The recent Washington Post article, “Pr. William’s Mothers of Dissension,” is an excellent example of how women are using the Internet for local activism. Here’s a synopsis:
Prince William County, Virginia, was cracking down on illegal immigration, giving rise to racist rhetoric and dividing neighborhoods as residents lined up on either side of the issue.
Alanna Almeda’s husband had gained permanent residency in 1996. She didn’t like the implication that it was a mistake to have allowed him to gain legal status, or that “he wasn’t making a contribution or worthy of being here." Katherine M. Gotthardt didn’t like hearing her daughters singing a rhyme they had heard on the playground: "I don’t want to go to Mexico no more. . . . There’s a big, fat guy at the door. . . . If you open it up, he’ll [urinate] on the floor. . . . I don’t want to go to Mexico no more." She didn’t like hearing that immigrant parents were afraid to send their children to school for fear they would be deported.
Alanna, Katherine, Elena Schlossberg and several other stay-at-home moms banded together to battle the county’s hard-line immigration policy. With kids in tow, they began attending board meetings and trying to influence votes.
Things really took off when they took their fight to the blogosphere, starting an "open dialogue" website called Anti-Black Velvet Bruce Li in response to a longer-running anti-immigration conservative blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li. Anti-BVBL has a robust and committed audience, with each post well-commented, and some getting up to 100 comments.
"They’ve gotten engaged, that’s for sure," Black Velvet Bruce Li’s blogger Greg Letiecq said. "They loudly complain about people they don’t agree with. Outside of that, they haven’t presented a positive solution that will help preserve the community." The women say that when emotions on illegal immigration ran hot, they provided a tempered, alternative voice.
In early 2008, the Anti-BVBL moms persuaded moderate supervisors to adjust the county’s immigration policy. Police officers were told they could question criminal suspects about their immigration status only after they have been arrested.
In September, the Anti-BVBL moms rallied residents against the appointment of Robert L. Duecaster, a provocative critic of illegal immigration, to the human-services panel, forcing supervisors to explain their votes publicly.
Today, several of the Anti-BVBL moms are serving on county advisory boards and commissions, and as a group they are diving into other debates on topics that interest them, such as preserving more land in the face of development.
I learned about the Anti-BVBL women with great interest, more for what the WashPo article doesn’t say than for what it does. While the Anti-BVBL blog has been very successful, it is by no means the only digital tool the moms are using. Would they be as effective if they didn’t have the convenience of the Internet to do their research on county board members or look up board meeting schedules? And you can bet that they have a heavy dependence on simple email just to communicate and strategize among themselves, as well as to protest board decisions and reach out to potential allies.
What Anti-BVBD’s experience illustrates is passion, commitment, and the simple digital channels already intricately woven into the fabric of our daily lives are enough for any of us to begin to change the world.