FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski took questions about the recently-released National Broadband Plan (NBP) on YouTube Monday. One question posed to the chairman was about whether the plan would close the digital divide and be beneficial to low-income communities and people of color anxious to get online.
Chairman Genachowski’s response was absolutely right that this plan, along with the FCC’s other efforts to promote universal broadband Internet access and protect Internet freedom, will benefit everyone, especially those excluded from today’s market.
Watch his response:
One of the primary arguments made by the Digital Divide Astroturf Squad (Internet Innovation Alliance, Broadband Opportunity Coalition, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, etc.) is that curbing companies’ ability to discriminate against people online will hurt innovation and make them less likely to expand access to their services. The tragic flaw in this argument is that if these companies could be trusted, there would be no digital divide.
The problem of the digital divide, once a matter of mere digital ignorance, is fast becoming one of digital access and representation. We have greedy, discriminating telecom interests to thank for this evolution. People know that a digital and connected future exists; they can’t realize it because they are priced or mapped out of the market.
The National Broadband Plan and rules that explicitly protect the rights of consumers online are steps toward solving the problems of digital access and representation. With full and equal access to this platform, entrepreneurs can create venture after venture with the assurance that their commitment and the quality of their ideas will determine their success, not back room deals between their competitors and ISPs that tilt the scale against them. With full and equal access to this platform, young people of color can participate in the revolutionary acts of self-expression and self-definition without fear that their voices and images will be stamped out by forces seeking to make them invisible. This is what closing the digital divide is all about.
Equality and opportunity are core democratic and American values. These values are important in the digital world of tomorrow as they were in the analog world of yesterday. Let’s protect and live up to them.
One Love. One II.
The Atlantic Monthly chronicle of the long-term effects of unemployment demonstrates why empathy matters in policy.
Losing your job impacts more than just your income. Don Peck’s How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America lays this out in an expansive piece that looks at how joblessness wreaks havoc on people’s psyche, their relationships, and culture overall.
Defining and understanding a Depression requires more than economics; it requires empathy. Empathy is neither a progressive nor conservative trait. We all demonstrate it in different ways and in different circumstances. Empathy’s universality makes it something we can organize around and build upon.
Empathy is oft forgotten when policy remedies to crises are being considered. Policy is inherently mechanical and pedantic. But the way we frame policy debates does not have to be. Understanding the people impacted must be a the forefront of our politics.
Take, for example, today’s un[der]employment disaster. The debate on what to do about it has withered down to whether increasing the deficit is warranted. There is not a less human way to talk about this human catastrophe than that. Tell that to the recent college graduates that Peck writes about who will earn significantly less money over their careers because they were born in the wrong year and will be more likely to develop drinking, drug, and marital problems. They hear “deficit” and think “doesn’t matter.”
What matters is the broken promise made to them that if they worked hard and got a degree that they’d have a job. What matters is the lack of personal and collective responsibility that threw their professional trajectory off course. What matters is the steely feeling of student loan debt jammed into the back of their minds like a gun during a stickup. Using this, we should instead be debating how to get students the jobs they’ve been educated for and everyone the jobs they’ve trained for.
This principle should inform all of our work: enable people to build and pursue their talents and use them for the benefit of themselves and society. Applying this value to this and other debates sets the table for a progressive future on all fronts. Some examples:
- Health care: Fear of sickness or injury must not deter hopeful and ambitious people; give them the protection they deserve.
- Education: Properly equip public educational infrastructure with well-compensated teachers and staff, well-designed curricula and tools, and well-implemented + structures and practices.
- Job creation: Full employment is full dignity; everyone working means everyone bettering themselves, their families, and society.
People must be at the forefront of our organizing and our politics. People don’t want rhetoric or process, they want answers.
One Love. One II.
Photo credit: srqpix on Flickr
Movement building occurs when we prioritize timeless principles over timely responses.
Because policy makers are thinking about the next election and not the next generation, our politics remain at a standstill.
Sadly, this is also true of the broader progressive movement that’s been rightly critical of elected Democrats. It is important to show power & numbers and tell elected officials that they’ll get unseated if they do the wrong things. What’s missing is a broader context.
A bigger, more important story
“Next election pressure” has to be part of a larger, cohesive narrative describing a progressive future. We worry too much about “speaking our elected officials’ language” instead of giving them a better vision of a future and a story that they can use to make the right policies and get re-elected. Run for office if you want to do that. Even then, telling a bigger, better, simpler story will still work better.
The difference between “we’ll un-elect you” and “there’s a train leaving the station that everyone’s on board except you” is subtle and substantial. The first narrative is timely. It is framed in terms of the next election that’s 2, 4, or 6 years away. It can be fired off quickly with context. The second, stronger narrative is timeless. It can be used candidates on the campaign trail just as easily as during my annual Christmas political “debates” with my family.
Marshall Ganz in a recent interview with The Citizen said:
The legislative process has been much more responsive to the creation of crises that legislation is needed to resolve than it has been to, “Gee, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we made things work better?’ So, the job of those trying to create change is actually to create crises that require legislative solution.
What Ganz calls “creating crises” I call telling a story bigger than a specific policy or an election.
Example: Health Care
During President Obama’s nomination speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, he said something I wish he and others would remember: “don’t make a big election about small things.” That type of thinking would have benefited us all on health care reform.
Let’s describe what we want the days after the next election to be like. Instead of yelling and screaming about whose head you want on a silver platter, talk about the progressive future in a way that’s simple and compelling (and probably excludes your least-favorite elected officials).
Let’s replace “Democrats that block health care reform will be challenged in primaries and face the wrath of constituents on election day.” with the following:
America is a place where we give a damn about one another and are proud to see people be healthy and succeed in life. We pay homage to our heroes big and small every day. It is disgusting that being unlucky enough to inherit susceptibility to certain illnesses or being injured in a car accident puts not only our lives but our dreams in danger. The best way to protect our dreams and our future is to protect our health from any and everything that threatens it. Right now, the biggest threat to our health comes from insurance companies that determine who gets help and who doesn’t, who’s in pain and who isn’t, who lives and who dies. There are more people in this country who know this is unacceptable than who think this is OK. That majority will rule tomorrow.
This says the same thing while simultaneously communicating the values that are the foundation of a progressive framework for every policy debate. They are the values that define our progressive future.
Movements transcend elections.
Minutiae murders movements.
The necessity of elections must not distract us from our broader goals of building power and creating a better future. Don’t forget this tomorrow or the next time a politician does the wrong thing.
One Love. One II.
The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl 44. Congratulations to the players, the organization, and, most importantly, Saints fans.
The story of the Saints is a classic rags-to-riches tale. The team had never been to the championship game. They had 2 playoff wins in 42 years. They were so bad that their fans wore paper bags over their head for years and unaffectionately called the team “The Aints.”
New Orleans has also had a hell of a ride, going from “Las Vegas of the South” to the flash point of modern government incompetence, racism, and social injustice after Hurricane Katrina. The city and its football team were ripe for a comeback.
Our Progressive movement is too. Why? We took back Congress in 2006. We took back the White House in 2008. We passed health care reform We’re working on that. We need a comeback because we’re disoriented.
It’s like we just woke up. Our eyes are open, but our vision is blurred. We know our slippers are near the bed, but we have to feel around with our toes to find them.
We reorient ourselves by becoming clear in our purpose. Let’s take a page from the Saints and make that happen. Progressive organizers, activists, and politicians can learn a lot from these World Champions about how to win this year and beyond. Here are 3 key lessons.
My friend and colleague James Rucker wrote a piece on Huffington Post asking a simple question: Why are Some Civil Rights Groups and Leaders on the Wrong Side of Net Neutrality? I left a comment, and this post elaborates on the points I made there.
Participation, Inclusion, Equality
Democratic systems flourish when people participate. Having a voice changes people’s relationship with that system and the system’s relationship with the people.
When everyone can’t participate, the system no longer reflects the values and perspectives of the people it impacts. Barriers to entry create divisions, inequality and unfairness.
The Internet was designed as an egalitarian utopia: the El Dorado of the “good ideas win” ethos. Anyone with access to the net could connect with anyone else. Every idea had an equal opportunity to succeed.
When the Internet was taken hostage by telecommunications companies, they threatened this order. They limited participation online by pricing most low-income communities out of the market, creating the Digital Divide. This practice of exclusion reduced the diversity of thought online. It put the Internet on an identical path to becoming an echo chamber of pale, stale, male attitudes.
Next Stop: Poll Taxes
The redlining was round one, but the next round is more sinister. Telecoms are now considering crushing freedom of expression online by creating Jim Crow-esque poll taxes on content they consider unfit for higher-speed, higher-quality Internet connections. This assault on the freedom by private interests is as wrong now as it has ever been.
This should raise specific concern within the civil rights community. Civil rights organizations fought and won the war against poll taxes over 40 years ago. It’s alarming that they are willing to open the door for this type of discrimination in the 21st century. It’s up to us, the membership, the foot-soldiers of these organizations and of this 21st century civil rights movement, to take a stand against this disgusting discrimination.
Protecting Internet Freedom by ensuring Net Neutrality
The FCC is considering creating rules to protect Internet Freedom. Learn more about the process at Save The Internet. I testified at a hearing in December to voice my strong support of protecting Internet Freedom.
You can join the fight by demanding that Congress work alongside the FCC to protect Internet Freedom and outlaw discrimination by telecom companies.
One Love. One II.
Challenges have the uncanny ability to sharpen our focus. A knee injury will make you more mindful of walking than ever before. Bad food introduces you to taste buds you never knew existed. Adrenaline enables amazing physical feats.
The same is true for political movements. Progressives are smarting now. Many on the left are disenchanted with the President, disappointed in the pending health care legislation and disillusioned about the 2010 mid-term elections. What’s a movement to do?
We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our renewed focus is an opportunity to build a foundation for future success, resilience and empowerment. This means taking stock of the real progress being made in this moment while simultaneously fighting to transition society from its peppered past to a progressive future.
President Obama was mindful of this when he said in his Martin Luther King, Jr. address that:
…our predecessors were never so consumed with theoretical debates that they couldn’t see progress when it came…Let’s take a victory, he said, and then keep on marching. Forward steps, large and small, were recognized for what they were — which was progress.
What victories have we won? A few include:
- Passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, bringing us a step closer to fully realizing equal pay for equal work.
- Expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, an important step in providing health care for all of our nation’s children.
- Softened Federal restrictions on stem cell research, opening the door for potential cures to innumerable diseases.
Where do we go from here
Martha Coakley and others’ recent electoral defeats echo the sentiment of the 2008 Presidential election: candidates who proactively or passively represent a broken status quo will fail. Insiders can no longer combine tepid emotions and bland appeals with party machines and expect victory. They instead must take the hope demonstrated by the 2008 election and marry it to action.
The infinite hope that Dr. King spoke of us present within the progressive movement. Young people are organizing like never before in favor of comprehensive immigration reform reflective of America’s ideals, not its demons. Their hope is moving them to action.
That infinite hope is present in the hearts of millions of ambitious yet unemployed Americans. People are coming together to petition their government to work on their behalf to create jobs rather than give handouts to industries that have turned their backs on their employees. The hope of these workers is moving them to action.
That hope still exists in health care. Amidst the angst of the centrists, the exasperation of many Progressives and the perverse cynicism of corporate and conservative interests, the American people remain thirsty for quality, affordable health care. The current proposals have their differences and flaws, but our communities are speaking up in unison when they demand a health care system that works for them. Listening to the practical, conscientious voice of constituents would have led to a substantive debate that disregarded idiocy while embracing the courageous optimism of the American spirit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made an unfortunate mistake when he said privately:
Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his light-skinned appearance and speaking patterns with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one…He [Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.
The comments and the response to the comments have been laughable, disconcerting and indicative of the broader race-related issues that our country continually kicks down the road.
I’m frustrated that the only tellers at the Bank of Apologizing to Black People are still Rev. Al Sharpton and/or Jesse Jackson. Many have used the fact that Rev. Sharpton accepted Reid’s apology as grounds for vindication. Rev. Sharpton is as much a proxy for Black America’s social consciousness as the CEO of Goldman Sachs is a proxy for the interests of community banks. Just like there’s a movement to move our money out of big banks, Black folks should be moving their representation away from Rev. Sharpton and to community voices.
It’s further frustrating to think about how the latent prejudice of our politics has contributed to structural inequity reinforced by public policy.
Take health care reform. Why is there disagreement between the House and Senate over the need for reform to narrow disparities in health care coverage? The House bill does this; the Senate bill does not.
Take unemployment. A community jobs program would work wonders for communities over-represented on unemployment roles: Black and Latino people. Yet the current debate on public job creation has shown little interest in this regard.
Perhaps there is more at work than the latent racism that leads to remarks that are at their best in poor taste and at their worst indicative of utter moral failure. The way to work through a controversy like today’s uproar is to put these incidents into a larger narrative about the consequences of entrenched racism and prejudice. Once that narrative is constructed, we can create a solution.
One Love. One II.
On Tuesday, December 15, 2009, I testified at an FCC workshop entitled “Speech, Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.” Video of the hearing is embedded below and available on YouTube. The moderator introduces me at 58:27, and my roughly 6 minute remarks begin at 59:07. The Q&A that begins at 1:26:18 (My answers are at 1:28:00-1:29:29 and 1:41:20-1:43:31).
My message was that an open internet is necessary for the political participation of all people of all shapes, sizes, races and income in the future. My full opening statement with references is below.
One Love. One II.
This is the first part of a series on how labor organizing will evolve in the coming years.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently called Dave Bing’s last second shot. In it, they talk about the challenges facing Detroit’s mayor, devoting special attention to how they feel he must handle unionized city employees. The anti-union sentiment of this piece is regular fare for Wall Street Journal columnists.
The fundamental premise of labor organizing is that when workers are treated fairly, everybody wins: the customer, the company, and the employee. This is as true now as it was at the time of the Boston Massacre (the result of a dispute between Boston ropemakers frustrated at their employers’ willingness to undercut wages by hiring off-duty British soldiers who could afford to work for less). It’s a realization that customers are best served by solid businesses with happy, productive workers.
The strategy and tactics of unions must evolve like everything else that’s ever existed on Earth. The economy has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the original labor organizers, but their guiding principle endures. The problem is that the criticism of unions often comes from those that disagree with it’s premise (i.e. conservative columnists at the Wall Street Journal).
Space must be created within the labor movement and the broader liberal & progressive community for a dialog on what evolved unions look like and how they interact with business and government. This has not happened in any scalable, visible fashion for the same reason that there has yet to be a reasoned, meaningful dialog about US-Israel policy: fear of being called an anti-Semite. In the context of rethinking unions, the fear is that you’ll be labeled as anti-union or anti-worker/human rights. The nuance-less zero-sum game must end because it leaves us with broken union models like most teacher unions.
No matter how business and government evolve, there will always be a need to ensure that workers’ needs are met. Without that, businesses, economies and governments will inevitably fail. You could even argue that the economy being divorced from the everyday realties of workers is one underlying cause for our current economic situation.
I’m surprised that labor itself hasn’t driven this conversation more publicly, but my sense is that the hesitate to do so because they don’t want to give those that disagree with their existence any public statements to latch on to. A dose of boldness is needed to see through the short-term impact of a few negative news cycles if it means creating a more robust organizing model for workers in future generations (assuming that’s the goal).
So how do we proceed?
One Love. One II.
I entered the Washington Post’s America’s Next Great Pundit contest a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the list of top 10 finalists, so the country will have to keep reading here to my punditry for a least the next little while.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing this opinion piece on gentrification. Take a look.
One Love. One II.
Are newly opened Starbucks, pedestrians with designer sunglasses, and big box retailers symbols of revitalization or the death of a neighborhood? Culturally speaking, it’s a funeral.
Neighborhoods become cool because of their history. History trumps gang wars, drug havens, and panhandlers when it comes to earning the “up and coming” title. Think Harlem. Its history as the Mecca of early 20th century black creativity made it a cool place to live despite the effects of its crack epidemic.
The model for capitalizing on the cool is simple: 1) buy a house, 2) renovate it, and 3) quadruple the price. This ensures that new, more attractive people will move in and manifest the coolness. The problem is that when black and Latino people are displaced, so are their memories, values, and relationships.
Revitalization brings us shiny new stores and unfamiliar neighbors. Unfortunately, new stores don’t mean new friends for our sons to play football with or our daughters to jump rope with. They also don’t mean new friends for our veterans to play dominoes with at the VFW.
What’s left are neighborhoods without souls. Gentrification has a way of inducing schizophrenia upon a place. A block that was once filled with locally-owned, locally-supported, complimentary businesses is now stuffed with unrelated chains fighting for attention. Cohesive cultural scenes become disjointed commercial conglomerates. Aimless neighborhood development does give at least one gift: bad traffic.
Neighborhoods can be made safer and redeveloped without economic displacement. This happens when capital investments are targeted toward strengthening communities rather than supplanting them.
We need less overpriced lattes and more family-owned restaurants. We need fewer high-rise, low-quality condominiums and more streets where everyone knows everyone else’s names. We must build on the genuine relationships that made our neighborhoods what they are, not break them apart and auction them to the highest bidder. Now is the time to double down on building America up in ways that celebrate the rich histories of every corner, of every neighborhood, everywhere.