The Common Good
July 2011

WWWired for Freedom

by Claire Lorentzen | July 2011

An activist in Phoenix launches a website -- and supports a revolution on the other side of the world.

When political uprisings began in Yemen in January to drive out Ali Abdullah Saleh from his 33-year dictatorship, Ahlam Said, a Yemeni-American activist, wondered what role she could play in the movement. At the time, Said was living in Phoenix and working as an online organizer for Promise Arizona, an immigration reform group. As she looked online for trustworthy websites and news sources on the demonstrations happening in Yemen, she came up short. "Unlike Egypt, there wasn't a clear bridge between the Yemenis and the Americans," Said explains. That's when she decided to partner with a friend living in Yemen to create their own website for the movement:

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Begun as a "Yemen 101" website that simply aggregated news stories in English and Arabic, has now evolved into an open source community of online and offline organizers and activists in Yemen and the United States. The website includes an interactive Google map where users can plot recent uprisings by location and attach live video footage; an open source Excel spread sheet tracking all deaths related to the revolutions; a synchronized Twitter stream that aggregates all Yemeni and American activists and reporters; practical guides for protesters; and videos, photos, and blogs from other Yemeni activists.

Said told Sojourners that she was surprised by the growth of the website. "It's been phenomenal," she says, "because I'm not [in Yemen], but I'm leveraging the power that I have online to communicate with activists on the ground and help them communicate to a public that they might not have had full access to in the past." She believes the Web, with its endless space for creativity and diversity, empowers individuals to "have their own voice" in ways never before possible. Realms of social activism and communication that were exclusive to politicians and diplomats are now accessible to any individual. "Everyday people are no longer depending on media outlets to know what's going on. They're taking part in the revolution," Said explains. "They are now media outlets on their own, and they're shaping their future at the same time."

Said says she is now working on ways to leverage the website to organize a movement on the ground; she believes that still holds vast potential as a tool for the justice movement in Yemen.

Claire Lorentzen is online editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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