#Onlineactivism: More Than Tweets the Eye

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New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Natalie Butz, Communications Assistant at Amnesty International USA

It’s the phenomenon that’s spawned a thousand names and of course, its own hashtag. And ever since Malcolm Gladwell argued that “social media can’t provide what social change has always needed,” online activism has been critiqued as replacing on-the-ground grassroots organizing while offering only a fraction of the impact.

I thought about that argument last week as I stood with over 60 activists shouting chants and hoisting signs during Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)’s annual Get on the Bus event. Started in 1996 by a local AIUSA chapter in Somerville, Massachusetts, Get on the Bus is an annual day of human rights education and on-the-ground activism. The event’s name stems from its history; participants gather together on buses to rally at strategic locations on behalf of those whom governments would silence. Since its inception, Get on the Bus has spread to Amnesty International groups across the country, including New York City and Washington, D.C.

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“Never Accepting Defeat:” Amnesty’s Death Penalty Repeal Campaign in Maryland

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New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs – current Maryland State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators (SDPACs)

This blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in Maryland’s historic death penalty repeal campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.

In 2010 and 2011, we were fortunate to land in Maryland’s established and well-organized death penalty repeal coalition, continuing the work that countless others began decades earlier.

When we took on the shared role of State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators for Amnesty International, we knew that repeal was a realistic goal in the relative short term, and that we had skills and experience to give to this campaign.

It was immensely rewarding to see the system work. Each year, we would employ the same basic strategy: in the spring and summer, we would lay the groundwork for the legislative session. We attended fairs and concerts, knocked on doors, collected signatures, and phone-banked. We handed out flyers, spoke to student groups, wrote newsletters, and marched in rallies. We drove hundreds of miles to reach out to a diverse constituency.

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