions about online activism. It was during one of these conversations that the idea for clicktivist.org first occurred to me.
The idea came to me - as ideas, some brilliant, many horrible, often do - over a few beers. It was a cold winter night in Amsterdam and a few of us had fled the office for the shelter of a little bar on the Overtoom. The conversation flitted around but quickly settled, as I’m sure many of you are used to, on the topic of “cool things we saw on the internet”; for a group of activists that’s likely to be campaigns as much as lolcats. Someone brought up a campaign featuring irradiated vegetables from Scandinavia, someone else mentioned using text messages in China to campaign against deforestation, an example of thinly veiled innuendo using the size of juvenile fish entered the fray, and I brought up the Persian penchant for anonymous blogging. None of us had ever heard of the other’s examples.
I sat there, beer in hand, thinking “why weren’t we aware of these?” We were in one some of the best positions to see these and yet we were still blind to them. The idea had wormed its into my head.
Soon after my internship ended I, somewhat reluctantly, returned home to Vancouver. I wasn’t done with Greenpeace however. From Vancouver I continued to work as a sometimes-volunteer-sometimes-freelancer for both the local and international offices. Though I was still doing the work I was starved for the conversation.
I alleviated this need through text, IM, Skype, and email across country and continents with people who I had met while working for Greenpeace. One such person was my good friend and (vastly superior) replacement at Greenpeace, Oriana Lauria. We had worked on a few big projects together while in Amsterdam and both enjoyed that experience enough to want to continue working together. The only problem was the Atlantic Ocean and around 9 Canadian provinces in the way. The obvious solution was to use our beloved internet and start a website. We began brainstorming ideas but that process didn’t last long. Oriana suggested a site devoted to online activism and I cursed her for a mind reader before quickly signing on.
From there it was a flurry of activity, emails, and Google Docs to set up and organize the website, and here we are today, with clicktivist.org up and running.
On the website, you can now find everything you need to know (well, not just yet, but we’ll get there!) to be inspired into online activism. That is, digital campaign reviews, latest trends in clicktivism, interviews with experts and, what it’s even more important, a lot of room for your ideas, comments and suggestions.
I hope you’ll find the site useful and join in on the discussion.
Remember: We are accepting applications for our online communications internship right now. Please apply if you think you'd be a good match.