Thomas L. Blair
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 internet donors and volunteers. They filled the Obama bandwagon and added a massive political clout.
However, the brilliance of internet social networking was clear at least a decade before. Globally, the children of the digital age have been changing the way their communities access and use the Internet and computers for equality and social justice. This must have impressed Senator Obama, a former community organiser in the politically volatile, working poor voting districts of Chicago.
In the era 1996-2006, before the Obama phenomenon, the "net-roots" commitment for change swept the Black World — Africa and the diaspora, according to a recent study, The Audacity of Cyberspace: A study of race and the Internet. 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 had the audacity to call for change. Many were enthused with religious values and preached the importance 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 - and filled the voting booths across the nation with the chant: "Yes, we can!"
Now, we can appreciate that the task of preparing for e-government had already begun. One example, Net-roots Nation, a web-based collaborative of writers, activists and community workers, launched a bold experiment in participatory democracy. The work of community-based voluntary groups and cyberorganisers on behalf of the Black and information poor heralded the "democracy of the web".
Obama's net-geners and internet-savvy voters inherit this demand for social networking and thrust power sharing into electoral politics. Campaigning for Barack Obama, from 2006 to 2008, millions created the biggest user-friendly, special interest group in the nation. And, when they inspired the first truly "wired" presidency as a platform for grass-roots activities - they were ploughing fertile soil.
* Thomas L. Blair publishes the Internet journal Chronicleworld.org and is the author of the forthcoming book Audacity of Cyberspace: A study of race and the Internet