Planting the seeds of free speech and democracy

Planting the seeds of free speech and democracy

: I’m so damned proud and happy to see what Zeyad and his friends have done today demonstrating for freedom and against terrorism in Iraq and telling that story to the world immediately and effectively with words and photos on weblogs.

This is Zeyad’s story and I don’t want to insert myself into this. Instead, I do want to take a moment to reflect on what it took to enable this to happen.

It’s all about one person, Zeyad, who had the vision and courage to do this.

It’s all about how the Internet, weblogs, and a community can bring tools to that one person.

It’s all about the power that one person has today.

: Back in April, I started nudging anybody who’d listen about finding some way to bring the power of weblogs and free speech to Iraq. I said we wanted to see a thousand Salam Paxes with a thousand new perspectives. I said we wanted to recreate in Iraq what Hoder had created in Iran with a flourish of free speech (even under the thumb of the mullahs’ tyranny). I said we needed to find government officials and companies and NGOs to help bring the connectivity and computers and help to Iraq. I never said so, but I started wondering whether it would be necessary to go get grants and donations and even go to Baghdad.

I was dead wrong. That was old-media think. That was egotistical. This didn’t need me or any government or business bigs to make this happen.

All this needed was one person: Zeyad.

In October, I got an email from Zeyad; go read it again. He said that he wanted to start a weblog from Baghdad with a new perspective about building and rebuilding his nation and all he asked for was a little advice (which he actually didn’t need). Two days later, he was publishing to the world and the world paid attention. He has been doing a wonderful job ever since, giving us news and a new perspective from Iraq.

Just as important, Zeyad has convinced a bunch of friends to also blog, to add their news and perspectives. And it keeps growing.

He was also helped with a free upgrade from Blogger (thanks, Ev!); he got lots of advice and support and applause and traffic from other bloggers; he got a camera; and if we can figure out how to get a PayPal tip jar arranged, he’ll get some help paying for his Internet cafe access (which is costing him a fortune, especially uploading photos).

: I start things for a living. It’s what I love to do best and I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do it. You’ve heard me brag often enough (yes, too often) about starting a magazine and some web sites. But the truth is, starting things is easy because lots of other talented people do all the work and I get to stand back in wonder and what it happen.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watching something start as much as I enjoyed watching Zeyad covering the demonstrations in Baghdad today: with a blog and a camera, he beat every news organization in the world to report this news to the world; he brought news and a new perspective to us all.

He created the first free and uncensored Iraqi news service.

This is citizens’ media!

: Now, finally, here’s my point: All it took was one person. Thanks to the Internet and weblogs — and a little help from the community there — it is possible for one man in a country just coming out from under dictatorship and war to speak to the world, to exercise free speech, to help spread that free speech, to report news, to make news, to build relationships, to create understanding.

That is the moral of the story of the blogosphere: All that is now possible. Anyone can do this. Any of us can support it.

All it takes is one person.

: Thank you, Zeyad. Thank you, Hoder. Thank you, Salam.