Reimagining the Digital Soapbox

Step II to Spark a Community Renaissance

Perhaps the most legendary Soapbox ever took place in 1963 on these steps. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a nation rife with division about a dream he had for America.

There may not be a single person in the history of this country who accomplished more with just his voice. Dr. King’s historic soapbox inspired change and served as the rallying cry for a civil rights movement.

In the last few years, the act of soapboxing has largely transitioned online. However, our social feeds often make generating real change hopeless. Our curated networks insulate us in echo chambers with specifically crafted news stories. The anonymity of these networks also makes productive conversations increasingly rare, proving the upsetting accuracy of Godwin’s Law. As we declared in the first post of the Community Renaissance series, The Burg addresses these issue by making the feed limited to community residents. However, there is still something missing. In order to achieve change, people need to feel inspired and believe their voice can make a difference.

Years before his channel took off, YouTuber Casey Neistat documented himself receiving a ticket for riding his bike outside the bike lane. In response to his own ticket and what many New Yorkers felt were overzealous police officers, Casey made a video exposing how impossible and often unsafe it was to stay in the bike lane law at all times. His soapbox video went viral reaching residents of New York and people all over the world. As much because of its accuracy as its hilarity, the video racked up millions of views and eventually caught the attention of Mayor Bloomberg.

Dr. King and Casey Neistat are two high profile examples of soapboxing in action, but the truth is that smaller examples of this happen everyday all over the country. Soapboxing has the potential to not only call attention to issues, but to change attitudes and laws.

Nobody can deny that digital soapboxing is incredibly powerful. Anyone has the ability to instantly share their thoughts in the form of text, images, or videos to much more than the 250,000 people who attended Dr. King’s historic speech. If we could merge the power of soapboxing with our community, the potential for change would be enormous. We noticed this potential, and as a result, digital soapboxing plays a pivotal role on The Burg.

As national politics becomes more politicized, we need a network that lets us solve the local issues we face on a day to day basis. We provide community members with their own platform where residents submit posts which are discussed and upvoted/downvoted within the community.

Diversity of opinion breeds the best ideas.

People who disagree with you are imperative to a productive conversation. And, if there is anything this country needs right now, it’s political productivity. We should heed the advice of the recent guests on the acclaimed Ted Radio Hour, and use empathy and common ground as driving forces to reconcile and actually listen to “the other”.

MLK might have been the greatest bridge-builder we’ve ever seen. He knew that his cause was great and in order for real change to transpire he must listen and adapt his vision to those who combated him. The civil rights movement was a national success, but Dr. King started his role on the local level. He filled his community with hope and inspiration for change. His discourse and delivery were contagious and television propelled his cause to the national level.

Television highlighted the human element of a nonviolent movement being met with violence. People had a visual understanding of what MLK was fighting for. Today, we have the hyper-connectivity of the internet that gives us even more insight into what’s happening all over the world. We have misplaced the foundations of that venerable movement — grounded in community-based activism — and turned instead to the consumption of Mainstream Media (MSM) narratives, mediated by the distant and disinterested.

MLK was a community activist first, and we need to be prudent about the history he made and focus on the community not the narrative by *insert MSM here*. His successes are one of the many inspirations behind building The Burg. We hope to provide the tools necessary to inspire more of the vigorous and meaningful community-based movements and discussions driven by the revolutionaries of the past.

Imagine if Dr. King had the tools of the internet to organize and connect. It is safe to say he would not be soapboxing in an echo chamber. He would be listening and eloquently detailing his vision to better his community.

Out of all of his incredible qualities, Dr. King’s fearlessness to speak to those who opposed him is what we clearly lack in modern society. We aren’t asking you to become the next MLK. But we are hoping we can finally start picking up what he put down. He paved a path to progress using just his voice in his community, and we made The Burg with the intent to make your voice much louder.