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Net Neutrality, Cynicism, and My Conversation With FCC Commissioner Clyburn

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"The game is the game." That's what I told to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. But it's not just my love of The Wire that caused Omar's words to come out of my mouth. I was referring to the fact that we all understand the way in which our politics work

When Commissioner Clyburn's office informed me that I'd have a chance to speak with her, I was excited. Here was our group, the Open Source Democracy Foundation (OSDF), not even two months old, and we were going to have a conversation with one of the five people deciding the fate of Net Neutrality.

Before the meeting, I solicited comments and questions from members of the OSDF and the users of Reddit. Many of our members wanted to ask her stance on Net Neutrality (you can find some of that here or here), but some of the comments were more disheartening: "I saw a petition," wrote Reddit user Fallom, "but I didn't see any mention of gathering money for lobbyists and hosting expensive dinner parties and yacht cruises."

I also saw that sentiment repeated in response to our petition drive with SaveTheInternet for Real Net Neutrality. To that, one Reddit user wrote: "I feel these tiny acts are pointless. I'll continue to do it, but I feel defeated when filling these things out." Though I would argue that these acts are, indeed, not pointless (making your voice heard on some level is better than not at all), I do concede that sentiment is understandable and pervasive.

That's why I told Commissioner Clyburn that we realize, "The game is the game." I also shared that quote about "dinner parties and yacht cruises" with the Commissioner. As activists and engaged citizens, we all know the game is not played fairly -- but the game is not about to change. There will always be people being paid to lobby our policy makers. And if our role in the game is to be the underdog citizens who band together to make our voices heard, then we need to step up. We have to play the game better. Lord knows the big interests are playing the game exceptionally well.

Commissioner Clyburn was, of course, a consummate professional. In addition to talking about cynicism (which she understood), she listened as I explained the OSDF's support for Real Net Neutrality and why our organization finds this issue so important. I doubt that after the myriad of meetings she's taken and thousands of voices she heard, I was able to change her mind on anything, but the fact that we were having that conversation was significant.

The best asset we can have is to be undeterred. If one phone conversation doesn't turn the tide, then we'll have more. If lawmakers don't respond to two million signatures, then we'll gather 10 million. If they ignore our signatures, we'll flood their offices with calls. And when they refuse to hear our voices, we will vote them out of office. You'll notice no part of that plan includes "resign ourselves to doing nothing when the task appears insurmountable."

As Commissioner Clyburn put it, "Until the robust lady sings, we will do what we can, all we can." (No yachts necessary.)

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