Protestor Takes to Virtual Streets, Launches Online Petition, Blog

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Eminent Domain Activist Finds Protest Planning in the 21st Century is a Whole New Battle

In New York state eminent domain proceedings, business owners only get 15 minutes to state their case

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Activists of yesteryear assembled on college campuses, petitions and pickets in-hand; attending secret meetings in abandoned buildings with acts of civil disobedience playing out in the streets as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger crooned in the background. But for Nick Sprayregen, a landowner leading the battle against Columbia University's 17-acre expansion into Manhattanville using eminent domain, leading a crusade is more virtual than physical with Facebook taking over door-to-door activism and a blog (] as his soapbox for the outspoken.

Sprayregen, owner of Tuck-it-Away self storage, has used some of the elements of a traditional campaign to stop Columbia University from taking away his family's property--penning op-eds, holding press conferences, hanging banners from his buildings, and linking up with other remaining business owners in the neighborhood. For Sprayregen, though most of his battle is fought online.

Though online petitioning has been around for years, protestors are moving their entire campaigns to the World Wide Web. A week ago, Sprayregen launched the blog ], to serve as a public forum and jump-off point for his campaign. He has put up a Facebook page, to connect with others about his cause, posted YouTube videos and linked up with other eminent domain bloggers. He launched an e-petition to rally support. In just one week, nearly 200 people from all over the U.S. have signed the petition, with many people adding comments which recount their own battles against eminent domain abuse.

"In New York state eminent domain proceedings, business owners only get 15 minutes to state their case," said Sprayregen. "I am using the Web to get more than 15 minutes and to galvanize other Americans who are facing the loss of their businesses and homes due to abusive practices of eminent domain nationwide." In the coming months Mr. Sprayregen, along with the noted civil rights attorney, Norman Siegel, will be taking their battle to the courts where they expect the lawsuit to be a test case of numerous constitutional issues.

For protestors of the 21st century the rules are the same, it's the tools that have changed. Social media can carry a message to the right people in an instant; viral video can give back a voice to the muffled protestor; and big goals can be reached with just the click of a button.

Marijane Funess

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