Activists Tell How They Use Technology to Spark Social Change Future of Wealth Summit panelists are fighting everything from police brutality to mass deportations

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Technology is being used to galvanize supporters, expose corruption and racism, and spark movements for change.

The capacity of social media and other forms of tech to serve as tools for activists was the theme of the “Revolutionizing Protest: Technology as a Platform for Social Change” panel at the 2017 Future of Wealth Summit. To start the discussion, moderator Panama Jackson, co-founder of the popular Very Smart Brothas blog, imagined how the long struggle for civil rights would look had Dr. Martin Luther King and others had social media.

Writer and social commentator Panama Jackson.

“It took (Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail) a long time to circulate to the communities it needed to reach. Now, Dr. King would have a Facebook page and just drop that bad boy,” said Jackson, who added that the Letter’s ubiquitous “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” line would become an instant meme.

Panelist Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney at the Lakota People’s Law Project and one of the leaders of the No Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPL) movement, said the power of the meme shouldn’t be underestimated. He began his online activism as a blogger, but over the years he realized social media users no longer had the time or interest to read 1,000-word blog posts. Short and sweet messages can be just as powerful, he said.

Activist and attorney Chase Iron Eyes.

“You have to throw some bait out there … and loop people in,” said Iron Eyes, who is facing prison time for protesting at the construction site of the controversial pipeline in the Dakotas.

Panelist Julieta Garibay, too, had to stare down possible criminal prosecution to stand for her beliefs. A co-founder and campaigns director for United We Dream, Garibay was undocumented when she first began using social media as a platform to call for immigration reform. Though United We Dream is well-known for its viral #Undocumented&Unafraid campaign, Garibay said she lived in constant fear about her status.

“It was through the (United We Dream) movement that I was actually able to be empowered and lose that fear and that shame of being undocumented,” she said.

United We Dream's Julieta Garibay.

Hundreds of thousands of others have been similarly empowered by United We Dream, which has given them a reason and a platform to speak out and be heard.

“We have been able to uplift our stories. As we tell our stories, we engage our people and get them to fight for their lives,” Garibay said.

If it were not for social media, panelist Sam Sinyangwe would not be at Campaign Zero working to document police abuses across the nation. He co-founded the organization with DeRay McKesson after starting a casual Twitter conversation with McKesson about the need for policy solutions to address police brutality. Soon afterward, the pair launched Campaign Zero, an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement that works on evidence-based policy solutions to end police violence.

In Sinyangwe’s opinion, when it comes to organizing and galvanizing, not all social media platforms are created equal. He likes the limitless reach of Twitter, as opposed to the network of “friends” on Facebook.

Campaign Zero's Sam Sinyangwe.

“With Twitter, you are actually in a conversation, able to organize and connect with everybody around the world who shares a common interest … that’s revolutionary,” said Sinyangwe, who said his peaceful activism has earned him a visit from the FBI.

Social media helped panelist Erin Horne McKinney start a very different kind of movement, but one equally as vital. She is one of the co-founders of Black Female Founders (BFF), a networking and support organization for black women in or interested in the tech sector.

Initially, BFF was to be a tiny gathering of women who shared an interest in technology. But once word about the gathering spread on social media, the co-founders discovered there was a great demand for what they started.

Erin Horne McKinney of BFF speaks.

“In less than three months we had over 1,000 people following us on Twitter,” said Horne McKinney, who is also a communication scientist who studies online movements. “We were blown away because we weren’t planning on starting an organization, but clearly there was a need.”

Watch and hear all that these passionate activists and leaders had to say.

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