Barry and I were a part of a large - but very polite and stunningly geeky - crowd of, eventually, one to two thousand people gathered today (Jan. 18) in Midtown.
We were outside of the Manhattan offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Both are co-sponsors of the latest egregious Congressional attack on the Internet, the tech industry generally, and, in its ultimate implications, the basic right of free speech: It's a Senate bill called the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA. The House has its own version, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA,.
Both bills were actually written by Hollywood and the recording industry, which together have thrown millions at a Congress whose members have admited that the voters have not actually asked for their personal and quite extraordinary ministrations in this area of critical national interest. If the two houses were to agree on its terms and a bill were signed into law it would essentially mean the corporate privatization of the Internet.
The protest had been called by New York Tech Meetup, a group founded in 2004 to represent professionals from all parts of the technology industry in the New York community. Along with many other sites, Wikipedia and New York Tech Meetup went black today to protest SOPA/PIPA, but in a very quick search I found 1stwebdesigner, only one of many useful sites able to provide information useful especially to those less than completely technically fluent.
Why were we all there this afternoon?
Those of us who use the Internet know the difference between fair use and piracy, but an unrepresenative government owned exclusively by the super rich and the wealthiest corporations - including legacy media - a government which can't figure out how to keep people from being thrown out of their homes, a government which worships secrecy while it engages in torture, wars of aggression, and political assassination, which enshrines gun ownership as something of a Constitutional sacrament while erasing habeas corpus, due process, the rights of assembly and free speech, and prohibitions against indefinite detention without trial, is a government which absolutely cannot be trusted to make the right call if it gains the powers contemplated by SOPA and PIPA.
I'm always excited to see theatrical or dramatic elements introduced into political activism, and sine this was a pretty staid crowd, I was particularly delighted when a man stepped into the crowd near where we were standing listening to the scheduled speakers, unwrap a large stash of blank all-black cardboard sheets, and then quickly distribute them to strangers. Most of them accepted their assigned role in representing conceptually an internet blacked-out by government censorship. Others immediately picked up on the image of blank screens they had formed and whipped out their cameras to capture it. The action's creative director appears in the center of this picture.