By:Keenan Brugh Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables
One Million Voices Against FARC
In 2008, Oscar Morales was a regular Colombian citizen, and, like many others, was infuriated about the violence of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). While originally “fighting for the people,” FARC had strayed from its ideals, a side effect of decades of violent authority changing hands. Attacks on infrastructure and innocent citizens hurt thousands and terrified millions. Wanting to take a stand, Morales created a Facebook group, “One Million Voices Against FARC,” which used social media to illuminate the atrocities of the organization. Within a month, the use of social media gave a voice to over 12 million Morales supporters who were outraged by FARC activities. Morales and supporters organized protests in Colombia and cities around the world, and that public voice gave rise to public and political momentum against FARC. Although FARC still exists, its numbers are the lowest in its history. FARC has returned hundreds of kidnapping victims, and it is clear the group’s terrorizing violence is no longer tolerated.
Morales and these protests are in accord with Colombia’s changes over the last decade. The multi-faceted issues surrounding poverty reduction are major goals for citizens, governments, and business interests alike. Ambassador Brownfield, another Roundtable participant, discussed the infrastructure and security issues of the country and used a poor rural farmer as the example. They said that even with the seeds to grow crops, the tools to harvest, and access to a truck and road to transport the goods, none of it mattered if the farmer was going to be robbed, kidnapped, or killed while driving his crops to the market — begging the question: Is security a central issue to poverty reduction measures? Morales said, “Violence can end and destroy lives. Communities hurt. Countries suffer. In order to increase the well-being of a population, it is important to have stable and secure environments in order to invite investment, such as that of a small farmer investing labor into a crop.” Ambassador Brownfield added, “They need to have a good sense of the risk and return. The lack of security discourages investments and that capital is invested in a safer venture. As a country with a violent history, Colombia is now a shining example of the benefits of increased security for its citizens and business communities.”
One Million Voices is a fascinating case because of its use of social media to engage otherwise disconnected communities through social media platforms. These platforms allowed for discussion and action initiatives to be organized on an unprecedented level. As access becomes more widespread and as people learn more about their capabilities, people are going to be using the latest media to influence their world.
Morales stressed the importance of citizens interacting in the political arena by saying, “Such direct political and media access has never been possible before this century’s Internet and mobile media innovations, especially to the poor. Previously disenfranchised people now have a voice, especially when speaking in concert with others. It’s a new channel for democratic discussion and action and a new era in global citizen politics.” Morales' success is an open invitation for others to begin to share their crisis observations, discuss their concerns, invoke passions, and incite action.