Black demand for web-democracy predates Obama’s net-generation

By Thomas L Blair,, 20 January 2009 

Barack Obama’s “net-generation” ignited his journey to the White House as 44th President of the US – and its first Black leader. On the campaign trail, young “net-geners” attracted millions of donors and volunteer in a multicultural political coalition. 

The brilliant tactic of Internet social networking was clear, however, at least a decade before. Globally, the “net-roots” commitment for change swept the Black World – Africa and the Diaspora. Black communities were adapting the instruments of the digital age– the Internet and computers — for equality and social justice as early as 1996.


This surely must have impressed the young Obama, when organising community action in the politically volatile, working poor voting districts of Chicago.


 In Britain, online Black communities promoted “digital cities” that value citizen participation. African communities trained cyberactivists and challenge media companies and Internet providers to close the “digital divide” between the “info-haves and have nots”.


 In America, the early Black cyberorganisers were blooded by “dreams” for a changed America — from the civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X to Rev Jesse Jackson’s rainbow campaigns of 1984 and 1988 for jobs, education and health care.


Armed with the rousing anthem “We shall overcome”, and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” may have provided the highlight, cyberorganisers preached the radical idea of “net-working with your neighbours”. They carried their Internet-based redemptive message into schools, universities, churches, clubs, beauty parlours, community halls and workers’ unions.


Obama’s net-geners and Internet-savvy voters inherit this demand for change and thrust the revolutionary idea of power sharing into electoral politics. From the rise of Obama 2006 to 2008, they forged the biggest user-friendly, special interest group in the nation. Undoubtedly, the first truly “wired” presidency owes its origins in no small part to the precursors of Internet social action, Black communities.  


Hands that once picked cotton now “internetwork” for social change and participatory democracy.


Thomas L Blair publishes the Internet journal and is the author of the forthcoming book Audacity of Cyberspace: The struggle for internet power. See book content and details at 


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