Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: December 2009 (page 2 of 3)

The Role of Global Voices

By now you might have seen David Sasaki’s retrospective about Global Voices,  or Rebecca MacKinnon’s post about GV, five years in.  Maybe you’re aware that GV is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  Anyway, now you are!

I joined Global Voices in April 2007, about two years and 8 months ago.  As I explain in this video post, I joined because my blog was quoted in GV, as a Moroccan blog.  I’d been living in Morocco for a little less than two years at the time, and had become part of the Moroccan blogosphere in a way.  I saw my blog quoted, began reading GV, then shortly afterward noticed that the posts on Morocco had died off.  So I wrote to the Middle East and North Africa editor who was (and still is) Amira al Hussaini.  She wrote back almost immediately, and within a week, I’d written my very first Global Voices post, which dealt with the recent bombings in Casablanca and the “soul of Morocco.”  A few days later, I wrote about Moroccan bloggers’ reactions to the Virginia Tech Massacre in the United States.  It was while writing that story that I realized how big of a deal citizen media was.

Flash forward to now: I’ve just returned from a trip to Beirut, spent amongst several Global Voicers.  Earlier this year, I spent my second year in Miami with a crew of GVers (at WeMedia), and last year I attended the second GV Summit, in Budapest.  These people, once strangers on the Internet, have become some of my closest friends.  They are colleagues, people I trust, people I go to with questions, for news.

Global Voices is many things: A network, as I mentioned.  Sometimes it’s news, and sometimes it’s storytelling.  Personally, I’m a fan of the times when GV turns out to be news.  In my own, the Moroccan blogosphere, there are times when GV breaks a story–however “small” the story might seem–which leads to Moroccan activists and bloggers getting interviewed by U.S. and international media.  We spread stories.  We spread words.

As we come upon the one-year anniversary of Israel’s massacre of Gaza, I would remiss not to note the crucial role Global Voices played in getting news out.  As Israel continued its horrendous blockade on Gaza, not allowing foreign press to report on the happenings on the ground, citizen media played perhaps one of its biggest roles yet.  People talk about Twitter and Iran, but what they don’t mention is how people like Ayesha Saldanha reported in her blog on text messages received from friends in Palestine, which were then amplified by GV.  I shared stories from my friend Mohammad Alsaafin, who was reporting from Ramallah on texts received from family in Gaza.  Others shared the views and reactions from everywhere from Syria to China.  Global Voices’ coverage on the Gaza attacks were among the best out there.  We managed to share the human side of the story that other news outlets could not muster.

We spread stories.  We spread words.

The Inimitable Arab Bloggers


Perhaps you’ve wondered about my bit of a blogging hiatus: I spent December 7-13 in Beirut for the second annual Arab Bloggers Workshop. The workshop, sponsored by The Heinrich Böll Foundation and Global Voices Online, with support from HIVOS and the Open Society Institute, brought together about 80 of the most amazing bloggers from around the Arab world, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, for a week of workshops, discussion, trainings, and camaraderie.  I was there as part of Global Voices’ Middle East and North Africa team, also known as the MENAce, and presented on both Herdict Web and my latest side project, Talk Morocco, which I founded with Hisham Khribchi (who was also in attendance).

Blogging about what I took away from the workshop is tough; there were a lot of personal takeaways, certainly, little things I learned about SEO and online campaigning.  And then there were those things that can enhance my work: the importance of translation into Arabic, for example, in Talk Morocco (which Hisham and I intend to implement ASAP) to bridge gaps between the Maghreb and the Middle East, as well as an excellent review of the usability of Herdict (hat tip to Slim Amamou and Suad Al Khawaja, both of whom sat down with me for over an hour to discuss use cases).

Another important takeaway, as someone who works at an incredible Internet research center in the U.S. that has barely tapped into the Arab region, is gaining perspective on what works and what doesn’t, what’s important and what isn’t, in terms of conducting research in the region and on its blogospheres and entrepreneurial initiatives.  It’s important for us to hear, with completely open ears, what we’re doing right…and what we’re doing wrong.

But the real takeaways go beyond the little things you pick up.  They are the faces put to names, the networks built, the new projects formed.  More than that, they are the friendships made and the lasting impact of feeling a part of something so big.

I can say this: I was one of only six or so  non-native Arabic speakers at the workshop.  My Arabic turned out to be not as good as I thought it was, and I was thus ashamed to even try to speak sometimes.  But it didn’t matter – everyone else, so much more multi-lingual than I – made sure that I felt included in conversation, and made sure that I understood what was going on at all times (NB: I actually understood much better than I spoke, thankfully).

At the end of the workshop, we went around the room and each shared a few thoughts on our time in Beirut.  When it was my turn, near the end, the floodgates opened and, like the sensitive ninny I am, burst into tears.  It took me a moment or two to regain my composure, but when I finally did, all I could manage to eak out was how grateful I was for being included in such an amazing group, and how truly included I felt.  Sometimes the fewer words, the better, I suppose.

And there are plenty of amazing things to come: Hisham and I will be working hard to translate essays on Morocco into Arabic for one, I’m going to help Sa’ed Karzoun get his writing on Palestine translated into English, and I’ve found interesting projects all across the board to share and get involved with.

I always feel sad when I leave such amazing people, but I’ve learned to realize that it isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning.


On a night unlike many others, I took a taxi home. I had approached the first cab I saw outside of the bar, but the driver didn’t have a credit card machine and I didn’t have cash. The second cab I approached didn’t want to go to my neighborhood. The third driver agreed to it.

It was indeed a night like many others, except on this particular night, behind the wheel sat a woman, a rarity in Boston as in most places in the world. I told her where I was going, and the cab took off, headed away from campus and toward home.

I was looking out the window, watching the passing winter scene, when my driver reached for her music and turned it up…Arabic music, but with so slight an accent that it was impossible to discern its origins.

من أين أنت؟

I asked.

من لبنان

she replied, without a second’s pause.

My heart skipped a beat. What are the chances? Home for less than twenty-four hours and missing Beirut, and all of the people contained within it, terribly, and who do I stumble upon but a female Lebanese taxi driver who doesn’t even flinch when I, Wilma Flintstone for all intents and purposes, speak Arabic to her.

I wish I could say there was some revelatory statement to be made, something about fate or chance, but the fact of the matter is, it was a night like any other night…Except that on this particular night, when I was missing Beirut with every inch of my being, my cab driver happened to be the only female Lebanese cab driver in the entire city of Boston.

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