21 January 2012


So what were the effects of the widely-publicized Internet blackout on January 18, protesting the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation which would have placed a burden of government censorship on the free Internet?  Only the largest Internet protest in history, with over 10 million signatures to petitions to members of Congress, and with over 115,000 websites participating (including this blog).  On the day before the protest, only one U.S. Senator was publicly against the legislation.  Two days later, that number shot up to 34, and is still rising.  Here is a summary of blackout stats, along with a list of high-profile website participants and supporters, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, Wordpress, Tumbir, Mozilla, Wired, BoingBoing, and many others.  

Participatory democracy works, especially from the ground up.  From the top down, not so much.  Most of the legislative functioning and policy-making of our government has been hijacked in recent decades by corporate and military interests and their lobbyists, with deep pockets and few scruples.  The disenfranchisement of the American electorate has been exacerbated by the widening, deepening divide between the 5 percent of the populace who control over between 80 and 90 percent of the nation's capital, and the rest of us.  Whenever such a gap exists between the few rich and the many poor, the stage is set for dramatic, sometimes violent change.

To prevent the drama and violence, some pragmatists are re-evaluating their participation in the status quo.  In the case of the censorship bills, Jonathan Weisman writes in the NYTimes that "When the powerful world of old media mobilized to win passage of an online anti-piracy bill, it marshaled the reliable giants of K Street ~ the US Chamber of Commerce, the Recording Industry Association of America, and of course, the motion picture lobby .... Yet on Wednesday, this formidable old guard was forced to make way for the new as Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to the legislation through Internet blackouts and cascading criticsim, sending an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media issues:  Don't mess with the Internet .... As a result, the legislative battle over two once-obscure bills to combat the piracy of American movies, music and books and writing on the World Wide Web may prove to be a turning point for the way business is done in Washington.  It represented a moment when the new economy rose up against the old."

To clarify ~ battling piracy of intellectual property is a good thing.  But the means chose for doing so by SOPA and PIPA were so draconian that they threatened first-amendment rights on multiple levels within the Internet community.  The bills need to be re-written, and doubtless they will.

In the meantime, I rather relish the role of Internet activist, just as I'm proud to once have been an anti-war activist.  I close with this ~ get involved.  Register to vote, and then vote!  And regardless of your particular views, make your voice heard.  Do so by signing the petitions of  activist groups, by writing letters to the editor, and by contacting your members of Congress and the White House.  Here is the contact information you need.

It is long past time to take our country back from the wealthy few on Wall Street and in Washington, DC.  Occupy America.

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