Urban planning student lets Egyptians' voices be heard
An urban planning doctoral student in Los Angeles is helping Egyptians at all levels broadcast their eyewitness accounts to the outside online world during the chaotic days of protests and rioting through the only means of communication they have left — land lines.
John Scott-Railton, who has studied in Egypt and visited friends there, decided to begin tweeting and sending out audio reports directly from Egyptians from neighborhoods in Cairo via Twitter and Youtube when the Egyptian government shut down Internet and cell phone service last week.
Calling his contacts, Scott-Railton sent out word that he wanted to help get their land line messages out to the world. As word spread via friends, their contacts and journalists in the country, his network of correspondents has grown tremendously. As of Monday, Jan. 31, he has posted 366 tweets, including links to audio clips which have been played 272,000 times. Nearly 4,000 people, including journalists and editors of international publications, have subscribed to his tweets.
“Egypt has tried to prevent Egyptians from speaking by shutting off the Internet,” said Scott-Railton in an email message. “But these events are made up of individuals, smart people with aspirations and voices. I am letting them speak as people to the world, unsilencing them.”
While he speaks basic Arabic and some French, he's communicating mostly in English. He is being helped by some Arabic speakers who will translate pertinent messages.
This is not the first time that Scott-Railton, a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Affairs, has come to the aid of people on the other side of the world. A student of urban vulnerability to climate change and the obstacles that communities face adapting to these changes, he has coordinated with politicians, climate scientists, academics and the community to design a plan to protect slums in Senegal from annual flooding. By combining maps with data he obtained from NASA and using sophisticated modeling formulas that he developed, he was able to create a model to help solve this persistent problem.
To map out the areas of flooding in Senegal, he rigged a remote control camera to kites that he then flew to take aerial photos.
"One man, a student from UCLA … became a catalyst for an entire country to figure out how to tackle a devastating problem. John has been able to create detailed topographical maps of the flooded areas of Senegal,” said UCLA alumnus Brian Rishwain, who presented two $2,500 awards to Scott-Railton and Ava Bromberg, another student at the School of Public Affairs, for their work in social justice.