Oscar Morales and One Million Voices Against FARC
Upset with the rebel group FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), one man in Colombia started a Facebook group that quickly gained strength and led to the organization of over 200 rallies held around the world. How did Oscar Morales build this group? How could a handful of volunteers organize simultaneous protests around the world?
Oscar, a young engineer in Barranquilla, Colombia, was distressed with FARC’s intimidation of and attacks on Colombian citizens, as well as the seeming complacency of Colombians toward the group's actions. He was particularly bothered by the story of a boy born in captivity to a woman who had been kidnapped. After learning that FARC had lied about still holding the child, and that the child, in fact, had been abandoned to foster care two years before in horrible condition, Oscar felt outrage and frustration and decided to take his concerns to Facebook.
On January 4, Oscar created a Facebook group called “One Million Voices Against FARC” and invited his friends to join. The simple message of the group: “No more kidnapping, no more lies, no more deaths, no more FARC.” As Oscar noted in his keynote address to AYM in 2008, he thought that the social networking platform was the perfect place to raise consciousness about FARC. Within 12 hours, the group had 1,500 members. By the next day, there were 4,000 members. The group saw exponential growth, gaining 100,000 members within its first week.
Oscar is the first to acknowledge his surprise by the movement’s rapid uptake, noting, "We expected the idea to resound with a lot of people but not so much and not so quickly."
Clearly, people who chose to join the group agreed with Oscar’s sentiments and the group’s message, but Oscar and his friends began to wonder how they could sustain their cause beyond a Facebook group. How could they move from the social network to offline collective action? As Oscar recalls, “We just kept growing exponentially, and we soon realized we needed to take the momentum from the internet to the streets.”
Oscar and other organizers began to plan a national protest against FARC to be held in cities across Colombia on February 4, 2008. Members of the Colombian diaspora, however, were also interested in organizing events in cities around the world.
One Million Voices Against FARC was quickly becoming an international movement.
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
Organizing simultaneous rallies around Colombia and the world is no easy feat. The group employed a number of tactics to coordinate their actions, prepare for the events, and inform people who were interested in participating. E-mail, Google Docs, instant messaging platforms, and Skype were used to communicate with organizers around the world. Oscar notes that it was free to use these different tools, which kept costs down. Flyers with strong images were also designed to attract attention, including one flyer with a picture of a town nearly destroyed by the FARC.
While planning information was placed on Facebook, organizers also built a public webpage to reach out beyond Facebook members.
Oscar and the other organizers were not shy about speaking to members of the media, who were intrigued by the notion that young people on Facebook were attempting to take their protests to the streets. International media outlets are often eager to cover stories of young people using new technologies for political change, and the No More FARC activists capitalized on this tendency.
The group’s message was translated into 17 different languages, in the hopes of reaching the widest audience possible at the various rallies.
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
Much time and effort was devoted to coordinating the logistics at each protest site, which included working with city governments to obtain permits and shut down streets. The group’s organizers also found help in consulates and ambassadors around the world for assistance in organizing the rallies.
Oscar noted that while planning rallies on such a large scale, it became important to recognize leadership in others and trust other organizers.
Oscar didn’t know how many people would turn out on February 4 to protest FARC and was astounded with the outcome. Protests were held in 45 Colombian cities and towns, with an estimated 1.5 million people coming out in Bogotá alone. Solidarity rallies were held in some 200 cities worldwide including Berlin, Barcelona, London, Madrid, Toronto, Dubai, Miami, New York, Brisbane, and La Paz. Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe, and El Tiempo, the country's most influential newspaper, also offered support.
In July 2008, Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages rescued from FARC recalled listening to the radio on February 4 and heard about the demonstrations and the participants chanting, "No more FARC!" The influence of FARC has been on the decline as well, with more than 3,000 FARC insurgents defecting in 2008.
The rallies drew international attention to Oscar’s group and shed light on the fact that Colombians were not willing to tolerate the actions of the FARC. The Facebook page now has nearly half a million people behind it. Oscar has gone on to focus his attention on this cause, launching the One Million Voices Foundation to keep the audience alive and maintain momentum.