We are the lobbyists

The internet has helped untold publics to form. Yesterday, the internet became a public.

Or rather, millions of people who care about internet freedom used the net to organize and defend it against efforts to control and harm it.

The SOPA-PIPA blackout got attention in media that previously all but ignored the issue, whether out of conflict of interest or negligence. More important, it got political action as legislators — especially Republicans — tripped over themselves to back away from the Hollywood bailout.

In the discussion about the movement yesterday, I heard someone in Washington quoted, saying that these geeks should hire lobbyists like everyone else.

No, we’re all lobbyists now, and that’s just as it should be. This movement didn’t need influence peddlers. It didn’t need political commercials. It didn’t need media. It needed only citizens who give a shit. Democracy.

I’m delighted that the discussion rose to the level of principles, a discussion I’ve argued has to take place if we, the internet public, are to protect our tool of publicness.

There’s much more going on under this battle: the disruption of media business models, a fundamental change in our view of the value of content, the undercutting of institutions’ power, the lowering of national boundaries. But for now, nevermind that and concentrate on what was born yesterday: a political movement, a movement whose cause is freedom.

What else can this movement do? Can it elect candidates? Should it? Or should it continue to hold politicians’ feet to the fire? I don’t think I want to see the formation of an internet party. I don’t want this movement to mimic the way power used to be traded. I don’t want it to become an institution. I also don’t think it’s possible. I prefer to see it continuing to mimic #OccupyWallStreet, organizing without organizations (pace Shirky), discerning through interaction its principles and goals.

After yesterday, the powerful are on warning that a public can rise up out of nowhere to protest and pressure, to fight and win. Dell Hell taught companies to behave, to respect and listen to their customers, and better yet to collaborate with them. The SOPA blackout taught politicians to hear citizens directly, without mediators. Now we’ll see whether they can learn to collaborate as well.

  • Exactly. This is an aha moment that was long in coming. Now the internet is a social and political utility in direct-democracy.

    The question will be about how WE create immediate and large-scale direct democracy, such as the SOPA blackout, on a recurring basis.

    We, all leaders, can shift tides, always. SOPA proves the direct-democracy utility we all have access to is as essential as water, electricity and sewer.

  • The challenge will be how to get ongoing public attention to this kind of issues without blacking out of major websites. That mechanism will never have the same shocking potency again. Also, it misses the point: the story was never about the blackout; it was about this outrageous proposed legislation. The secondary story is how the media ignored the ludicrous nature of the SOPA/PIPA proposals.

    I’m not sure I agree with Patrick. We don’t know how to create ongoing direct democracy — yet. This is only a beginning.

    • Phil, I didn’t mean to say we know how.

      I think we agree this is a key moment of shared awareness into the possibility of a direct-democracy utility.

      The means to Occupy K Street doesn’t imply a sustainable method.

      The “how” is another question, answered only in process.

  • Lars-Goran Hedstrom

    Well written, as always. Though I just have one issue. That´s the fact that your politicians are way too dependent on funding from corporations and rich entrepreneurs. In europe politicians are less dependent on private capital.

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  • Stan Hogan

    Not so sure it’s really a revolution of the people when it’s led by multi-billion-dollar Internet Goliath’s.

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  • David Kanter

    Another victory yesterday that should be celebrated is the tar sands vote. This had a lot to do with the millions of supporters online trying to make a difference. Also no websites had to blackout to make this happen :)

    – David

  • Shouldn’t we have always been the lobbyists in a government by the people fore the people?

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  • Robert Mayer

    While there were certainly aspects of “people power” to the blackout yesterday, the real classification I would give this is a “regime split”. Millions of people were mobilized because the new media goliaths split from the old media, and decided to fight using the power of their portals. They mobilized these people by using their content to push the message where the old media tried to hide it. People chose the side of the media regime that they agreed with, hence, the Reddits/Wikipedias/Googles of the world won the day.

    Regime splits are a beautiful thing, because it encourages competition and innovation in the social, cultural, and political spheres, as the factions angle for the hearts and minds of people.

    So it is helpful to remember the lessons of the colored revolutions. While there was certainly a wellspring of public opposition to what the regimes in those countries were doing, it was not until there was a regime split and a powerful elite siding with that wellspring that change took place

    Thus, the blackout proved that the Reddits/Wikipedias/Googles of the world are the new power elite. But the great thing about this dynamic — that I hope they understand, whereas CBS/ABC/NBC etc did not — is that they live or die by the content that their users create, so if they don’t side with their users, that wellspring, they may not exist tomorrow!

    • Derek

      Hear hear!

    • Google was just blacked over – not blacked out. I wonder what would have happened if gmail, gdocs, gsearch, gbooks had all actually be inaccessible?

      G-whiz, I know that this would have been contractually problematic since so many of those are directly tied to paid services now. But, the *intellectual* reliance on those services must now be enormous.

  • Steve Roz

    Yes, the digital world has created new power brokers, much akin to the shift that took place in the early 20th century when power moved from agriculture to industry. But before anointing these new brokers to corporate sainthood, understand at the heart of their opposition to SOPA/PIPA is the same as the Carnegies and Fords, money. Democracy and altruistic ideals have nothing to do with it.

    Wiki, which is non-profit, went totally dark. Google only went dark with its logo because doing more would have cost them a bundle.

  • Robert Mayer

    Steve Roz and Robert Balliot make important points… in any regime split, it must be understand that the motives of the splitters is one of self-interest in an attempt to acquire dominance. Altruism is certainly not the goal, no matter how sugar coated the press releases sound, but the effects can be so long as one of the sides realizes that its profit motive is only allowed because of content creation and participation of its user base.

    • I want to point out Roz’s distinction about wikipedia. They went totally dark, because they do not DIRECTLY lose money from doing so. They were founded on the belief of freedom of information, and stuck to their beliefs. They do deserve a lot of credit for the risk of alienating their user base.

      Roz argued that Google did not fully go dark, but I will argue that they did the appropriate thing. Looking at the “Google Doodle” has become a cultural icon to many in the US. Using your strengths is not a bad thing. Counting it against them in some blame game mentality is not productive to unbiased thinking.

      GOOGLE IS A FOR PROFIT CORPORATION. With all the duties and responsibilities that implies. Give them accolades for what they do, and don’t dock them for trying to support their families, or for doing their job, which is to make a profit for their shareholders.

      Instead, we need to rethink the way we look, and talk about corporations. They are not individual persons, and as much as it makes it easer to talk about them, they are made up of lots of individuals that have their own goals, and dreams.

      Lets take the help that is offered, but lets make sure we are not put into a position in which we are at a disadvantage again.

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  • Hi,

    I am actually what the former country of ultimate freedom and free enterprise wants to do to the world…I am also wondering if the principles of freedom and democracy are only valid as long as the interests of those in political and economical power today and in the past remain untouched. The problem is that many people – individuals and companies, not only Hollywood companies – throughout the world are afraid of the internet or they don’t understand it and its power. That’s why governments have an easy time censoring it because many people will embrace censorship of the internet.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Be blessed


  • SOPA isn’t dead. It’s just sleeping. But now, we’re watching.

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