April 9, 2009

Witness puts tools for empowerment online

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This post originally appeared Jan. 31, 2006, at Socialmedia.biz:

JD LasicaOver the past couple of months, I’ve been having discussions with the good folks at Witness.org about how Witness and Ourmedia could work together. Witness has announced an ambitious plan to build a set of publishing tools that would let those in repressive or abusive conditions shine a spotlight on what’s happening in their countries. We already have parts of that publishing infrastructure built, so it makes sense to join forces.

Tonight on PBS’s “Charlie Rose,” Witness founder Peter Gabriel and executive director Gillian Caldwell spoke eloquently about their stirring vision, which is now within reach. I transcribed this exchange:

Peter Gabriel: Part of the original mission [at Witness] was to get cameras out to the world, but in a way, cameras are traveling out to the world anyway disguised inside phones. And in, say, Orwell’s vision in 1984, one of the means through which those in power controlled those who weren’t, was through observation, and in a way it’s trying to flip that on its head. If we get cameras out everywhere, perhaps through observation, the small guy, the little guy, can keep an eye on those in power—

Charlie Rose: It’s like the little guy watching Big Brother.

Gabriel: Exactly. You know, the whole Internet revolution is about putting power down at the bottom rather than just up at the top. So we’re now at a real point of transition, and the dream is that we can have a website where anyone who is desperate and suffering that has images can get them uploaded. Effectively there would be a new human right: If you suffer abuse, you get your story recorded, seen and heard. …

The dream for Witness.org has always been to be a service to all those in the human rights movement rather than a competitor.

Gillian also showed off a new book I need to get: Video for Change : A How-To Guide on Using Video in Advocacy and Activism.

Update: Change agents


Witness has made significant progress since that date, as evidenced by its new tagline: See It, Film It, Change It. See the Media Archive, Training, and Act Now links in the site’s top navigation in particular. JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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