Sunday, July 23, 2006

INTERNET ACTIVISM IN CHILE . . . . Part 1: ¿What's Happening in Chile?

I am here in Chile to ask a question: Why is this country such a hot-bed of internet-based activism? More importantly, how can the Chilean experience inform grassroots internet activism in other countries? First some background:

In the past few months, Chile has witnessed several instances of citizens using the internet, particularly blogs, to effect social change. The greatest example is that of the thousands of student protesters who demanded the removal of college entrance exam and bus fees and, after three weeks of protests, sit-ins, and strikes received a $200 million increase in the education budget and representation on an education council that is expected to propose broader reforms. Many high schools set up photoblogs to show their affiliation with the campaign and to disseminate information, such as the times and locations of rallies. The blogs shared a common format. Each homepage showed a graphic composed of the logos of the schools involved in the campaign along with the words "education is a right not a privilege, let's fight for better education" emblazoned across them.

There are other smaller examples. In Santiago, when a homeless poet was taken to a mental hospital against his will, the people in his neighborhood campaigned for his release by starting a blog. According to Rosario Lizana of Global Voices, the blog informed the public about the case, called for meetings and was used to organize a protest in front of the mental hospital where the man was being held. Supporters also used Flicker.com, a photo-sharing site, to post photos of the man, a who calls himself "the Antichristo." Two days later, the man was freed. Now his neighbors are organizing ways to provide on-going support, with the advice of a psychologist, of course.

And there are other examples: an online petition to keep the Santiago metro open until midnight, a citizens´anti-crime group that uses its site to post meeting details and testimonies of crime victims that receive dozens of comments... and the list goes on.

What has made Chile a society in which citizens see the internet as a tool for social change? When I find out, I'll let you know….

[italics indicates translation]

categories: internet activism_, chile_, the "developing world"_

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