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Raven Brooks

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SOPA/PIPA Aftermath: Where We Go Next

Posted: 01/19/12 11:49 AM ET

Wednesday saw an unprecedented level of activism across partisan lines primarily thanks to high profile protests from companies ranging from Google to Wikipedia to Craigslist to Reddit to the I Can Haz Cheeseburger empire.

I can say without a doubt that thanks to the actions of these companies, and countless others I'm not naming, that thousands of people are now aware of this legislation who largely sit on the sidelines for political issues.

It seems that SOPA and PIPA are dead in their current forms, but like zombies they'll be back under different names. I think there are a couple of lessons worth taking away from Wednesday's protest.

Off the sidelines

The biggest take away from Wednesday is the tech community needs to get off the sidelines when it comes to issues ranging from Net Neutrality to copyrights to mobile broadband.

There are some great advocacy organizations that have been working tirelessly on issues like this for years like the EFF and Free Press. But judging by what you usually see on tech blogs these issues might as well not have existed before Wednesday except for a little belly aching directed toward specific companies pushing policy.

Hopefully Wednesday has introduced a whole new crop of people to the democratic process and when the next fight surfaces they'll get involved again. Because we can't count on large scale protest actions like highly trafficked sites going dark for a day.

Some in the tech press have been suggesting over the last couple of days that Silicon Valley needs to start doing its own lobbying. I think that'll be a natural response from some of the companies that have the most to lose from legislation like SOPA/PIPA, but that's not the right answer nor will it save us.

What it will instead lead to is legislation that's equally bad being proposed for different subject areas. Don't you think that Facebook would love to push the boundaries on privacy? Or that various companies don't want to see major changes to patent law?

Just because you agree with the companies that supported today's action doesn't mean they will be advocating for your interests in the future.

The real solution is what Clay Johnson has been pushing on his blog for a couple of weeks. You've got to learn how to be an activist and learn how Congress works.

If you have a tech audience, the very least you can do is launch petitions for issues in the future on platforms like change.org and report on the political stances of our elected representatives, regardless of party, on tech issues in the future.

Accountability

One of the most confounding parts of Wednesday's events was the fact that the vast majority of our elected officials who flipped on this issue were Republicans. There were only a handful of Senate Democrats that flipped. Propublica has the list of supporters here.

If you're a progressive activist then you've got some work to do, even if this bill ultimately gets shelved. Many of the Democrats we assume to be fighters for our rights are in fact on the wrong side of this issue and of history.

The one that breaks my heart and confounds me the most is probably Sen. Al Franken. At Netroots Nation 2010 he gave a keynote speech where he said "Net Neutrality is the first amendment issue of our time" and went into some detail about how all this works. Just watch from minute 25 onward here. And yet he's an unabashed supporter of PIPA. First amendment issue of our time indeed.

It might simply be the money from Hollywood (about 90 percent of it supports Democrats and former Senator Chris Dodd runs the MPAA). I wish I knew why the divisions broke down this way.

But one thing's for sure, the money spigots will be turned on even higher in the future. And this legislation or something like it will come roaring back to life again.

So before the headlines on this fade, our duty as progressive activists is to let these Senators and Representatives know we don't approve of their stance here and we're not going to forget it.

 

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