Wednesday, October 26, 2011

United Online: Maximizing the LGBT Community's Collective Power (Part II)

This is Part II in a three-part series that will explore how the LGBT community can maximize its online presence in order to more efficiently organize, engage, and act.  In Part I, I asserted that the LGBT community is not currently functioning at maximum capacity when it comes to social media:

There is no doubt, then, that social media have removed the barriers to collective action and allowed us to exercise our Constitution-given rights more easily. But is the LGBT community harnessing these tools to the greatest extent that it can?

I will submit that it does not. The LGBT community has yet to fully realize the potential of social media, and thus is not yet operating at maximum capacity.

The problem, I wrote, is fragmentation: the LGBT community is so segmented and self-isolated in its current form that we are hindering our own ability to organize online.  This has serious implications for our ability to undertake collective actions:

When we isolate ourselves in our own blogs and side-projects, we are limiting our collective power and our potential for broad and far-reaching collective action. To maximize our social media efficiency, we must eliminate that segmentation.

I will now discuss how we can overcome this barrier and join together as a singular, unified movement, online.  My "prescription" may at first seem startling, naive, or unrealistic, but I fervently believe that it will greatly increase our ability to organize quickly and easily.  It will revolutionize the way we interact, engage, and act together as a movement and make us a true political force to be reckoned with.

If the problem we are currently facing is segmentation, then the only solution is to foster greater unity.  We need to bring the entire LGBT movement together in one place where we can discuss the issues, organize collective actions, and spark one another's creative activism. 

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, the African American community had such a meeting place: the church.  The Black Church was the anchor of their movement, acting as a physical meeting place where many of the most famous acts of non-violent civil disobedience were first crafted (Source).  Having a cultural and geographical center where the African American community could come together, air their grievances, and organize protests allowed the movement to truly flourish. 

The LGBT community does not have this sort of social center.  Yet. 

The LGBT movement really is an example of a "digital movement" - one that is primarily shaped and organized online.  Even though the Stonewall Riots occurred long before the invention of the web, LGBT advocacy as a true social movement was weaned on the internet.  Given this history - as well as the fact of how small the LGBT community is and how geographically dispersed we are - it is only appropriate that we create this sort of central hub online.  One does not yet exist, and that needs to change, for the benefit of our activism.

In the most basic of terms, what I am proposing is an LGBT mega-site where everyone in the LGBT community can come together to engage their fellow advocates, bounce ideas off one another, and organize collective actions.  There is no doubt that such an "online hub" for LGBT activism will ignite this movement and greatly increase our ability to advocate for our rights.

What would such a hub look like?  What would it offer to LGBT advocates, and how would it bring us together in a way that is currently missing from our movement's online activity?  I will now lay out some of the central, defining characteristics of this LGBT mega-site in order to give you a clearer picture as to exactly what I am proposing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Senate Committee Will Repeal DOMA

...that is, if it actually comes up for a vote.

Those who know Congress well know that promises get made and get broken; bills that are supposed to be marked up get pushed away as priorities shift, as elections draw near, and as new situations arise.  But the fact remains that, if the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the "Respect for Marriage Act" - which would repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" and allow married gay couples the same federal rights as straight couples - it will have enough votes to pass.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the committee, has announced that DOMA repeal will be considered by the committee next month.  If this happens, the 18-member committee has enough votes to pass the bill; every single Democrat on the committee is a co-sponsor of the bill:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.)
Sen, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

It would be historic for the Senate Committee to vote in favor of repealing DOMA, which has kept gay couples from being treated equally under federal law.  Doubtlessly, the Senate as a whole would not be able to pass the bill this Congress - as we would need not 51, but 60 votes to do so and currently only have 29 cosponsors - but this is an incredible and encouraging first step towards federal marriage equality.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

United Online: Maximizing the LGBT Community's Collective Power (Part I)

We are living in an era in which exercising our civic duties and democratic rights is easier than ever before. With social media – including blogs, social networks (Facebook, Twitter), content-sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube), and wikis – we can connect with one another, share information, engage in important discussions, and organize collective action at almost no cost. 

As Clay Shirky writes in Here Comes Everybody, “most of the barriers to group action have collapsed” (pg. 22). The internet has, as Yohai Benkler writes in The Wealth of Networks, made it so much easier for citizens to become active participants in the public sphere – to not just passively receive information from some elite source, but to actively engage that information, discuss it with others, and act on it (pg. 212-213). 

The internet, particularly with regards to social media, has a profoundly democratizing effect because it allows us to fulfill our democratic duties – such as, as Richard Butsch puts it, to become informed and deliberate over the issues (The Citizen Audience, pg. 1, 12-13) – much more easily and cost-effectively than before. It allows us to come together, sometimes from great geographical distances, and deliberate over the issues, organize collective action, and hold our government and one another accountable – with just a few clicks of the mouse.

There is no doubt, then, that social media have removed the barriers to collective action and allowed us to exercise our Constitution-given rights more easily. But is the LGBT community harnessing these tools to the greatest extent that it can?