Tweeting for Oscar Grant

Organizers used Web tools to keep folks informed, and to reinforce nonviolence and safety.

By Hatty Lee Jul 12, 2010

Twitter went ablaze last Thursday as the Los Angeles jury announced its verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle’s killing of Oscar Grant. But people weren’t just Tweeting on the verdict. Oakland residents were trying to keep the non-violence message loud and clear through real-time Twitter and Facebook updates, as well as through online mapping tools. The Twittersphere was constantly updated by people on the ground reporting what BART stations were closed, where incidents of vandalism were occurring and what areas to avoid–all to minimize harm and keep the community safe.

New America Media profiles an interesting Web-organizing tool at the center of that cyber action. Oakland resident George Chamales created the site  Oscar Grant Protests to provide real-time information as incidents were happening on the ground. Through Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and the Web, people could submit incidents and receive alerts. Then, times, locations and incidences were mapped out through Google. Even before mainstream news outlets got the information and were able to broadcast, people on the ground were spreading the information within minutes. (Or before community-based sites like ColorLines could, either.)

"We were experiencing all the action from a meta-pervasive level. We were tracking the voices of many people, who were tweeting real-time from the ground. So we had the advantage of having hundreds of eye-witness accounts, compared to that of the official channels that were limited," Chameles told New American Media.

The use of online community tools such as Ushahidi, also used in Haiti and Chile to map out the earthquake disasters, demonstrates how anyone can use social media to amplify the voices of everyday folks and tell our side of the story. With mainstream media reporting on looting and violence, Twitter and Oscar Grant Protests was reporting from the streets of Oakland.