Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action What?

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

October 15, a week from today, is Blog Action Day, and the theme this year is the environment. If you have a blog and want to join in, all you have to do is use that day to post something related to the environment, in whatever way, shape, or form you prefer. You can pick an environmental issue that has meaning for you and let us know why it's important. Organize a beach or neighborhood cleanup and tell us about it. If you're into fiction writing, give us a story with an environmental theme. Have a podcast, videoblog, or photoblog? Join the fun! The idea here is to have a mass effect on public awareness by sharing as many ideas in as many ways as possible.

If you're game for participating, go register your blog with the 7,000+ other blogs (with 5 million readers!) that are already signed up. Also, see the Blog Action Day blog for more on how bloggers can change the world.

The above announcement was viewable to anyone with a site on Blogger/Blogspot logging in on October 8th. It was the top item that day and is still visible on dashboard. Currently 13, 785 blogs have signed up to take part in the day's action.

We were curious as to who was signing up and what they hoped for? We were also curious about Blog Action Day itself.

Blog Action Day's founders are bloggers Collis Ta'eed, Leo Babauta and Cyan Ta'eed. Those signing up?

Out of 12,000 e-mails to people who signed their sites up, we had 500 people who responded. Some asked not to be named and they won't be. Those noting where they had heard about overwhelming mentioned the Blogger/Blogspot dashboard announcement, even if they had signed up to take part prior to October 8th (when the announcement ran) which might indicate a faulty memory.

Cocaine (Stuck in a Handbasket) did sign up after the announcement and noted that "the blogger main login page" was where she saw it, "They had one of their daily entries on it, with links to the site etc. I thought it would be fun, and I've always been an advocate for the environment." One of the younger bloggers taking part, Cocaine notes, "I'm hoping that maybe it will inspire people to do something. The blogger practicing what they preach, and the readers following along." Julie (The Turning Tide) expressed a similar opinion, "Just like Blog Action Day says, everyone posting about the same thing on the same day. Sounds ingenious, and even if someone only writes a little tiny paragraph, the net could be overwhelmed with environmental news. It sounds like an interesting way to make a point across the world. I'm interested to see what happens next year."

Awareness was the most cited or referred to hope for the action. Strangely environmental organizations and periodicals expressed no interest in Blog Action Day. Among the many asked for comment, David Perry of the Sierra Club begged off, noting that three basic questions apparently required more staff than the Sierra Club has ("we do not have the staff available") and attempted to push the issue off onto a local Sierra Club chapter. They did and do have time to celebrate a name individual, Al Gore. They're just too busy/understaffed to comment on an action in which 13,785 websites plan to participate. Again, they were far from the only organization but we think it's indicative of organizations seeing themselves as fan clubs as opposed to organizations made up of individuals.

Reading the e-mails from environmental organizations and environmental magazines made clear that lack of awareness is an issue when it comes to their failing to grasp the power of internet. One, who asked not to be named, explained that they are "busy enough" attempting to put out their magazine and don't have time to "waste" on "web nonsense that won't accomplish anything anyway." We found that a curious response since the potential reach of Blog Action Day is now around ten million and there's not an environmental publication around that can make a similar claim.

We also wonder, returning to the Sierra Club, how issuing their announcement of Al Gore's prize win while ignoring the very grass roots campaign of Blog Action Day (they have no mention of it at their website) fulfills their claim to, "Educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment." Unless of course they're enlisting for an autograph party.

Nate (Views from the Left Coast) grasps the potential of the action, even if the Sierra Club doesn't, and replies, "Of course, we all want Blog Action Day and blogging in general to help open and enhance communication between people worldwide. After all, the road to peace is through understanding and appreciation of what is around us." And the Los Angeles Times' Siel (Emerald City), who cited an e-mail from a friend as notifying her about the action, is very clear about hopes that include more than just a one day post, "Beyond awareness, I hope BAD will encourage people to connect on a local level with other activists, to take more grassroots action that yield more tangible results from a personal perspective :)".

Veteran and award winning journalist Alastair Dunning (The Path Less Taken) responds, " As for hopes.. my background as a journalist and an economist has made me a tad cynical.. economics plays the major role in what is, and what will be emitted into our atmosphere, or disposed of in our oceans. I hold out little hope for significant changes in our way of life, other than it increasing it's base in emerging markets the likes of India and China." We didn't find Dunning cynical at all and were very grateful he shared that opinion.

Many shared a similar opinion but usually noted, "Don't quote me." One-hundred-and-twenty-five respondents asking not to be quoted expressed the belief that they did not think much would come from the day of action. The seventy-one who replied to the follow up question asking why they felt that way stated that they didn't see a sense of urgency around the topic with 22 citing a lack of urgency in the general population and forty-nine siting a lack of urgency among environmental organizations. One blogger who blogs just on the environment noted that, "Environmental organizations in the last few years seem to have given up on direct action and become DC lobbyists. For all the attention the Al Gore film [An Inconvenient Truth] has received, I just don't see organizations building on this moment. I feel very lonely and alone most days" in relation to environmental organizations.

Just as he felt environmental organizations had blown their chance to build on An Inconvenient Truth, many felt that environmental organizations were blowing a big chance to raise awareness and educate by sitting out Blog Action Day. Those who felt that way would note various organizations in their follow up replies that could be raising attention to Monday's action but didn't seem aware of it. (If you wrote us about an organization by name, they were either already contacted or we contacted them after we read your e-mail. If you are one of the ones naming an organization, please note, the silence is no longer due to lack of awareness. It's now a choice to be silent that has been made.) Several noted the action alerts they received repeatedly whenever the US Congress was considering legislation but that there were no e-mail alerts to Blog Action Day.

While Billy (Trees for our children . . .) could offer, "I see blogging as important independent media in an increasingly corporatized world..."; environmental organizations apparently feel differently. [Please note, Billy didn't raise the issue of environmental organizations. None who did wanted to be named. One went back and forth on it until deciding against it in her fifth e-mail on the issue of whether to be quoted or not.] Which brings up a very serious issue about the state of the organizations today. In the mainstream press, they may get a brief quote or soundbyte which will be 'balanced' by an environmental skeptic. Blog Action Day offers them the chance to get their message out in full, not partial, without any of the 'balance.' The fact that they do not grasp that or the power of the internet goes a long way towards explaining the many e-mails expressing frustration with the state of today's environmental movement.

Blog Action Day originated very casually. Collis Ta'eed explained, "Cyan, Leo and I work together on a few blogs and the idea came up really as we thought about what was possible from a simple idea. At the end of the day Blog Action Day is quite simple, but it has great potential. Eventually one day I had some time off work and decided to design up a website for the idea and then things just started rolling forward."

Blogger/Blogspot is a much used web tool and their announcing Blog Action Day clearly helped. How much credit they can claim for the leap from 7,000+ participants signed up prior to the announcement to the 13,785 currently (the number is expected to cross the 14,000 mark shortly) isn't known. But what seems fairly obvious is that this already large number could be even greater had environmental organizations bothered to participate in getting the word out.

Since they didn't, some of the strongest activist voices for the environment may not be participating. While there will be strong voices, a thread that came through in some of the e-mails was that some were planning to blog on the day about their belief that global warming was not taking place. When we asked Collis Ta'eed what his reaction was to that potential development, he replied, "Essentially we have no control over what precisely bloggers write, and in fact it would be perfectly legitimate to write a blog post arguing that there's nothing wrong with global warming or something contrary to popular opinion. What we want is simply for people to discuss the issue and give their opinions, their thoughts, their research, their perspective. It really is about mass participation and looking at the environment from as many different angles as possible."

We support his position but note that the potential for such posts really requires that as many voices concerned with the environment be aware of Blog Action Day. This is their first year and they are largely under the radar. Were this their second or third year, we think the topic (which will change each year) could result in an organized counter-action. When future topics are chosen, it's important that those groups active in that area get the word out.

If they had, more participants might be as motivated as Nate (Views from the Left Coast) is,

"I agreed to do a post about an environmental issue, and I reckon I'll write something about what's happening with Superfund under the Bush Administration. I wrote a lot about the Superfund law in years back. My blog is about national and international issues confronting the United States and its people, so I have an unlimited supply of material. Of course, we all want Blog Action Day and blogging in general to help open and enhance communication between people worldwide. After all, the road to peace is through understanding and appreciation of what is around us." The Superfund. How often does someone address that? Those and other important issues could be popping up all over the internet tomorrow if environmental organizations and magazines had seen themselves as part of the solution instead of 'too busy.'

Not everyone who replied had decided yet what they were going to write about. But there is a lot of a passion and talent participating. Billy (Trees for our children . . .) explains the purpose and starting point for him, " ... for my canadian politcis class PSCI 230 I had to create and maintain a blog about any relevant political issue... I chose the environment and a need for intergenerational justice... hence the name of my site 'trees for our children... '." Regardless of what anyone brings to the table (pro or con on the environment), this is a global action.

In fairness to environmental organizations and magazines, we should note that we were highly skeptical of the action. When we began researching it last Monday, we honestly thought this was another blow off action that had little real meaning. As those planning to participate began replying, we realized how wrong we were. There is huge enthusiasm for this action, there is a vast amount of passion about it. Even those expressing skepticism about the next step after Monday feel this is something they can't afford to be silent on.

That isn't limited just to the participants. Collis Ta'eed notes, "Actually this experience - organizing Blog Action Day -- has changed my outlook! We had hoped people would be interested in the idea, but none of us expected the level of support and enthusiasm that everyone has given. It has been a life changing experience in helping us all realize what is possible if you dream big."

We can understand that change in outlook. What started as three friends sharing and talking became a call for action and the response has been tremendous. Even those who replied that they're planning to question the existence of global warming take the issue very seriously.

Blog Action Day's website announces, "Blog Action Day acts as a non-profit organization with a revolving group of bloggers planning and organizing it each year. If you'd like to help, we could sure use extra hands. Contact us with your details, ideas and enthusiasm!. Blog Action Day is and will ever be, simply a vehicle for bloggers to work together to create a better world." And Collis Ta'eed hopes "to help bring the blogging comunity together for a common, higher purpose! The sorts of things we look for in a topic are that it should be an issue that many different blogs on many different topics can relate back to, also something that is pressing and important. The environment was the perfect choice for the first year for those reasons." We hope that 2008's action day will, regardless of the topic, receive more support from organizations involved in whatever issue is selected. For those learning of the action today, you can still sign up to participate by going to the website.
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