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Social Media, Human Rights and Idle No More

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Social media is changing the way people across the globe organize around human rights issues, enabling the dissemination of information and ideas at a speed and on a scale unprecedented in human history. When the Arab Spring began in late 2010, many learned about the ongoing protests via Twitter, texts, blogs and Facebook rather than through more traditional media outlets such as television, radio and newspapers.

A recent study from the University of Washington details the power of social media in the Arab Spring. The study reports that during the week leading up to Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks’ resignation, tweets about political change in Egypt grew from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day, with similar growth in political blogs and viral videos focusing on the protests. Nowadays no-one denies the power of social media as a tool for grassroots activism and organizing.

Here in Canada, we are currently witnessing the growth of a major social media-driven mass movement: Idle No More.

Idle No More

Idle No More demonstration in Winnipeg, January 7th, 2013
Photo Credit: Jessica Sigurdson/CMHR
 

In October of 2012, four Saskatchewan women – Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld – began discussing their concern that some parts of the federal government’s new omnibus budget bill would erode Aboriginal rights and damage the environment. They decided to organize an event in Saskatoon for November 10 and turned to social media to spread the word, using the name “Idle No More” as a motivational slogan.

 

Idle No More

Idle No More demonstration in Winnipeg, January 11th, 2013
Photo Credit: Jessica Sigurdson/CMHR

 

From this small event, many more would follow. First, demonstrations were held in several cities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Then, on December 10, 2012 – Human Rights Day – Idle No More organized a national day of action, with demonstrations across the country and around the world. Since that time, Idle No More has not let up, with more nationwide demonstrations and blockades on December 21, December 31, January 7 and January 11, with further days of action to come. Thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – of people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have participated.

Idle No More demonstration

Idle No More demonstration in Winnipeg, January 11th, 2013
Photo Credit: Jessica Sigurdson/CMHR

 

All these events, taking place in every province and territory have been organized and promoted via – yes, you guessed it – social media. The movement shows no signs of slowing down, either on the street or online: between December 11 and January 11, there were more than 685,000 tweets using the hashtag #idleNoMore.

On their Website, Idle No More representatives state that they are organizing to protect “Indigenous sovereignty, human rights and environmental protections.” For Idle No More, the movement is all about human rights. They believe Aboriginal rights, environmental rights and human rights are one and the same, and have tried to show this by demonstrating in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and holding their first national day of action on December 10, International Human Rights Day, as declared by the United Nations.

Idle No More demonstration

Idle No More demonstration in Winnipeg, January 7th, 2013
Photo Credit: Jessica Sigurdson/CMHR

 

While there are diverse opinions about the goals of the Idle No More movement, there is no denying that these grassroots demonstrations have now focused national attention on issues surrounding Aboriginal rights in Canada.

Discussion always strengthens democracy. Social media is now helping to facilitate such discussion, and is swift becoming one of the most important tools available to individuals and organizations wishing to bring attention to human rights issues.

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