Black to the Future?
The NAACP discovers the Internet.
A 100th birthday is a terrible thing to waste. Mindful of that fact, the NAACP has embarked on an all out celebration at its centennial conference in New York. It has attracted almost 2,500 delegates, including Gen. Colin Powell and Attorney General Eric Holder. President Barack Obama will also address the gathering.
In all likelihood, Obama will heap praise and platitudes on the oldest civil rights organization in America. After all, the NAACP mobilized tens of thousands of black Americans to agitate for voting rights, desegregation and the free exercise of those rights over the course of a changing century. And surely no one believes that the Obama era has eliminated the need for advancement among communities of color. So why are some commentators questioning the organization’s relevance, even alleging that “the NAACP doesn't care about black people”?
The answers we’ve all heard by now—it’s too old; it’s too broken; it’s still calling colored people “colored people,” for goodness sake! But the NAACP’s true failure may have more to do with its methods than its message, with its slow embrace of technology to do better what it has done well for so long.
In 2009, a rising tide of media tools and techniques has subsumed the sphere of social activism that was once dominated by the NAACP. Their march and protest model, so effective during the 1950s and 1960s, has been overshadowed by online calls to action that reach millions overnight.
Political organizing on the Web has been picking up steam for at least a decade. Building on the online successes of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, Obama for America used social networking technology and Internet-based fundraising with extraordinary success. Its post-election offshoot, Organizing for America, has continued to put a list of 10 million e-mails to work—in support of health care reform, for example. MoveOn.org, ActBlue and Daily Kos had been raising funds and pushing talking points among Democrats for years, but catered largely to educated whites with money to burn.