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Online Activists Emphasize Offline Activism

Political bloggers gathered in Austin, Texas recently for a conference aimed at generating methods for bringing cyber activism to the real-world. The Netroots Nation event served as a “boot camp for bloggers,” Dallas News reported, showing bloggers how to “take their intensity and connections off their laptops and use them to push their political agenda.” Due in large part to the upcoming 2008 presidential elections, such conferences and discussions on the impact of the Internet revolution on offline activism have become prevalent among members of the online community. Last month, NPR detailed how prominent bloggers at the annual Personal Democracy Forum in New York City not only discussed the impending problem of Internet access in the United States, but more importantly, the goal of online communities to “bring the conversation that is offline, online and then bring it back – to effect change, ideally.”

The Internet and blogosphere have proven to be vital tools in facilitating the development of our democratic culture by promoting an active interest in and disseminating knowledge of a diverse range of issues and opinions to the public, even providing free electronic handbooks such as the Online Politics 101 E-Book. Yet, nowadays, blogger-activists are questioning the capacity by which these methods are impacting the real-world. Some argue that the Internet revolution has created a more “comfortable” space in which people can operate; a concept which has labeled today’s youths “Generation Q” or the “Quiet Americans,” implying that our digital methods of democratic participation make us “less outraged” or “less radical” than previous generations.

Yet, are we really “quiet”? Or are we just different? Given the growing interdependence between the Internet and democratic participation, especially the central role blogs have played in building – or weakening – political muscle in presidential campaigns, this concern seems unfounded. The Daily Kos Blog cited a report by the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet which found that “Online Political Citizens” are “seven times more likely than the average citizen to be opinion leaders” or “Influentials.” True, the Internet offers a platform for individuals to communicate with a broad audience, but offline activism is equally important, especially for reaching those not connected to the networked political public sphere.

However, the supposed chasm between online and offline activism is not an indicator of how the Internet is fueling less participation in the real-world. Rather, it illustrates how the Internet has changed the dynamics of democratic participatory politics by altering our relationship to and perception of political activism from the traditional protests and sit-ins of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Although online activism should be neither underestimated nor undervalued, the question remains: Which is more powerful? Banners in the streets, or blogs in cyberspace?

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