On Online Activism, or: Houston Press Web Award Acceptance Speech

This year the Houston Press inaugurated their Web Awards, and their very first honoree was SaveKTRU.org, for its efforts in fighting the sale of KTRU. The awards ceremony was earlier tonight, and Joey Yang, who served as the station manager during the campaign to stop the sale, was kind enough to bring me along to represent the alumni who ran the site (even though I wasn’t directly involved with it, I was the closest alum who happened to be in town and available- as we and our readers probably know, Ghost did most of the work).

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the event didn’t really agree with me, and when it came time to accept the award, I choked. So to compensate for my inability to deliver a 10-second acceptance speech, I hereby present this significantly longer open letter.*

I’m here to accept this award on behalf the KTRU alumni who founded and operate SaveKTRU.org. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that they’re very happy to be recognized for their online activism. Yet, it seems to me that the idea of “online activism” is, today, redundant, because the speed and scope with which the internet allows people who want something to connect with each other and disseminate information make it a fundamental component of modern activism itself.

For evidence of this, we need look only as far as the Houston Press itself, whose music editor, Chris Gray, arguably kicked off the Save KTRU movement by breaking the news of the impending sale in a Monday afternoon blog post, nullifying the embargo that the Houston Chronicle had negotiated with Rice to hold news of the impending sale until after it had been approved by the UH board, and in the process coming close to wrecking the deal itself by alerting the public to the meeting at which UH voted on the purchase. If the news had broken just one day earlier, it’s entirely possible that KTRU supporters would have been able to muster enough attendance at the UH board meeting to swing the vote away from the purchase.

Because activism is an inherently social activity, as SaveKTRU is recognized, in turn it should recognize the contributions of other sites which aided in the effort to stop the sale. In addition to the Houston Press (especially the work of Gray, Craig Hlavaty and Marc Brubaker), this includes Spacecityrock.com (which deserves a special Houston Press Web Award for Lifetime Achievement), culturemap.com, the Texas Watchdog, 29-95.com (which, ironically, is owned by the Houston Chronicle), Burn Down Blog, Radio Survivor and probably many other sites that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Even more important are the many, many individual KTRU supporters who wrote or signed letters or e-mails, made comments, posted on Facebook or Twitter, or simply argued with people online or in real life about the sale of the station. The action of individuals working toward a common goal is the substance of activism.

It’s true that SaveKTRU was not successful in its campaign to stop the sale of KTRU’s license and FM transmitter. However, the way in which people who were touched by this campaign will remember the sale is defined not by the press releases of an educational corporation, but by the voices of friends, neighbors and members of the community. In capitalizing on the ecology of the web to fight the battle over that definition, to expose the venality, apathy, arbitrariness and bad faith that drove the sale of the station by harnessing the voices of the community, SaveKTRU can consider itself significantly more successful. Perhaps we can take some consolation in that.

* The most metal form of communication in existence

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