Thursday, July 8, 2010

Texas Tea

A coalition of politically progressive online organizers, local bloggers and some Democratic politicians today announced they are launching a Tea Party-style, "grassroots" political movement aimed at forcing BP to make clean-up workers wear respirators, so as to protect their health as they work along the Gulf Coast.

Called the BP Makes Me Sick Coalition, the group -- comprised of Gulf fishermen, locally elected officials, and some national figures including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an environmentalist -- is layering a digital networking campaign on top of more traditional, offline political organizing tactics in hopes of building a mass movement against BP and those protecting the oil company from more stringent penalties. "We cannot let the denial of protective gear that hurt so many 9/11 clean-up workers happen again with the Gulf clean-up workers," the group's Web site reads.

Will this next-generation Web campaign work? Organizers are hopeful: some eight hours after announcing itself, the coalition had amassed more than 25,000 digital signatures on a petition urging BP to allow and distribute more protective clothing.

The coalition's announcement isn't the first hint of worker health hazards. Media reports have been surfacing for weeks. [Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told MSNBC host Keith Olbermann last month that clean-up workers are accusing BP of threatening to fire those who wear respirators; CBS News reported tonight that some 47,000 people helping to clean up the oil spill are at risk of respiratory problems from exposure to toxic fumes.]

What's new is the campaign, itself. It's one of the first to attempt using social media on a national scale to bridge the "action gap" between public awareness of a national problem -- and mass action required to help resolve it.

Forrest Brown, a senior organizing fellow at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group behind the BP Makes Me Sick coalition, told the Daily Kos earlier today that the drive is using blogs, social networks, Twitter and offline Meetup groups to achieve its goals. Organizers also are sending out video clips about the hazards of the oil spill's toxic fumes, including this recent report by MSNBC's Olbermann. BP has not yet issued a public response to the allegations, nor has confirmed or denied the report.

What do you think? Have social networking and other forms of social media evolved enough to be able to translate awareness into mass action? Let us hear from you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Shane O'Brien for

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