"Activism@home" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

Millennials are individualists, and the internet allows for "unique, individualistic participation" Rattray said: "It's not just being one in 100,000. It's that you have a unique ability to add something to the conversation." It's both individual and international: "It's not so much global as it is boundary-less. . . . The internet enables those loosely connected people to organize in a much easier way. It lowers the cost of organizing."

But there are limits to how much change you can make from your living room. Eventually you have to stop signing online petitions and step out in the real world. Tom Watson, author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World, said activism has to include both offline and online activities to create rich, long-term involvement. Rattray agreed that online activism has to attach itself to an institutional framework, but he also said a successful online movement can "institutionalize itself"-move from web activism to offline organization.

This generation combines a passion for social change with a consummate ability to self-promote, Dillon said, "in an era when the line between common person and celebrity has never been blurrier." He says he's never seen a demographic with a deeper desire to help the world, but will they be able to sustain that desire outside the glow of technology?

Dillon says activism can be like starting a band. The successful bands think not just of the girls and the spotlights but all the grueling details: the tour van, the day job, the MySpace page, the marketing, the venue scheduling, and most of all, the unique sound they bring. It's the same with activism, Dillon said: "What exactly are you bringing to the world, whether it's music or justice, that's different?" Bringing justice may mean forgoing the temptation of the YouTube celebrity age and bringing attention to the cause instead of yourself. It means paying attention to mundane details out of the MySpace spotlight, and Dillon knows the definition of detail: An intricate network of grassroots volunteers does all the publicity for Call + Response screenings.

Young people used to hand him their demo tapes. Now they hand him their nonprofit plans. He applauds the excitement but cautions them that it will take work. Even decades, he tells them: "Not just committing a year here or there when it's fun and sexy but committing 35 years to it. It's not a criticism. It's more of a hope."


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