Recently, with the help of some friends I started a small online campaign called 'Doh Do Death'. In Trinidadian creole English it means 'don't do death'. It's a digital death penalty abolition campaign, in response to the T&T Government's desire to create additional laws that would allow them to resume sentences of hanging of convicted murderers.
The context is somewhat complicated; the last time the country carried out a death sentence was in 1999, the year that the Notorious 'Dole Chadee' and his 8 accomplices were hanged. In total, 10 people were executed that year, and since then the penalty has not been carried out. Even still, the penalty still exists as a legal option, and Trinidad & Tobago makes it a note to say that the twin-island state is not abolitionist-in-practice like other countries who have not carried out the penalty in 10 years. T&T's current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has repeatly stated "The death penalty is the law of the land." In fact, in presenting the Capital Offences Bill, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has said that the lack of implementation for the past 10 years is what is responsible for the rising kidnapping and murder rates, despite no evidence in support of the death penalty as a deterrent.
The first thing I had to deal with was that if a digital campaign was enough. Engaging with people in the digital space is quick, easy, and less intrusive than trying to rally people during their busy lives. But when they have a chance to see the information through their own lens and at their own pace, if at all, is mobilizing information like this plausible? Also, unless there is a large amount of people to bring into the cause quickly, the movement will be painfully slow. With physical campaigns, you can bring the information home, answer questions, guide people to further information and make it personal and specially catered to the person you're talking to, making it easier to reach people on the fly. In the digital space, generic information has to be made personal for every person you want to reach. The credibility of the cause has to come from the site, what's on it and who are involved in it. That usually means many people stating their interest outrightly, and lots of content daily to show presence. And with not much being said about the small twin-island state of Trinidad & Tobago, and international examples not sure to change hearts, the question 'what do we do?' still comes up strong.
The Capital Offences Bill is a government initiative, which means that it is almost bound to pass. Another issue with digital campaigns is that something achievable is not really possible. Digital campaigns cannot succeed in lobbying government, reaching policymakers, recruiting allies or engaging with other stakeholders in any way that may actually inspire change. Instead, it just has a chance - and a small one - at changing minds with enough information. Can it cause people to make a physical movement if they are not willing to or see the initial need to before this point? And can it even do so without becoming the governing body or driving force for it?
In short, are digital activism campaigns enough?