BoingBoing reports that the good folks over at Yahoo have a problem. It’s badly parked cars. BMWs straddling fire lanes, giant gas hogs in compact spaces, executive vehicles grabbing creative spaces that block exits, etc etc etc.
In other words, individual behaviors are degrading a public commons: a concept we all of Greenpeace have been struggling with for many decades, of course. When the world didn’t know that whales were being killed, we took cameras out into the public commons, the Oceans, bore witness to the killings, did what we could to stop them, and pushed the footage out on the medium of the day: television, so more people could bear witness to the crime. Exposed to public view, the practice then became subject to moral scrutiny, and self-evaluation by the practitioners. Russia, Spain, Australia, and Chile quit. A few others carried on, but in the face of mounting disapproval, and eventually we got the moratorium on commercial whaling, which hasn’t eradicated the practice but HAS severely constrained and reduced the practitioners. We created a global conscience around whaling, a moral question, where none had existed previously.
This is, of course, the plain vanilla, right out of the box description of the Quaker term of “Bearing Witness.” The Quakers believed that once you’d witnessed a crime, it was on your conscience whether you acted or not. But you shared in the guilt if you failed to act to stop it. The more people who bore witness, the more likely someone was to act, and the greater the moral energy that was bearing down on the practice.
What’s this got to do with Yahoo and parking tickets? Everything.
Somebody at Yahoo had the idea to start a Flickr group of pictures of the offending vehicles. So concerned drivers are taking action. They’re exposing the bad parking jobs and snapping the license plate numbers and uploading them to Flickr. They’re bearing witness to wrong doing and putting the evidence out in a space where MORE people can bear witness to the crime. And thus they are posing a question: is this right? Is there a moral imperative we need to act upon? Whose side are you on, the good parkers, or the bad parkers?
This is day to day activism, enabled by a screen which lots of people look at, putting the ability to EXPOSE a crime into the hands of individuals, and providing a place where LOTS of people are witnessing it.
This is what I mean when I say the internet is knitting a global conscience. From issues as small as bad parking at Yahoo to ones as big as global warming, we’re creating a global means to Bear Witness, a global means to generate moral energy, and a global means to take action.
Will the Yahoo Flickr group eradicate bad parking? Nope. But how many people are going to take an extra minute to park better out of fear of ending up in the spotlight? How many companies today conduct themselves in more environmentally friendly ways out of fear of being put in the spotlight by Greenpeace or the thousands of other environmental watch dog groups?
Activism. It’s not just for Greenpeace anymore…