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Social media activists increasingly effective

Expect more from Stephen Harper protesters

Moments after Shireen Soofi was led out the door of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel by one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security contingent, she texted a message to Brigette DePape: “We have done it.”

DePape immediately clicked “send” on her computer screen to dispatch a news release to journalists across the country with the subject line: “Harper’s Speech Disrupted by Climate Activists.”

(I should tell you I had a front row seat to the action. I was one of the hundreds of suits in the hotel ballroom, there in my role as a director of Vancity Credit Union, at the Vancouver Board of Trade event to hear Harper.)

Exactly four minutes earlier Soofi and her colleague Sean Devlin had slipped past security in their Value Village waiter outfits and walked up on the stage behind Harper and Board of Trade CEO Iain Black.

But even faster, within seconds of Soofi and Devlin entering stage left and unfurling their signs protesting Harper’s failure to deal with climate issues, the Twitter-verse sprang to life as the phalanx of journalists at the back of the hall realized what was going on.

First to tweet was the Vancouver Observer with “Protesters walk on stage at #VBOT. Sign says Take Climate Change Seriously.” Then there was the Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason with “Wow! Protestor gets on stage with Harper before being tackled by security. Jeezuz.

That easy to get through to the PM. Scary.”

Between the form of the protest — non-violent direct action which breached the most expensive security blanket any Canadian prime minister has had — and the content of the message, it was enough to knock whatever Harper had to say off the front page. At least for a day.

Welcome to the world of social media and some of its most skilled operators.

The four co-conspirators who pulled off the Harper caper are mostly twentysomethings and they are university educated. They connect globally through websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook. They raise funds for their causes through crowd sourcing. And they are definitely not the folks who are invited in to meet the editorial boards of major daily newspapers.

Soofi graduated from McGill with a major in political science. You can find her on Facebook and also on LinkedIn, “the world’s largest business network.” She more likely suits the crowd she comes in contact with on, which offers young organizers committed to environmental justice “a platform to share resources.”

Soofi met Devlin on one of those shared resources activities. Devlin is a local comedian and creative director of Truthfool Communications. He has been on Harper’s case for years. He created the website “Sh*t Harper Did” or and was last busted a year ago when he and his buddies crashed a National Energy Board hearing in Vancouver into the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

Also handcuffed and hauled off that day was DePape. The University of Ottawa grad got national coverage in 2011 when, while working as a Senate page, she walked into the centre of the Red Chamber during the speech from the throne and pulled out a sign from under her skirt that read “Stop Harper.”

That got her fired and on Evan Solomon’s Power and Politics CBC TV show where she declared, “Canada needs an Arab spring.” She was subsequently offered jobs by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Council of Canadians and satirist and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Moore said: “For a young person to do that and to do it peacefully and quietly and with grace, I thought was a very powerful moment.”

The fourth member of the organizing team was Anjali Appadurai. She’s a climate justice activist and part of a group called “Earth in Brackets.” Appadurai made waves with her critical comments when she was invited to speak as the youth delegate to the United Nations Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011. When she was barred from the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar she launched what she called a “Twitter storm.” She was finally let in.

She is, not surprisingly, followed on Twitter by social media fans Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and one of Vision’s biggest financial backers, Joel Solomon.

We can expect more from them all.