It wasn't so long ago that I couldn't get local party officials to reply to my emails, so I took it as a sign of how far us bloggers have come when I received a phone call from Rep. Jay Inslee's (D-WA) office, asking if I could meet with the congressman.
Net Neutrality Internet Freedom. The simple message: keep the pressure on Congress.
That Rep. Inslee would seek out the help of a local blogger on an issue of national importance is a testament to the power of the Internet to both democratize the media, and enable grassroots activism. But it is also a testament to what is at risk should we fail to prevent a handful of corporate telecommunications giants from becoming gatekeepers over content distribution.
As Huffington Post celebrates its first anniversary, we are witnessing the birth of a revolution in how elected officials, political parties and other groups disseminate their message, and how individuals consume news, commentary and other content. But as Rep. Inslee emphatically stressed, we are also witnessing a revolution in how individual voters interact with their government... a revolution that has given private citizens a voice that may soon rival that of the wealthiest corporations.
The nation's leading Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to gut Internet Freedom, and while they still hold the upper hand, the momentum is shifting. Why? Because bloggers have relentlessly pounded this issue... and our representatives are beginning to listen.
Of course, much of the blogosphere's influence has always been indirect -- an ability to spur and shape coverage in the traditional media -- an impact that can clearly be seen in how reporting on this issue has gradually grown from a trickle, to a modest but steady stream. Our elected officials have also noticed the growing power of the netroots to mobilize action... like the hundreds of thousands of our readers who emailed, phoned and faxed the Capitol, demanding legislation that safeguards a content-neutral Internet through which the public can view the tiniest local blog as easily as the largest commercial website.
But we are also having a direct impact on legislation -- perhaps disproportionate to our size -- and our influence over our representatives is growing every day.
Rep. Inslee made a point of assuring me that his colleagues and their staff are avid readers of the blogs... and not just the big national sites like Huffington Post and Daily Kos. Every congressional office is acutely aware of the local blogs in and around their home district... even oddly named, snarky, occasionally foul-mouthed blogs like my own HorsesAss.org.
Legislators and their staffers look to us for rhetoric and spin, and as a measure of the mood of the activist community both nationally and in their local districts. And in so doing they cannot help but be educated and informed in a way that simply is not possible via the limited column inches and sweeping strokes of the traditional press.
Rep. Inslee came to me not knowing that I had been invited to join Huffington Post, or that I would use our conversation as the springboard for my first contribution here. He came to me because he recognized the growing power of local blogs to influence national politics... and he desperately wants our help to prevent high-powered telecommunications lobbyists from crushing this incredibly democratizing force while it is still in its infancy.
His message was clear: Internet Freedom is absolutely crucial -- not only to reaching the full economic potential of the Internet -- but to maintaining a vibrant democracy. And the only way for us to maintain this freedom against a flood of telecom dollars is for local and national bloggers to keep the pressure on Congress.
Through our efforts, support for Internet Freedom is growing in the House, and Rep. Inslee believes that the immediate prospects for meaningful legislation are even better in the Senate. But we all must keep up the fight.
Winning this political battle against wealthy corporate interests will not only ensure Internet Freedom, it will demonstrate why this freedom is absolutely necessary to maintaining a functioning democracy.