Critics of Old Guard Take Black Activism Online
Sunday, May 4, 2008; Page A02
The new black revolution, as singer Gil Scott-Heron famously predicted, is not being televised.
It is raging online.
A growing cadre of young black activists is using the Internet in an attempt to eclipse traditional civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and hit the refresh button on the civil rights movement. Bloggers with names such as the Cruel Secretary, and blogs called What About Our Daughters? and the African American Political Pundit, have railed against groups in the "black-o-sphere," saying they do not understand young black Americans, are behind the times and react too slowly to incidents involving the younger generation.
The leaders of the fledgling movement -- Van Jones and James Rucker of ColorOfChange.org -- may not be familiar to many, but their work is. They circulated a letter and a petition last week promising that the Democrats will pay a "political price" if they overturn the will of black and young voters and choose Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y) as the party's nominee over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).
Jones and Rucker were also the first to successfully raise awareness about the cases of six black teenagers initially charged with attempted murder for beating a white classmate in Jena, La. The campaign led to one of the largest civil rights marches in the South in recent years.
Blogger Gina McCauley, 32, who is organizing the first conference of nonwhite bloggers this summer in Atlanta, said that what Jones and Rucker have started "can potentially become a new Niagara movement," a reference to the small contingent of black intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, who met near Niagara Falls in 1905 to form an organization to oppose segregation. The organization eventually became the NAACP.
Others have another name for the new efforts by black bloggers: Civil Rights 2.0. Blogger L.N. Rock said that if abolitionist Frederick Douglass, former congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and "people like that were around today, they would have blogs."
"The NAACP's youth-outreach efforts are dysfunctional," Rock said. "We would have been glad to work with them had they asked. If you're talking about the talented tenth, we are the new talented tenth," a reference to a concept by Du Bois of a group of exceptional black men.
"The skill sets of the bloggers is no joke," Rock said. "These guys have doctorates. They're not being used."
But overtaking traditional civil rights groups, which have built their reputations over time, will take more than words, computer savvy and bravado. The NAACP alone has more than 300,000 members who pay dues and an additional 325,000 who have signed up online, the group's spokesman said. ColorOfChange.org has about 400,000 online members, Jones said.
Although the NAACP's financial resources and membership have declined since its heyday, the group has the most recognized name in civil rights, a dedicated core of lawyers and hundreds of local branches to which black Americans can turn in times of trouble.
But, Jones said, groups such as the NAACP do not understand the hip-hop generation and never reached out, forcing young African Americans to find their own way. "We were raised by wolves in some ways," he said.