Cell Phones for Campaigns -- Stories from MobileActive

MobileActive is over but the work has just begun...Stories about the convergence and the use of cell phones and texting in avocacy and civic campaigns are coming in fast after the first-ever MobileActive.  The event brought together a group of activists from around the globe to explore the use of cell phones for social justice and citizen participation campaigns.

Patrick Burnett, a participant from Fahamu, puts it well: "In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) SMS is being used to monitor child rights violations.

Greenpeace Argentina campaign against forest destruction In Argentina indigenous communities are using SMS to halt the bulldozers that destroy their forest livelihoods.  And in the Philippines, angry activists have used SMS to hold government to account. The power of cellular technology is no longer up for debate; what remains to be discussed is how to maximize it for social good. Mobile Active Convergence, held recently in Canada, did just this... What came out of the three-day event...went far beyond this expectation, as a diverse group of people from around the world banged their heads together, mixed their ideas and thrashed out a vision for just how far cellular technology can go in creating a better world. The end result was new ideas, the formation of a lasting network and the production of a body of knowledge available to many beyond the confines of the conference."

Here is a sampler of what the social and technology innovators who came to Toronto last month are reporting and doing around the world...

Justin Oberman, blogger for Personal Democracy and a last-minute, impromptu addition to the MobileActive crowd, wrote an overview of what MobileActive -- and all Aspiration events -- are all about. 

Quoting Marty Kearns, our visionary co-organizer and friend, Justin writes: "We wanted to build a community of activists and technologists working for positive social change and drive them into a working session to see what would happen,” Kearns told the group at its opening. “This gathering is not about information exchange. It is about work and moving the ball down the court. The real talent, skills and vision for the ways cells [phones] can be used for creating social change are here from around the world and are converging their talents, visions and stories in order to best facilitate and drive mobile technology and politics to the next step.”

Justin goes on: "The best analogy I can give is that [blogging MobileActive] was kind of like being assigned to blog exclusively about the hallway conversations that usually take place at more conservative panel discussions, the places where real connections are made and projects formulated. A daunting task when you consider that MobileActive was a three-day hallway discussion involving 40 people who are experts at what they do. Not to mention the fact that the conversation also took place via the MobileActive wiki. We continuously organized into break out groups, the topics of which where formulated during a large group discussion. The groups would then report back their major thoughts, ideas and initiatives via short deliverables that where then added to a wiki....MobileaActive ended up being the perfect forum for one of the first global discussions concerning the integration of mobile technology and politics, where the very newness of the topic made everyone there a novice as well as innovator."

So what are the MobileActives doing who were there? 

Greenpeace Argentina is using sms with indigenous communities and their fight against logging and development.  Mike Greenville, MobileActive participant and producer of the cell phone industry site 160Characters.org, writes: "

"Using sms for both people on the ground in the forest and city people to respond to a situation is very powerful combination. We use sms a great deal in our campaigns and activities both to receive information from local activists on the ground and also to mobilise our supporters in the cities" said [Greenpeace Argentina Communications Director Oscar] Soria."

Greenville also reports that Greenpeace Argentina is "launching a campaign in January 2006 to recruit 5,000 mobile activists that can be called upon to respond to situations publicity material and their own weekly cable TV show. The campaign hopes to recruit a further 100,000 cyber activists to the 300,000 already registered with Greenpeace." 

The MobileActive community will be eager to hear how this integrated campaign is going and will be watching!

Menwhile, over at Personal Democracy again, Justin Oberman reports on Tad Hirsch's projects, using open source voice-over-IP technology: "

Of course there was also a lot of geek-talk, most of which revolved around an open source telephony PBX called Asterisk. Tad Hirsch, the developer of the SMS messaging service Txt-Mob, is using the Asterisk technology for a project called “Speakeasy,” an integrated Internet and telephone service that connects new immigrants to the United States to a network of volunteers for “just-in-time civic engagement.”

The volunteers provide everything from simple advice to language interpretation and can even directly patch a caller through to a relevant public office or group while staying on line for continuous support. The serice had an extremely successful run in 2004 in the Boston China Town area and will be relaunched in 2005. And it’s cheap. Asterisk is free to download and requires a minimum budget for the extra technology required to connect it to your telephony system of choice (usually around $115 to connect four lines).

In South Africa, Patrick reports on MobileActive in this excellent piece in Pambazuka News.

He reports: "Key areas addressed by the conference included tactics, networking and funding. The conference produced guides on how to use SMS in organizing work, discussed organizing challenges in the South and addressed issues of language and access. (Read the full conference proceedings on the wiki.) The conference produced a declaration on the use of mobile phones entitled “Without the people mobile tech means nothing”

Patrick gives vivid testimony to three campaigns, Ajedi Ka - Child Soldier Project in the Congo, txtpower.org in the Philippines of ringtone fame, and Greenpeace Argentina's work with indigenoud communities.

Here is what Trixie from txtpower is saying: "Our most notorious activity was a few months ago. In the elections there were allegations of cheating. There were wiretaps of the president speaking to an election official. The Department of Justice declared that anyone in possession of wiretap recordings could be arrested at any time. A few days later people made a ring tone out of the tapes and were playing it on their phones. We had the idea of loading the ring tone up onto our website. We had to consult on the legal implications, but eventually we went ahead with it. There was an overwhelming response – we had 300 000 hits on our website in two days. Others emailed us different versions of the ring tone. Sometime later the president apologised for talking to the official."

The full story on Pambazuka News is here.

We love the ringtones, by the way. Hello, Garci. And on that note, last but not least, this from the Philippine's popular new site INQ 7 on MobileActive and txtpower's participation. A few excerpts:

"THE PHILIPPINES is no longer just the "text capital of the world" but also the leader in the use mobile phone technology for political activism and social change, delegates of an international forum in Toronto, Canada acknowledged recently.

The Philippine-based activist group TXTPower joined the forum with other delegates from the United States, Canada, England, Argentina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Zimbabwe...TXTPower convenor Anthony Ian Cruz who attended the forum told INQ7.net that foreign delegates once again acknowledged the Filipinos' sophisticated use of SMS and mobile phone technology to oust corrupt
leaders, and for pioneering the world's first "political" ringtone: "Hello, Garci," which was downloaded by tens of thousands of Filipinos here and abroad.

"We shared with them the story of the Hello Garci ring tones and how we use mobile tools like text towards Arroyo's resignation," said Cruz...."Basically, we would like other people's organizations abroad to maximize text and mobile phones as new tools for social activism," he added."

We could not agree more.  We at Aspiration have been proud and honored to get to know this group of technology innovators and are looking forward to seeing this global movement grow and thrive. Thank you, all, MobileActives!