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Join the Impact and the Web, part II: Organizing local rallies in four days

Cyndy Aleo-Carreira, The Industry Standard 11.19.2008 - LINK

(Editor's note: The following report is the second in a series about the massive online effort earlier this month to organize protests around ballot initiatives in California and elsewhere to ban same-sex marriage) Amy Balliett issued her call to action after California and two other states voted against giving same-sex couples the legal right to marry. Her original blog, Join the Impact, along with a site donated by Wetpaint, encouraged others to rally in protest on November 15 in cities across the U.S. and in other countries. When reader Patrick Livingston discovered that no local rallies had been planned for Chicago, he decided to start organizing himself.

A Facebook page for the Chicago protest went up on Tuesday, just four days before the rallies. It was linked into the national site. The Chicago Facebook page had 1,500 confirmed responses the following day, and 2,300 by Thursday. Approximately 10,000 invites were sent out by Facebook members for the Chicago rally, and 3,250 people confirmed that they planned to attend.

A Web site was also created for the Chicago group, but it received so many hits that it crashed on Wednesday. Livingston and the three other Chicago organizers had been completely unprepared for the response, but their hosting provider was able to get them back up and running by Wednesday night. Donors provided funds to host a pre-event party to make signs for Saturday's rally. With little time to organize it, invitations were sent via Facebook, Email, and SMS. Of over 30 people who attended, everyone had learned of the event through Facebook.

The Chicago rally was a success. Organizers estimate between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended. Livingston notes that they started out with about 2,000 people at the rally site, but more people joined as the group marched. The corollation between the online social networking effort and rally attendance seems obvious. As Livingston told The Industry Standard, "I don't know how it would have happened without the Internet."

The Chicago group received a much different response than the national organizers. All Facebook Wall postings for the event were positive, and the only negative feedback of any kind were those who replied to the Facebook invite with a "will not attend," but organizers have no way to tell if they were due to philosophical differences or were simply from individuals unable to attend.

Livingston and the other three organizers were surprised at the response since the event had no ties to any larger organization like the Human Rights Campaign. A previous Chicago protest organized by the Gay Liberation Network to protest Dr. James Dobson's induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame did not use Facebook, and had only about 500 protesters, even with much more time to organize. Livingston credits much of the success of the Chicago rally to Facebook:

"Facebook is a very open source, and you are able to do quite a bit with it. It's up to the organizer to create an attractive page that's easily shareable to help drive the type of exposure that Facebook can deliver. The value of the tool as an organizing tool depends on the content; it's really a blank slate. It was a central push for an issue that has already been in people's minds over the past two weeks."

The Chicago group plans to continue its mission, and is in the early phases of organizing for protests on January 10.

Part I of Join the Impact and the Web, an interview with national organizer Amy Balliett, appeared yesterday. Part III will appear tomorrow, and focus on how individuals used Web tools to find information and gather friends for the rallies.

(Photo by chicagoagainstprop8.com)





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