The fight for civil rights goes digital

The NAACP announced during its convention last week that it has joined the online revolution with its new effort to address the problem of unreported cases of police brutality. Its new Rapid Response System (RSS) was launched July 6, allowing users to report police abuse by sending text messages, emails or video of an incident to the organizations by cell phone or through its website.

The NAACP said in a statement that this will be “a quick, effective way for citizens to report instances of police misconduct, and to help public safety officials move beyond the ‘tough on crime’ policies that have lost their effectiveness.”

This announcement comes at a time when many African American bloggers have been concerned about the organization’s lack of online media use – and relevance – to engage its membership, especially young people.

The venerable organization is still credited as the leading civil rights organization in the country, guiding legal and advocacy efforts for African Americans. However, if the recent digital activism that took place in the aftermath of Iran election proves anything, it shows that no one necessarily needs to be part of the so-called “old guard” black political establishment to advocate for social justice anymore. Anyone with access to technology these days can start their own social movement.

Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of African Americans using social media tools to discuss issues of importance to the community. Blogs like Jack & Jill Politics, Field Negro and African American Political Pundit have become influential outlets for getting resources and mobilizing for social activism. Following the 2009 BET Awards, Atlanta couple Milan and Imani Ford started their blog,, a campaign to remove Lil Wayne’s song, Every Girl, from radio rotation in response to the rapper’s controversial performance during the show.

“Blogging is the new NAACP,” said Gina McCauley, founder of the popular feminist blog What About Our Daughter said at a recent National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) gathering. Through her blog, McCauley and her followers have raged online wars with Rev. Al Sharpton and BET executives on behalf of black women, who they feel are marginalized on both social and political fronts.

Internet activist group Color of Change and other blogs are credited for helping to organize an estimated 20,000 people gathered in Jena, La., two years ago in support of six black teenagers accused of attacking a white teenager following a number of racially-motivated events. The “Jena 6” phenomenon gained national media attention only after black bloggers brought attention to the case through online grassroots efforts.

Of course, the online organizing efforts of President Obama during his campaign shouldn’t go unnoticed. While Obama ran an unprecedented Internet campaign using a plethora of social media tools, it should also be noted that individual online users also used these tools to advocate and fundraise online on his behalf because they felt that Obama was the change needed in the White House.

Maybe with the move to online activism, the NAACP is beginning to realize that it too needs to change with the times as well. But is it too late? Have African Americans permanently left the organization for greener pastures online? It will all depend on how the NAACP will use their online efforts in the future.

According to Monique Morris, NAACP’s vice president of advocacy and research, the RSS will be an integral part of its advocacy program. It also wants to create a uniform space where digital activists can send their reports and the necessary legal action will be taken by the organization.

Earlier this year, people around the world were outraged by the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by Oakland police officers, which as was caught on video and viewed on YouTube. The NAACP taking on a case like Oscar Grant’s could make a difference on many fronts. If the organization holds true to its new initiative, it might gain back its support from its target constituency, but only time will tell.