Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Power of One and the Power of Facebook

On January 18, a 25-year-old Egyptian woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, posted an impassioned speech on Facebook.
"Don't think you can be safe any more. None of us are. Come down with us and demand your rights, my rights, your family's rights. I am going down on January 25th, and will say 'No to corruption. No to this regime.' "We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25th," she said. "If we still have honor, and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25th. We go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights. I won't even talk about any political rights. We just want our human rights and nothing else."

And as a result of one woman's speech, millions of protestors joined in the fight, drawing attention to the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak.

And wile Israel is feeling vulnerable, knowing that this will give the Muslim Brotherhood more power, it presents an opportunity for Israel to rethink their aggressive policies, and the U.S. and Canada, to rethink their unflinching support of Israeli expansion into Gaza.

As Chris Hedges reminds us:

The failure of the United States to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel has consequences. The failure to acknowledge the collective humiliation and anger felt by most Arabs because of the presence of U.S. troops on Muslim soil, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in the staging bases set up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, has consequences. The failure to denounce the repression, including the widespread use of torture, censorship and rigged elections, wielded by our allies against their citizens in the Middle East has consequences. We are soaked with the stench of these regimes. Mubarak, who reportedly is suffering from cancer, is seen as our puppet, a man who betrayed his own people and the Palestinians for money and power.

The Muslim world does not see us as we see ourselves. Muslims are aware, while we are not, that we have murdered tens of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have terrorized families, villages and nations. We enable and defend the Israeli war crimes carried out against Palestinians and the Lebanese—indeed we give the Israelis the weapons and military aid to carry out the slaughter. We dismiss the thousands of dead as “collateral damage.” And when those who are fighting against occupation kill us or Israelis we condemn them, regardless of context, as terrorists. Our hypocrisy is recognized on the Arab street. Most Arabs see bloody and disturbing images every day from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, images that are censored on our television screens. They have grown sick of us.

Just because we don't see the brutality, doesn't mean that it does not exist. Asmaa Mahfouz is bringing this into our consciousness. And Egypt's dictator is ready to talk with protestors in Tahrir square.

The power of one.

A seventeen-year-old from St. Cloud, Minnesota, Austin Lee, had been trying for three years to get a skate park built in his community, but no one would listen.

So he took his fight to Facebook, and within days his grassroots group swelled to over a 1,000 members. And not content to just network, they took their fight to city council. Strength in numbers resulted in the approval of a $500,000 skate plaza. "John Libert, vice president of the St. Cloud City Council, said he's never gotten more e-mails and other communications about a single issue than the skate plaza in his four years on the council."

The power of one.

In December of 2009, when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid answering questions on what he knew about the torture of Afghan Detainees, I was devastated. I don't think I ever remember feeling so helpless.

This meant that one man now had power over all of us, and it was not a good feeling.

Little did I know that a university student was sitting in his living room, eating a bowl of cereal, and experiencing the same sense of loss and helplessness. But this young man decided to do something about it. He started a Facebook page, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, and within a short period time he had over 225,000 members.

But it didn't stop there. Those members took this to the streets in rallies for our democracy, that took place across the country, drawing attention to the undemocratic actions of Stephen Harper. Pollsters denounced it as just a bunch of bored students, but a survey was done of our group, and the majority were over 30, educated and married. What you might call "settled". And we all voted.

The young man's name was Christopher White and his actions have sparked other groups all committed to voting out our neoconservative government next election.

The power of one.

On January 25, 2010, I appeared on the current with Anna Maria Tremonti, to discuss the phenomenon of the CAPP movement. And while pollsters were denouncing it, I told her that "Motivated citizens and technology were a powerful force and if politicians ignored it, it would be at their peril."

Hosni Mubarak learned that the hard way, and so did Stephen Harper.

Asmaa Mahfouz did not instill a sense of injustice in Egyptians, but articulated what people were already feeling, and she provided a platform for sharing stories. But more importantly, she gave hope to those who were feeling as though the situation was hopeless. She awakened the citizenry.

Christopher White did the same thing in Canada. While we were all sitting around mourning the death of our democracy, he ... well still sat around, but he did something about it. And he awakened the citizenry.

I think that pollsters will go the way of the typewriter, and become obsolete. They look so cute sitting there with their sleeves rolled up and their laptops open, thinking they can predict the results of an election that has yet to have even been called.

But they forget that we still have many unresolved issues, that we will carry with us into that election. So to pollsters, make your little phone calls, if you still believe they're reliable, but if you really want a sense of what the people are feeling, you might want to visit Facebook, and other social media, because that's where the real action is.

The power of millions.

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