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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Fair
The Paper


The New Activists: The Twitter Revolutionary, Jenni Dye

Dye: 'I never imagined the sense of community that could be created in 140 characters.'
Dye: 'I never imagined the sense of community that could be created in 140 characters.'
Credit:Carolyn Fath
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Twitter was originally a private matter for Jenni Dye, an attorney who goes by the handle @legaleagle. For months, she kept the account locked, her comments visible only to those already following her. A couple of days after the #wiunion protests started, though, she opened up her thoughts to the world.

"I felt like this was an important enough issue that I wanted to engage with other people," says Dye, 29. "I can't say for sure how it happened, but people started to engage with what was going on via social media, so I made a promise to myself that I wanted to respond to each one of them. That quickly became a full-time job. The attention was intense."

Three months, tens of thousands of tweets, and more than two thousand followers later, Dye personified the way protesters used Twitter to share information, organize events, and link up both people and ideas, with momentous results. "It's been amazing the way people around the state, nation and even the world responded to what's happened in Wisconsin via social media," she says.

Twitter was an essential organizing tool during the Capitol occupation, explains Dye, who spent 30 consecutive days at the protests in February and March, and two nights under the Rotunda. After the building was locked down, it was necessary for communication between those inside and out. It was also instrumental in creating the short-lived #walkerville encampment at the King Street entrance, with Dye conceiving the idea and serving as its organizer.

"I never imagined the sense of community that could be created in 140 characters," she notes.

A UW Law grad who lives in Fitchburg and works in Janesville, Dye was no stranger to the Capitol, having interned for Sen. Judy Robson as a UW-Madison undergrad. She wasn't really politically active previously, though, her work limited to a few hours volunteering for the Barrett and Feingold campaigns last fall. That changed after Scott Walker's victory.

After the election, Dye organized a monthly gathering mixing beer and political discussion. Its first regular meeting was Feb. 16, which ended up coinciding with the massive protests in the Capitol. The group blossomed from there, cross-pollinating on Twitter and in person. Named "Democracy Addicts," it meets the third Wednesday of every month at Hawk's on State Street.

"It's a space for people to vent and make connections to move forward," says Dye. "Right now, there's no shortage of issues for people to want to do something about."

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