Immigration, LGBT Advocates Telling Their Stories Digitally

Immigration and LGBT advocates spoke about the ways in which they utilized digital media to organize around their issues and campaigns at the Still Invisible? Waging Stories with Social Media panel Sunday at South By Southwest.

The short version is that, via tools like Twitter and video, activists were able to push through changes to anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT legislation, such as deportation policy and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Panelists included DREAMer and Presente.org organizer Felipe Matos and Change.org Director of Organizing Jackie Mahendra. Both spoke to the fact that, via tools like Twitter or Vimeo, tangible changes came about.

“We challenge [institutional stakeholders] to their face, and they have to react to us, but we also use Twitter,” Matos said, adding that blogs were also helpful in allowing him to define his own narrative. The Internet, via tools like Twitter, also allowed DREAMers to create a national organizational network that spans 30 states, he said. Every time he appears on TV he gets feedback from others who are interested in joining — via social media channels of course — and conversely, he uses social media to gain access to traditional media platforms like TV shows.

“It happens often,” Matos said, of being able to engage institutional folks via Twitter specifically.

Jake Brewer, a surrogate for Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas, said that digital storytelling is a whole different ballgame. Vargas did not attend the panel, due to a family emergency, but Brewer said the launch of his project Define American showed them that a truly social platform creates a community that catalyzes change. People may not open their mail or emails but they will almost always see a Twitter mention, he said.

Mahendra concurred, noting that a great cause combined with potent use of social media technologies can bring very tangible outcomes for activists online. “If you have this great mix of an amazing story and are able to tweet a journalist — you can see amazing results.”

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