Student uses social media campaign to reach pope

Published: March 26th, 2012

Category: Feature, Students

Fernandez and others reach out to Pope

By Jared Misner

All he wants is 60 seconds.

In a David vs. Goliath of the digital age, Keith Fernandez (2L), along with friends Nicolas Jimenez and Giancarlo Sopo, is petitioning Pope Benedict XVI to set aside a minute to meet with Cuban dissidents today through Wednesday in hopes of bringing attention to Cuba’s “oppressive and tyrannical regime” during the Vatican’s first papal visit to the island nation in nearly 15 years.

And Fernandez, who is Catholic, is doing it all through Facebook.

“You can reach the entire world,” Fernandez said. “The real power of social media is getting the word out when traditional media can’t or doesn’t have time to get the word out.”

And in an Orwellian state of controlled media like Cuba, where, according to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, people “live in perpetual fear” of merely expressing their views, traditional media is shoddy and largely worthless.

“We’re acting as a megaphone for the things people in Cuba are saying,” Jimenez said.

So armed with status updates, wall posts and a One Cuba petition Facebook page, the second-year law student and second-generation American is hoping to grab the attention of the pope, who, as of March 20, had 38,355 Facebook fans.

Fernandez, with his 793 Facebook friends, acknowledged the uphill battle he faces in attracting the attention of His Holiness.

“I’m well aware of geopolitics and what it takes to make one of these visits happen,” Fernandez said. “But the pope is the pope. If he says he’s going to Cuba and meet with Cubans, then he should go to Cuba and meet with Cubans.”

But the Facebook petition to Pope Benedict XVI, which was delivered Friday to a University of Miami professor before being delivered to Vatican officials is no ordinary petition. The papal plea has already attracted the support of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, Democratic National Committee chairwoman; U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, chairwoman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and garnered national media attention from FOX News, the Miami Herald and MSNBC.

Fernandez’s social media social change is just the latest cause the Millennial Generation is hoping to influence through a series of tweets and wall postings.

Earlier this month, social media websites across the world backed the nonprofit organization Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012,” a public awareness plea for the capture and arrest of the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. The half-hour YouTube video explaining the Kony 2012 movement had amassed more than 79 million views by March 15 in addition to tweets from powerhouse celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Rihanna.

And early last year, when Egyptians overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, Twitter provided the world an unedited, raw view into the world as traditional media outlets struggled to stay relevant and up to date.

“(Our petition) is on Facebook because that’s where our generation is,” Fernandez said.

But Fernandez realizes his petition is about much more than his generation. The petition itself quotes a fellow revolutionary from a different time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Fernandez finds it difficult to speak about the oppressed Cubans without mentioning his grandparents, whose home and business were confiscated by the Cuban government during the Cuban Revolution.

“This is definitely about showing my grandparents their sacrifice was worth it,” Fernandez said, saying his experiences as a law student and a former congressional intern and aide to Ros-Lehtinen, are because of his grandparents.

But in a nation where 85 percent of the 11 million people identify as Roman Catholic, Fernandez said the petition boils down to one thing: hope that the world can know what Cubans themselves can’t say.

“If I learned anything from my grandparents, it would be, ‘If you believe in something, do it,'” Fernandez said. “So that’s why I’m here.”

To sign the petition to Pope Benedict XVI, visit Facebook.com/Onecuba.