Truth and Movement

Have you ever wondered how a movement begins? The Web is the perfect place to watch and learn how it can happen.One such movement to watch is the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), whose mission is to unite women worldwide who oppose oppression and exploitation. It recently decided the Web was a logical place to kick off its Truth & Reconciliation Campaign, last month at the Media and Democracy Congress in New York City.The goal of the WILPF campaign is to create a dialogue on race in the United States. This marks the first time an online campaign will be applied to the subject of racism in this country.At the congress, WILPF unveiled the Virtual Wall of Truth and Reconciliation housed on its Web site at www.people-link.com/wilpf/.The Wall is set up like a bulletin board, where visitors are encouraged to post messages about race and express their feelings about truth and reconciliation.The league's goal for the site is to bring people together to confront racist ideas and attitudes, in order to begin creating a truly multiracial national community.So far there have been only three postings."That is not discouraging," says Deborah Zubow, program director of WILPF's U.S. section, which has 15,000 members. "It will pick up after the hearings begin," she asserts confidently.In addition to the Web site, the league is conducting face-to-face gatherings of activists from civil and human rights groups.The first such hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14-15 in New York City, in conjunction with Amnesty International and the Human Rights Coalition of NYU Law School. The groups hope the hearings will begin to draw attention to the harm done by colonialism, slavery and ongoing racism in this country. They also hope to walk away with a strategy, and to determine how the Web will be used as a tool for organizing. As Zubow firmly states, "Our goal is to come up with a concrete plan to move this dialogue out into the community." The first day of hearings will feature speakers from various institutions, including the government, faith and labor communities, the media and school systems. They will talk about moving toward a multiracial society, by examining how race is viewed, discussed and treated within each institution.U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., will be one of the government representatives at the hearing."We will be asking him: What is the responsibility of government in truth and reconciliation? What does the government do that perpetuates racism and discrimination? And what can government do?" Zubow says. During the last session of Congress, Conyers was the main sponsor of legislation that would have set up a study of reparations for slavery. Conyers also sought a commission to examine the effects of slavery and to propose remedies. On the second day of the hearings, participants will try to come up with goals and cohesive plans for action.They will try to figure out how to take their information to organizations and individuals on a grassroots level. And any grassroots organizing plan will definitely include the Web and e-mail.The Web site will grow as the movement grows. It may post dates for upcoming events around the country, sponsor news groups, serve as a repository for speech transcripts or use other online community-building tactics to mobilize and organize.The WILPF expects thousands of postings once the hearings are under way, and hope the postings will serve to document issues of race in this country. If it takes off, it may be the first time the Internet will have been used, in the United States, as a centerpiece for a justice campaign of this type.The WILPF's effort is based on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created by the South African Parliament in 1995. This commission allows people who participated in apartheid-era human and civil rights violations -- former police officers, media and medical professionals and others -- to appear before a panel where they confess to their crimes and agree to pay reparations -- usually a monthly stipend -- to their victims.The South African commission has a Web site at www.truth.org.za. The site has full transcripts of hearings already conducted, dates and locations of upcoming hearings, press releases, the full text of the National Unity and Reconciliation Amendment Act, background information, other links and -- to lighten things up a bit -- cartoons. It's a powerful moment on the Web to be able to read those transcripts.Thus, while the Web is showing itself to be enormous, unmanageable and slightly overwhelming, it is also proving to be the next thing in activism and organizing.Watching organizations grow up on the Web will soon be reflected in comments such as, "I remember when you were just 20 megabytes; now look at you!"My, how we grow.Join Sandy Jaszczak, Metro Times online editor, at www.metrotimes.com.

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