A friend of mine from the Hispanic Federation posted on his timeline that ‘today we renew our activist spirit’. Martin Luther King day is a point when new resolutions are still fresh in our minds, operational calendars - personal or organizational - are perhaps being recalibrated (or, perhaps not.) 2013 gave us a great deal about which to activate: Hurricane Sandy recovery, marriage equality, marijuana legalization, as yet unresolved immigration reform, Sequester, Shut Down, Core Curriculum, Stand Your Ground, hydrofracking... there was a plethora of availability for involvement.
Our internal values systems inherently dictate our choices for involvement, generally shaped by our choices of available media consumed. Diane Ravitch, writing in “Reign of Error” wrote: ‘Protecting our public schools against privatization and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time”. Undoubtedly, Sybrina Fulton would present an opposing opinion, and she would be correct. Many others would present their own heartfelt issues they believe deserved the titular credit. From their own personal perspectives (not necessarily those of the rest,) they would believe themselves correct.
The purpose of the foregoing is not to value one life or issue over another, it is this: we all know of these myriad, seemingly intractable issues because somehow or another - through a Facebook like, a Twitter feed, an Instagram photo, a Pinterest post. We learned, formed opinions, commented , reposted, and engaged in the heuristics cycle regarding themes pertinent to our unique activist spirits all happening instantaneously through a principle known as Net Neutrality. That means presently, Verizon’s corporate site loads no faster than the Sierra Club’s or the NAACP’s, or the Urban League’s. The landing page of a citizen journalist loads at the same speed as all the publications owned by Roger Ailes and operated by Rupert Murdoch. A storefront business occupying a 12’ x 15’ space in your neighborhood selling hand painted logo mugs has an e-commerce site that opens as fast as Amazon’s.
Most importantly, especially today, it is crucial to remember the pages set up for activist groups (350.org, the NRDC, VotoLatino, The Yesmen,) load and function with the same speed and facility as any other page. Absent Net Neutrality, that won’t happen. This concept was a purposeful objective pursued by those pioneering internet expansion (back during Web 1.0) for the express purpose of ensuring freedom of speech. We already previewed the pitfalls of dismantling Net Neutrality when in 2011 activist pages specifically dedicated to internet freedom without warning went AWOL from their web addresses.
Freedom of speech being a unifying precept that led to revolutionary peaceful resistance, the institution of the Civil Rights Act, desegregation, and Affirmative Action, we would do well to protect it in both digital and physical form. Today, ‘Free Speech” has a much different feel. In the post Edward Snowden/Bradley Manning/Julian Assange, NSA-copying-the-internet era, whatever ‘freedom’ means to those of us engaging in the larger dialogue, it most certainly signifies an altered state of reality. Worse, at the inception of freedom’s dissolution, the nation clamored for unfettered imposition of draconian surveillance measures on account of ‘safety.’ Ergo Natalie Portman’s famous line: “So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause.”
But, you say, telecommunications companies should be allowed to charge outsized prices to those with outsized budgets for the purpose of reaping outsized profits. True enough, a private business’ sole purpose is to make money. But consider the decades hence ramifications of the Non-Neutral Net . As a nationwide company’s heft stretches beyond too big to fail, and activist pages are ‘throttled’ or altogether eliminated, what precisely will be the replacement?
The answer my friends, is blowing in the trend laden trade winds of cable media distribution. Thought leadership is bought and paid for, and ideologically targeted with an eye towards profitability and mass suggestion. These conceptual articulations roll forward until such a point that finely orchestrated speech mash-ups are so de rigueur that the originality of its progenitor is unrecognizable, its initial intent lost to history and the dark recesses of cyberspace.
And that, my dear readers, is the point.
The FCC presently has the opportunity, now that the Appeals Court has rejected their legislation, to re-write the text and continue to treat the web as a commoditized central communication mechanism. Or not. If they don’t, expect throttling and page disappearances to be your daily domain.
Now would be a great time to begin activism for the sake of us remaining activists. Given how much has been done explicitly to protest and repress consumer protections, consumers are in true danger here. Let us remember telecommunication companies’ complicity in what was recently revealed regarding domestic spying. The cycle perpetuates and expands, and in the future, we are all Manchurian candidates despite our altruistic intentions.
Remember, freedom isn’t free. And Civil Rights - along with the ability to vocalize and fight for them, - appears to be the Civil Rights issue of our time.