Net Neutrality and Civil Rights- The New Battle to Combat an Old Foe
The second half of 2014 and thus far in 2015 we have had a reality check of where we are on the question of race in America. The echoes of “post-racial in the era of Obama” have faded and we’ve been left to deal with a clear image of the way we as a nation truly think. A mirror has been held up to reveal the tattered rags once guised as the proud cloth of Liberty and the true frailty and fickleness of Justice have been placed in plain view for all to see. But not everyone is looking.
We are at the dawn of a new Civil Rights Movement and with the way Americans consume media, the 24 hour news cycle has the ability to uplift the continuing struggle from the streets of cities across the country right in to the living rooms of those that need to see the reality of Black and Brown America the most.
That isn’t happening, though.
The recent bombing of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, Colorado highlights a critical aspect of this new Civil Rights Movement. We cannot rely on traditional media to uplift the struggle.
Winston Churchill famously said “History is written by the victors” and former Washington Post Publisher Phillip L. Graham is credited with the phrase that journalism is the “first rough draft of history.” If that’s the case- current events have proved we cannot rely on media to report on the Movement if the Movement is going to yield victory. It’s time we take this history in our own hands, tell our own stories, author our own autobiographies in our own voices as we continue the March towards true cultural and racial equity. It is for this reason why social media, the Internet and net neutrality are so imperative to our movement.
In the aftermath of a domestic terrorism attack in Colorado, we heard nothing from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX- the traditional powers that are responsible for taking a first shot at contemporary American history. But with the power of the Internet, the people took to social media to tell their truth. In a matter of minutes, before the TV outlets paid much attention the story, what happened in Colorado was trending worldwide. From Denver to Detroit, from Seattle to Miami and beyond the borders of the U.S., people were able to get the facts surrounding what was happening in real time. A cursory search of #NAACPBombing on Twitter will reveal the thousands of tweets and retweets that stormed social media in the seconds and minutes following the attack. People from all walks of life were able to bring the story to the national consciousness almost immediately, without the might or finances of large media corporations- people came together.
The most powerful tool of our era is social media and its ability to inform the masses. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can uplift stories that some producer in New York or Washington may deem “not newsworthy.” It has the power to bring together over 60,000 people in the City of New York to protest the unjust death of their fellow citizen and the flawed legal system that allowed a murderer to get away with the crime despite being recorded choking the life out of a man in broad daylight. It has the power to underscore the hypocrisies of our cultural standards for Black and Brown citizens and can serve as a mechanism of self-defense from over-policing and discrimination in many of its everyday forms.
Today, it is more important than ever that we allow people to share what’s happening in their lives and know what’s going on in their communities because it’s nearly impossible to change the hearts and minds of those unknowing if those that have something to say are muted.
If we do not have a free and open Internet, our voices will go unheard. Our stories will go untold and our main avenue for positive reform will be shut down.
For those unfamiliar, net neutrality is the phrase coined regarding the ability of Internet service providers (today’s cable giants) to regulate the speed at which you can access the Internet while charging an arbitrary fee at their discretion. It seems basic enough- a company provides a service and charges a customer for that service; but in this instance, the devil is in the details. With less than 30 broadband Internet service provides to supply over 300 million Americans, these companies can effectively control our ability to communicate with one another with little or no oversight.
We’ve seen since mid-summer, the horrific images and accounts of racial bias and injustice throughout this country from a first person perspective. Now imagine if those images, those stories never reached anyone because it took too long to upload a photo to Facebook or Twitter was “down” because the Internet service provider decided not to allocate a sufficient bandwidth level to mobile devices in a certain geographic region. It sounds like something that is out of the Hunger Games or a previously undiscovered George Orwell novel, yet as net neutrality currently sits, it is entirely possible right now.
If social media hadn’t been the first to the scene of the NAACP bombing, no one would have known about it. If social media didn’t have the capability of getting the message out, an act of domestic terrorism would have been carried out without so much as a shrug from anyone- this history would have never been written and if that occurred, the incident essentially would never had happened.
In the most literal sense of the phrase, this is a life or death situation and we must not stand idle on the sidelines. Today’s youth leaders, the organizers and activists powering the New Civil Rights Movement understand just how important it is. The Million Hoodies Movement for Justice stands along side organizations such as BYP100, Dream Defenders, Color of Change, Presente, 18 Million Rising, Media Action Grassroots Network and Black Lives Matter in the fight for an equal Internet. We know that in the fight for justice, the keyboard and the touch screen have replaced the pen as the mightiest sword we have. It’s important to convey this message to the federal government and even to the “traditional powers” within the civil rights space. The National Action Network, National Urban League and ironically, the NAACP have all gone on record and made statements against net neutrality. Whether that sentiment is derived from a lack of acquaintance with the issue, a refusal to understand the change in the times we live in or the strings of corporate sponsorship dictating the message- even our oldest civil rights organizations have taken a stance on the Internet that could prove insalubrious to a growing movement marching towards real racial equality.
On February, 26th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a new set of net neutrality rules that will have a tremendous impact on the work we do. We implore them to make a decision that allows we the people to communicate with one another efficiently and in real time. In the digital age we live in, it means everything.
In the March for justice- silence is the ultimate enemy. Net neutrality is what will allow us to continue a Movement most effectively and allow us to bring to light the untold story of the real America. Net neutrality will raise our voices so we can reconstruct the ideals of Liberty and Justice in a manner that they may be realized by everyone, regardless of their hue of skin. As we create and shape history, its important that we have the power of our first rough draft and that we are the ones that write how we are remembered. We must stand for Internet freedom before someone else writes us out of the American narrative or forgets us all together.