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Blogging While Black

Blogging is not a luxury, it's a civic responsibility.
 
 
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BLOGS (N. PL.) (FROM "WEB LOGS"): online journals housed on a web site whose content ranges from accounts of the authors' personal lives to celebrity gossip to electoral politics.

In 2004, "blogging" was on the lips of millions of Americans, despite the fact most people didn't know what the term meant beyond the idea that it somehow influenced the evolving landscape of American politics.

The most notable example of this blog-centric neo-populism was in the successful fund-raising efforts of former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Under the tutelage of his rogue campaign manager, technophile Joe Trippi, Dean embraced blogging and its power to reach voters in new and effective ways that transformed his candidacy from insurgent to front-runner. In the process, this dark horse candidate raised over $45 million from over 600,000 Americans. The average contribution was $70 from grassroots benefactors, many of whom had never given to a political campaign before, still more who had never or rarely voted in the past. Importantly, the Dean campaign proved once and for all that a candidate could not only talk to potential voters, his candidacy could become that much more viable by actually listening to them. In so doing, the Dean campaign created a new paradigm. No high-priced tuxedo dinners or celebrity galas necessary.

Last summer I was fortunate to be one of the 37 bloggers "credentialed" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. An added distinction to this history-making role was that I was the only official blogger whose readership was predominantly black.

Before the advent of blogging, my online entrepreneurial venture, Afro-Netizen, was purely e-mail-based. Since 1999, I had been e-mailing my content – primarily aggregated news from various sources – to thousands of largely educated Black urbanites nationwide and abroad. My motivation for this pursuit stemmed largely from my beliefs about the Civil Rights Movement and the success of its grassroots communication tools.

In this post-civil rights era, it seems we have embraced the consumerist fiction of simple charismatic leadership, without understanding the reality of the grassroots organizing that gave the Civil Rights Movement its direction, power and effectiveness. Many of us forget that it was a movement that was executed through organized struggle. And behind the marches was the power of technology that allowed freedom fighters young and old to spread the word.

Before there were cell phones, personal digital assistants, laptops and the internet, there was the mimeograph machine – the manual and primitive predecessor of today's copy machines. Information about boycotts, marches, and other forms of protest was spread through printed leaflets, which papered Black communities throughout the South. The grassroots communication tool of today's digital age is the weblog our generation's mimeograph; our talking drum. Despite our disproportionately high voting power, consumer power and impact on American culture and entertainment, black folk are virtually missing in action in the blogosphere. The need to communicate with likeminded black netizens, for me, was essential. This web avocation remained in guerilla mode until I blogged at the Democratic convention, and forever shed Afro-Netizen's self-imposed stealth status.

Little did I know that the contagious nature of content shared on blogs would catapult Afro-Netizen (and many other weblogs of different creeds and constituencies) into the public eye literally overnight.

In Boston, I interviewed members of Congress and uploaded the digital audio recordings to my blog. I attended progressive symposia that the networks would not cover and uploaded my observations when I got back to my hotel room. I took pictures while on the floor of the convention and elsewhere and shared those images with my readership. And while I was covering the convention, the media were covering my fellow bloggers and me more closely than Ben Affleck and Bono.

I was interviewed on-air by C-SPAN and Canada's CBC network broadcast I later learned reached over 35 million viewers. Before I could begin to process this staggering fact, I would be interviewed by still more publications such as The Wall Street Journal , The New York Times , and New York Newsday .

This was important for Afro-Netizen, but signaled an even greater possibility for the black community. In light of the highly populist and independent panoply of voices in the blogosphere, the mainstream media have dubbed this web phenomenon "participatory journalism." But blogging is not exclusively or primarily about reporting the news; it is fundamentally about grassroots communication between individuals and groups without the filter of government agencies, political parties, corporations and other such entities.

Thus, blogging is inherently egalitarian and democratic because anyone – even those who are not tech-savvy – can set up their own weblog and wax philosophical within just minutes. And to do so is often of little expense, if not free (minus the value of your time, of course). Such blog platforms as Blogger.com, Blogspot.com, and TypePad.com are three of innumerable online sites that the curious neophyte can use to make their voices heard amidst an American media universe monopolized by essentially seven corporate behemoths. Moreover, a blog's endemic power comes not from its ability to generate revenues, but is derived from the will and capacity of its readers to coalesce around the sharing, mobilization and analysis of issues the more entrenched institutions do not address. Namely, the issues that have an overwhelming impact on the black community.

For those millions of us Afro-netizens who go online to shop, research, and communicate with one another, the epicenter of black life has become the media. But until the media we rely upon includes blogs in particular, we are literally ceding our best of hope of communicating and organizing amongst ourselves – two bedrocks for any viable movement for a community's uplift.

Those of us fortunate enough to regularly use the internet and who now have an almost addiction to Google.com, Mapquest.com, eBay.com and Amazon.com, cannot afford to limit ourselves by so gravely under-utilizing the web and the opportunities at hand. We must blog while black. It is not a fad or a luxury; it is our civic responsibility to do so. And to abdicate this duty, is to succumb to the dangerous mythology that blackfolk must wait for our next messenger from above, all the while not realizing that the messenger is at our fingertips and the inviolable message from generations past endures in our hearts and minds. Where the success of all previous grassroots movements has been measured by feet on the ground, the power and effectiveness of blog activism for black folk and other dispossessed communities will be measured by hands on the keyboard.

Christopher Rabb is a blogger, freelance writer, web entrepreneur and activist. He is the founder of Afro-Netizen, one of the largest black-oriented weblogs on the internet, and has also founded the Progressive Civic Fund .