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How To Use Digital Spaces to Advocate for Others

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The Bay’s How-To newsletter series (sign up here) is an extension of By The People episodes that looks into how democracy functions in the spaces around us – and where, exactly, each of us can plug in. These features include changemakers who have learned how to get involved locally and who are now sharing their step-by-step guide with you.

A horizontal banner that on one end says, 'How to use digital spaces for advocacy.' In the middle, there is a circle with the image of three people inside looking at the camera. On the right side, there is more text that says, '18 million rising. For 18MR the Internet is a place where community comes together to create culture, collaborate and build power.'

The summer of 2020 has been given many names, including the “summer of digital protest.” The pandemic forced people to connect with one another through online mediums, and as a result, social movements and protests unfolded in real time. The shift to digital and online interactions also changed how people learned about social justice issues and helped determine the ways they chose to get involved.

For example, Twitter users raised millions of dollars for the Minnesota Freedom Fund and Brooklyn Community Bail Fund for people participating in George Floyd protests. Black creators on TikTok called out the platform for removing, muting or hiding content related to Black Lives Matter. And K-pop TikTok users registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a prank.

It is clear that the internet has become a way to show up, especially when being outside is not an option. “The internet is a place, and the internet has neighborhoods,” said Bianca Nozaki-Nasser, Director of Design & Product at 18 Million Rising (18MR).

18MR is a digital-first Asian American advocacy organization that has used online spaces as a place for community, campaigning, and making change. The organization was founded in 2012, and the name “18 Million Rising” was inspired by the number of Asian Americans living in the U.S. at the time. Since then, Asian Americans continue to be one of the fastest growing racial groups in the country, but 18MR leaders say, are consistently politically underrepresented.

A horizontal image that one one side features screen grabs of the zines 18MR have worked on, including 'Call on Me, Not the Cops,' and on the right side, three people are featured. Two of them have short hair and one has long hair. All are wearing dark or light blue colors. They are all looking at the camera.

“It's actually really difficult to organize Asian Americans on a national scale,” said Laura Li, Campaign Manager for 18MR. “We're just scattered all over the place, aside from a few major hubs.”

18MR’s ongoing work in racial justice activism and movement technologies spans across digital content and cultural production. They organize actions, campaigns, technology for social justice, and even zines.

“Unmasking Yellow Peril” and “Call On Me, Not the Cops” are two zines created by the organization in response and in collaboration with their community needs — addressing anti-Asian racism and educating family members about prison abolition.

With just 40 zines, 18MR managed to raise over $350, which was given back to communities in the Bay Area and Connecticut.

A horizontal image showing some of the zines that members of 18MR have produced, including 'Unmasking Yellow Peril,'

A Zine is shorthand for “magazine” but they are much more than a shorter version of the publication. Zines have historically been published as pamphlets, hand-sewn books or even photocopies, while magazines are usually published by a company or group. Usually, zines are often self-published by individuals or small collectives.

Recently, zines have taken on a new digital form with publishing websites like Issuu, Gumroad or smaller publications like Laneha House. Their purpose and creative expression carries on and led to a zine boom in the 1970’s with the rise of punk rock music. Today, zines are created by creatives like the poet Yesika Salgado, cartoonist Breena Nuñez, and youth activists from March For Our Lives.

Three 18MR staff were essential to the zine’s creations: Nozaki-Nasser, Li, and Turner Willman, social media organizer. They each contributed their digital expertise and personal inspirations to craft the zines, collaborations, and it’s ultimate success.

  • In an effort to understand more about what exactly it means to be a digital organizer, KQED spoke with the 18MR team.

1. Repeat After Me: Digital Organizing Is Community Organizing

Organizing and advocacy are usually thought of as in-person actions, such as protest, petitions, boycotts or door-knocking, but bringing people together for a shared cause across distances can take many forms. For 18MR, whose membership spans over 120,000 people across the country, their zine project allowed them to reach more people through collaboration and to connect online conversations with historical context.

“When we’re thinking about a field organizer their goal might be, ‘OK, I’m going door to door in this neighborhood,’” Nozaki-Nasser said. “A lot of times digital versus field is pitted against each other, but we see it in relationship with one another.”

Field organizers contemplate what action best supports their goals which can vary from town halls, protests, sit-ins or strikes. So how does 18MR do it for their online community? Through what inspires them and their own experiences. For example, Willman, the social media organizer, was first introduced to zines through listening to punk music and observing how subcultures were able to self-publish and tell their own narratives.

“At 18MR, one of our goals is to create new narratives about who Asian Americans are, and counter the harmful narratives,” Willman said. “In that spirit we looked at zines as helping create the representation that we're not seeing elsewhere.”


2. Build Together

Don’t feel pressure to be creative all on your own. If you want to support a cause or contribute to a conversation, reach out to those who moved you to care in the first place.

For 18MR, attending a livestream community town hall aimed at addressing anti-Asian violence planted the seeds for their zines “Unmasking Yellow Peril” and “Call On Me, Not the Cops.” This was back in March of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, when the anti-Asian narratives that continue today were just beginning.

Online, 18MR saw discussions and definitions about Yellow Peril but they wanted to connect it to the present — to the news headlines and experiences of the Asian community.

At the event, University of Connecticut’s Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies Jason Oliver Chang was a guest. He was able to ground the audience in a deep historical analysis of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, which Willman said, felt empowering.

18MR partnered with Professor Chang and in four days, they wrote and designed the zine, and the accompanying social media posts to create “Unmasking Yellow Peril.”

Call On Me, Not the Cops”, Willman says, is “A letter to our families who may not even speak English at all, who don't necessarily have a political analysis around race or the police.” The zine is available in 13 languages, and focuses on politicizing family members about prison abolition and Asian Americans' relationship to the police.

3. Treat Creatives & Community Organizers As Political Strategists

Bring in your community members early on. It's a chance to foster creativity rooted in the community, and offers a chance to pay it forward. For 18MR, this intention manifested in their mutual aid support of the group Chinatown Community for Equitable Development in Los Angeles (CCEDLA), whose small business owners have been heavily affected by widespread housing displacement and a drop in business due to racist tropes in the area.

18MR asked the community how they could help with mutual aid efforts. CCEDLA supports seniors with limited English proficiency, so 18MR decided that it would print and sell English-only zines, with all proceeds going to CCEDLA and their meal-delivery program for Chinatown elders.

Lastly, they said if you are an artist, know that you belong at the strategizing table. Although you may be approached at the later stages of a campaign or project, don’t be afraid to ask to get in much earlier.

“We have line item budgets all the time for printing, for ad space, or paying the engineer,” Nozaki-Nasser said. But, she says creatives sometimes aren’t paid or are only being asked to create visual assets without being part of the conversation on strategy.

Li and Nozaki-Nasser actually put together a workshop (and zine) on media based organizing to learn and share best practices and how to integrate creatives into movements. Check them out here.

4. Whatever Your Medium, Shift the Culture

Related Coverage

Since we’re talking about the internet, we can’t ignore the digital divide. If you’re considering online advocacy, there are free programs you can use for your work. For example, 18MR suggested Audacity for audio editing and Canva for graphics.

Depending on what your goal is, it also informs which social media platform you should use. “Some people think Facebook is dead, but that's not true,” Nozaki-Nasser said.

“It's just that there are different demographics on Instagram versus Facebook versus our newsletter that have come from direct actions or work with other partners. So even though we have a huge membership, we are aware that every platform has a different audience on it.”

A perk of existing online means to a certain extent, you can see how far and wide your work has impacted others.

For the 18MR team they were able to see their zines mentioned on podcasts, listed on websites, mentioned in interviews, appear in university write-ups and training curriculum.

“The Internet is a scary place because of surveillance,” Nozaki-Nasser said. “But also the fact that we can see how far it's gone and where it continues to live is like, wow!”

A graph with four parts, titled, 'Tips on Using Tech and Digital Spaces for Advocacy.' The first section says, 'Digital Organizing is Community Organizing: We need all of our imaginations to create the world we know is possible.' The second says, 'Build Together: Reach out to people who move you and stay rooted in community.' The third says, 'Treat Creatives and Community Organizers as Political Strategists: Pay them and pay it forward.' The fourth says, 'Whatever Your Medium, Shift the Culture: Let your goals guide you and take advantage of free programs.'

Isabeth Mendoza is the engagement producer for The Bay, a podcast that explores local news every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We launched a newsletter and episode series called By The People shortly after the U.S. Election Day in 2020. The purpose of the series was to look into how democracy functions in the spaces around us and by extension, the newsletter continued the conversation focusing on how to plug in. We looked at how to run for office, how to use digital spaces for advocacy and how to get a measure on a ballot. If any of these spark your curiosity, keep reading because we break it down for you in simple how-to guides.



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