Fight the Power: Website Arms Activists With Facts


| January 29, 2001


Fight the Power: Website Arms Activists With Facts

Consider the following facts: More grain is used to feed livestock than people in this country. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, a threefold increase over the last 50 years. Up to one-fifth of America's food goes to waste each year, and roughly 49 million people could be fed by those lost resources -- more than twice the number of people in the world who die of starvation each year. Oh, and Abraham Lincoln never really cared about the slaves.

If you're either intrigued or outraged by the above, consider browsing the hundreds of facts on the Public Education Network (PEN) web site. PEN, an independent, non-profit research organization based in Berkeley, CA, is a fountain of information on domestic and global inequities, including those in education, ecology, health, employment, criminal justice and national defense. The organization is fueled by the belief that the ills of the world -- famine, disease, violence and pollution -- continue not for lack of food, medicine, peaceful interests or scientific know-how, but for a lack of public knowledge and understanding.

To that end, the website traffics in a minimalist presentation of the truth, rather than in unwieldy analysis or persuasion. Outside of the linked source located beneath each fact, there is little context or spin provided. The currency here is information, a godsend for those out there who feel drawn to rebellion, but are fuzzy on the facts.

And consistent with their goal of getting the message out, PEN does not limit itself to the web site alone. Perhaps most demonstrative of its desire to reach the public, PEN actually projects statistics onto city buildings. They also post information in public areas, appear in local periodicals and host speakers and discussion forums.

Underlying all this work is an implicit belief in the ability of people to change, once they are armed with information. The question is not are we 'right' or 'wrong' in our beliefs, but have we been exposed enough to what is around us? The goal of PEN is simply to get the word out. 'We believe information, presented nakedly,' they write, 'is the surest way to help citizens vote, buy, and live conscientiously.'
--Anjula Razdan
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