During the 11-day span between the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions late last year—both cases in which a white police officer killed an unarmed black man and was not criminally charged—more than 130,000 outraged citizens signed up with ColorOfChange.org. That cemented the organization, which uses Internet tools to advocate for the rights of black people, at the center of one of our era’s defining cultural movements. Rather than providing Rev. Jesse Jackson–style spokesmanship, ColorOfChange.org launches what it calls campaigns—petitions, images to share on social media, or boycotts—that users can partake in. Its causes span everything from education to media accountability. In response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, it launched 15 campaigns that triggered 1 million responses. “In some ways [our success] is a recognition of the changing of the guard,” says Rashad Robinson, the organization’s executive director. “People don’t want top-down organizing. People are not joiners in the same way they used to be. What they want is to move in and out of campaigns that matter to them.”
ColorOfChange.org has a particularly ready audience: 22% of black Internet users are active on Twitter, compared with only 16% of whites. “We can help them get a victory,” Robinson says. One of his biggest recent wins was over New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policing policy: To increase public scrutiny of the program, the group started Cop Watch NYC to monitor police misconduct. Stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in 2013 and, in 2014, began being significantly reformed by new mayor Bill de Blasio. Cop Watch NYC is still active.
[Photos: Gus Powell]