cr> WIRED 4.03: “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”


Craig A. Johnson

There's more than a little wisdom in these words for those of us who 
watched the CDA gain more and more potency as it progressed from 
Committee markup to the Senate and House floor votes, and finally 
through the conference committee.

What can we do in the future to move beyond "a digital wank-off


Date:          Wed, 14 Feb 1996 14:28:10 -0800 (PST)
To:            •••@••.•••
From:          •••@••.••• (--Todd Lappin-->)
Subject:       WIRED 4.03: "Don't Mourn, Organize!"
Cc:            •••@••.•••

This is Simon Davies' editorial rant from the "Cyber Rights Now!"
column of WIRED 4.03.

Permission is granted for forwarding and redistribution.


--Todd Lappin-->
Section Editor
WIRED Magazine


While politicos have been raping the Constitution, netizens have been
preaching to the choir.

By Simon Davies

As we go to press, Congress is preparing to pass the so-called
Communications Decency Act as part of a larger telecommunications
reform package. Like muggers on a crowded city street, politicians in
Washington may succeed in censoring the Net with scarcely a shout
going up in defense of the First Amendment.

Netizens seem incapable of defending themselves. Time and time again,
repressive proposals concocted by clueless lawmakers have failed to
raise more than a whimper from the online community. Congress and the
White House have come to believe that the Net is useless as a
political weapon - and that its users are incapable of organized
political resistance. If netizens want to stem the hemorrhage of
remaining freedoms, this passive stance must change - and fast. We
must seize every tool at our disposal to bash Congress and make our
voices heard.

In early 1994, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility circulated an electronic
petition opposing the government's proposed Clipper Chip wiretapping
initiative. But despite the best efforts of its organizers, the
petition garnered only 50,000 signatures - about 1 person in 400 on
the Net. A bacon salesman in a synagogue would get a better hit rate.

The 1995 battle over Senator Exon's Communications Decency Act brought
the political impotence of the Net community into even sharper focus.
For months, as the Exon proposal slowly worked its way through
Congress, Net users bemoaned this blatantly unconstitutional dung heap
of legislation in endless online discussions and listserv debates. Yet
all that impassioned ASCII amounted to little more than a digital
wank- off session, as netizens wasted time preaching to the converted.
Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition was rallying its troops; organizing
letter writing campaigns, lobbying Congress, and controlling the spin
of the mainstream media by fashioning its censorship proposals as
essential measures to protect children from online pornography.

It wasn't until late December last year - after a House conference
committee finally agreed to adopt the "indecency" language contained
within the Exon Senate bill - that the Net community finally snapped
out of its stupor. The staff of Voter's Telecommunications Watch
organized an Internet Day of Protest by urging its readers to phone or
write their representatives in Washington. The result? On Tuesday,
December 12, 1995, phones on Capitol Hill were ringing off the hook.
Meanwhile, protest rallies were held in San Francisco, Seattle, and
New York City in an effort to show the great majority of unwired
Americans that the First Amendment is an ideal worth fighting for.

But it was too little, too late. The indecency provisions had become
an inseparable component of the Telecommunications Reform Act; from
that point onward, the issue of online censorship faded into the
woodwork as politicians began haggling with well-heeled lobbyists over
media ownership and provisions to allow local telephone companies,
cable television operators, and long-distance carriers to compete in
each other's markets.

It's time to wake up and smell the coffee. Netizens have confused
technological wizardry with political might. But history proves that
the death of freedom comes about more through apathy than
conspiratorial tyranny. If Net users want to preserve what remains of
their rights, they must learn to play political hardball.

If that means picking up the phone or putting pen to paper or marching
in the streets, then so be it. We must wage a battle for the future
using sticks and stones, because those are the only weapons that seem
credible to our Neanderthal opponents.

Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill once observed that all politics are
local. It's time for Net users to discard their grand futuristic
rhetoric and rediscover the lost arts of door knocking, letter
writing, and lobbying by telephone. We may live in a brave new world,
but some principles of political action don't go out of style.

Simon Davies (•••@••.•••) is director of the
London-based Privacy International.

Copyright c 1996 Wired Ventures Ltd.


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