People have gathered on the streets in New York City’s financial quarter in the name of the Occupy Wall Street Movement to protest against economic inequality. Many have been spurred by hash tags, and twitter feeds, and they are there to show that they resist and want change. A scene that probably comes to mind for many when thinking about digital activist movements. In general digital activism is involving actors by digital technologies in order to coordinate action, of which online networks are targeted with messages to reach out and involve more participants (González-Bailón, 2014). This is a process that often is engaged by people’s willingness to protest and resist, but it can also be a process that is less forceful in its nature that instead peacefully seeks to change society by direct collaboration.
Sarantaporo and the Digital Divide
One example of digital activism that peacefully has sought to engage citizens to collaborate action is the Santaporo Project in Greece. Sarantaporo is a small village in the northern parts of Greece, which is located close to Greece’s highest mountain Mount Olympus. Like many other small villages and cities in the world, Sarantaporo has suffered by the fact that younger generations have chosen to migrate to bigger cities in the quest for opportunities. Being remotely located, the village also had a lack in digital infrastructure and absence of Internet access, which did not work to ease the fact that its youngsters were leaving.
Sarantaporo’s inhabitants started to feel disconnected from contemporary society by the digital divide, and it was just this feeling of severance that eventually gave way for a group of people to initiate the impetus to make a change.
Turning Obstacles into Opportunity
One thing I have learned from Greek people, while living in their country for quite some time now, is that they do not rely on their government to fix things for them, but take things in their own hands, and the Sarantaporo Project is a great example. It all started with a small group of people that had the aim to build bridges between the modern world and the rural society by creating a wireless network that provided free Internet access to the area’s inhabitants. The project is driven by the non-profit organization sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network that promotes sustainable development in the region of Elassona Municipality. The initiator and one of the driving forces behind the project, George Klissiaris explains in an online published interview that one of the reasons why the area did not have access to modern communication was that Telecommunication Companies are not interested to invest in infrastructure when there is no profit in the long run. The only way to solve the community’s existent digital divide was to take things in their own hands.
Community in Action
The starting point happened when there was an open call for the Open WiFi project from the Greek Free Open Source Society Ellak (GFOSS), which gave wireless networking equipment free of charge to anyone interested. A small group of volunteers took the opportunity, which initiated the project that has brought Internet access to thousands of people. George Klissiaris explains further that the infrastructure of the network is openly accessible by all and works in collaboration with different support groups, totaling almost 60 people. The sustenance and development of the project relies heavily on collaboration and volunteering, which can be everything from connecting cables or installing an antenna to other more advanced technicalities.
Triggered Social Change
There is no doubt that access to the Internet has changed our society and continues to do so each day. As an example, social media has basically transformed and altered our social fabric, by giving people the opportunity to connect to family, friends, and strangers in unprecedented ways (Lewis, Gray, & Meierhenrichc, 2014). In the documentary about the Sarantaporo Project, various locals are interviewed concerning the positive impact of the project on their lives. It is explained that in the municipality of Elassona, separation and disconnectedness was very strong and the different villages in the region were isolated from each other before the project was initiated.
Now, via the implemented wireless network, people are given the opportunity to communicate and share between all these villages.
This is a beautiful example how digital activism peacefully can work to engage people to collaborate towards a common goal and to bridge the digital divide. Although scholars like Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2010) are justifiable in claiming that the digital divide is a socioeconomic issue that is not in need of technical solutions, I have to remark that the case of Sarantaporo has this time proven just the opposite.
The Documentary about the Sarantaporo Project: Building Communities of Commons in Greece
González-Bailón, S. (2014). Online Social Networks and Bottom-up Politics. In H. W. Dutton, & M. Graham (Eds.), Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives. Oxford University Press.
Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrichc, K. (2014). The Structure of Online Activism. Retrieved 2017, from Sociological Science.
Pieterse, N. J. (2010). Development Theory (Second ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Featured Image: Ellak