GWRF: Emira Woods

Emira Woods

On Tuesday the Davies Forum class headed over to USF's Global Women's Rights Forum to hear Emira Woods talk about the Stop Firestone Campaign.

Emira talked about the struggle of the workers in Liberia, as well as the current state of the campaign. The audience also got to see an in-progress documentary that is focused on the issue. The documentary, with a little work, should prove to be very interesting.

Emira left a lot of time open for questions, so I asked her a question that relates the Davies Forum class to her work: How has the Internet changed and/or helped your activism strategies?

I was expecting her to mention the movement's website and to probably say something about email lists, but her response blew me away. She easily listed 3 new technologies that she thinks are key to the campaign: mobile phones, YouTube, and Skype.

The campaign has utilized YouTube extensively, and many videos of the situation in Liberia can be found there. Skype is an essential part of the trans-continental teleconferences that are a key part of keeping the workers engaged in a movement that has grown beyond their home town, a dialog that is important to maintain lest the Liberians be otherized by their Western allies.

Mobile phones enter the picture as a way of transmitting real-time communication across the globe. Those on the ground in Liberia can send text messages when Firestone is dumping toxic waste into the river, and somebody will know about it immediately. Not a few days later, not a few hours later, that second. What better way to communicate to reporters that these atrocities are real than receiving a text message during an interview?

Emira, in a twist that is rare for speakers, then asked me what I thought about civil engagement and Web 2.0. She was even kind enough to let me think about it for a bit, and I did little but agree with her points that new technologies have the potential to bring us closer together.

But, as I have had time to think about it more, I do have one suggestion: Twitter. Emira mentioned that it is hard for the activists in Liberia to maintain a strong web presence because of the limited, expensive access to the Internet. The lack of Internet access is why text messaging is so valuable in the campaign. However, text messaging is a throw-back to the days of one-on-one communication, and for a movement to spread it needs to be able to reach many more people. Twitter is the perfect middle ground because it can work via mobile phone, allowing the employees of Firestone to post to the web without ever having to log on.

What if, every time Firestone dumped toxic waste into a river, the whole world was alerted?

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