The Power of Wikipedia: A Challenge for You to Help Record History

By Terry Calhoun

Very recently, I was able to find a “political” use for Wikipedia that feels empowering.

In the event that you do not know, Wikipedia is a Wiki-based “encyclopedia” that allows Web documents to be served up and then edited by anyone who has access to the document. Working the bugs out has been interesting, and the site has its detractors, but I believe that at this moment in time there is no better place to go to learn the basics of a subject new to you.

Below, I will share two new Wikipedia articles I have begun to work on, along with my request that you go there and contribute to them as well. I have created a Wikipedia article on Higher Education Computing. Just a very basic one that anyone can go and enhance!

I have also created a Wikipedia article about the events at the beginning of the school year of 2003, which we all suffered through. You can enhance that so-far-very-simple article here: Higher Education’s 2003 “Perfect Storm” of Returning Students with Viruses and Worms.

And I will repeat a warning from an earlier article. Nearly every college and university has a Wikipedia entry, and every college and university needs to have a staff person assigned to watching their entries for accuracy. When anyone can write anything, some nasty things can and do get written. Vigilance is called for.

Two political “articles” (not the ones that I am asking you to contribute to) that I am watching like a hawk are the American Medical Association (AMA) and J'e Schwarz, congressman, (R-MI).

Just a couple of weeks ago, J'e Schwarz, a “moderate” candidate, was under attack for being too liberal by a right-wing competitor. I just happen to live in Schwartz’s district and was appalled when I received a scurrilous campaign postcard on behalf of Schwarz, mailed and paid for by the AMA. Note: Schwarz is an MD.

The postcard came at a tight time in the race and could not have been better designed to appeal to Schwarz’s need to seem more right wing than he really is. Picture this over-sized full-color postcard.

Side A: Image of grieving mother of dead soldier on the right, being handed a folded American flag by a senior officer. Alongside it is an image of a “demonstrator” holding two signs that read: “Thank God for Maimed Soldiers” and “America Is Doomed.” Below that is language that says something like, “J'e Schwarz believes that dead soldiers’ families deserve respect.”

Side B: Explains that Schwarz recently championed legislation in the Congress that made it illegal to demonstrate at funerals. It further explains that this was necessary due to abusive demonstrations by “anti-war protestors.”

Perfect timing and perfect topic for Schwarz obviously, although he lost the primary. The paid-for-by-the-AMA postcard told his conservative constituency that he is tough on those nasty, liberal, peace activists.

One problem: That demonstrator was not an anti-war protestor. No anti-war protestors that anyone can document have done that kind of thing during the Iraq war. The protestor pictured, and the demonstrators who have been in the news and who the legislation was aimed at, are members of the Westboro Baptist Church (Kansas), a right-wing Christian church that is actually pro-war because its members believe that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality. They demonstrate at soldiers’ funerals and praise the deaths and the maiming. Truly disgusting.

So, I called the Schwarz campaign – they say they had nothing to do with it. So, I called the AMA – at least 8 times now – and no one returns my calls. I have friends who are peace activists and I don’t like this slur. What to do?

What to do is write about it in the Wikipedia articles for J'e Schwarz and the American Medical Association, which I did. And what I wrote is not only still there, others are adding details to it. Pretty cool. Check it out. I love Wikipedia.

Enjoy! Meanwhile, I’m going to plug away at that silly postcard and see if I can get an apology to peace activists from the AMA, and also see if there may have been some violation of federal campaign financing laws.

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