Archive | March 2010

Protecting Internet Freedom Will Close the Digital Divide. Period. End of Story.

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.

This post originally appeared on the Save The Internet blog.

Empathy is the best policy

The Atlantic Monthly chronicle of the long-term effects of unemployment demonstrates why empathy matters in policy.

Not hiring...seriously

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

Be Timeless, Not Timely

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.