On Saturday I attended Netroots UK, the largest conference for grassroots campaigners looking at ways to use digital technologies to campaign and get their message heard. The aim of the event is to help network and inspire activists across the country using the internet through a mixture of debates, strategy sessions and training workshops.
I was particularly interested to see what I could learn from experienced activists who are using digital in really inspiring ways, and to look at how we at vInspired use the internet and social media to connect with, and support young people to campaign on causes that are important to them.
The event as a whole was fascinating, and for vInspired there were some key themes emerging which
Social media can give a voice to the voiceless. Sue Marsh, disability rights camapigner and blogger talked about the Spartacus Report, a successful Twitter campaign against welfare cuts launched by disabled activists earlier this year. Unable to get their voices heard through traditional campaigning methods, the power of social media gave them a platform to tell their stories in a meaningful way. In a society where traditional media doesn't give a voice to young people or profile positive images of young people in the way they could, it was an important reminder that digital platforms provide a space for young people to connect and protest.
There should be no hierarchy of action. In the opening plenary, Sunny Hundal made some really interesting points about activism, and how campaigns with no hierachy in them should be the model. Everyone has a valid contribution to make. This echos our experience with Team v, our programme which supports young people to change the world one campaign at a time. Team v gives young people the tools to lead their own campaigns with young volunteers in their local communities. They are not asking permission or being delegated tasks, but designing their own form of action which contributes to wider campaigns or issues.
- Online campaigning needs to drive offline activity. In the final session, we were reminded by Blue State Digital that whilst online platforms are a great tool for campaigners, good campaigns need to be supported by 'real world' activity. Building on the enormous success of Do Something in the US, Do Something UK has been set up by vInspired to harness the creativity and energy of young people and engage them with causes that they care about. The point of this programme is to use the power of online to inspire offline action which can encourage young people to become active citizens - and future campaigners.
As we get ready to launch our first Do Something campaign this week, the event made me reflect on how important technology has become in young people's lives and how social media can be an incredible force for change which they can use freely.
I'd love to see more young activists attend Netroots in future years - perhaps our Do Something and Team v campaigners will have their own stories to share next year!