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  • Writer's pictureTLALOCO


Updated: May 13, 2020

The definition of activism is the use of direct action to achieve an end, either for or against an issue. People protest climate change, anti-war, or march for immigration, or voters rights.

Today, we even have online protests; remember the shutdown of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate? De veras? Shame on you, menso! We will get back to the topic of free expression and access in the digital world en un momento. Primero…let’s talk about Activism!

Brian Martin, emeritus professor from the University of Wollongong, Australia describes Activism as having played a major role in ending slavery, challenging dictatorships, protecting workers from exploitation, protecting the environment, promoting equality for women, opposing racism, civil rights, unionizing and many other issues.

There are many varieties of activism, from the face-to-face conversations to massive protests, from principled behavior to the unscrupulous, from polite requests to objectionable interference, and from peaceful protests, musical interpretations, to violent attacks. People differ on what constitutes activism.

PuroChisme, defines activism as action that goes beyond conventional politics. Those heartfelt beliefs that demand actions are typically more energetic, passionate, innovative, and committed.

In systems of representative government, conventional politics includes election campaigning, voting, passing laws, and lobbying politicians...booooring!

Action outside of these arenas includes neighborhood organizing, protest marches, boycotts and sit-ins. The boundary between activism and conventional politics can be fuzzy and depends on the circumstances. But, in most cases, Activism has much more passion and is demanding. It is the expression of "Ganas" in the fight for change.

Martin maintains, Activism is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It is part of the life thread that we are all part of. Recently, a protest, dubbed Operation Gridlock, was part of a wave of demonstrations across the country by far-right groups and conservatives who are calling for an end to the lock-down measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Activism, depends on the cause and the actions, and a person's judgment of what is worthwhile. One person might say that a protest is a valuable defense of freedom and another person might say that it is a dangerous attack on human rights. Quien sabe, but activism has not waned in the history of mankind…until lately.

Is it because we have institutionalized change as Martin suggests? Beyond, the “suggestion box,” we are told we have avenues for redress when unfairness or rights have been violated. The employee or consumer appeal process, union grievances or other mundane legal processes that tend to linger on without redress which results in activist actions. Today, even our ever-popular whistle-blower policies are under attack! Why is that?

Or perhaps our activism has waned because we have access to more information and more information is a good thing…if we truly believe the info is real, and not “Fake news.”

Yeah, we all fall for BS too often, Cabrón! We just don’t believe shit unless it neatly fits in our dogmatic world-view burro brains.

In fact, we no longer readily support or much less participate in the old-school activism techniques such as strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins. Think about it, most of us don't want to be en las calles fighting the good fight. Instead, we are more willing to donate resources and money to well meaning causes. Is that enough? Is that being an Activist?

Protests marches and strikes are becoming less meaningful since the media (liberal and conservative) tend to spin the actions to serve their own marketing or political agenda rather than debate or address the underlying issues. Today, people interested in change, join Activist groups online that voice our protests for us. Selling or buying ideas to make change is a far cry from the days of marching in the streets, que no?

Occupy Wall Street (2011), Black Lives Matter (2014), and Student Protest of Gun Violence (2018) are arguably good examples for when Activism and Media collide. Each of these movements started out as protest events.

All were a direct result of a barrage of social media outrage. A Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat revolt – a call for action – against elitism, racism and violence in schools. Young and old went marching in the streets!

PuroChisme will not debate the merits of these movements – because –- Pues, we agree with them! But we do want to discuss the notion of pursing Activism on the Internet. And why it is needed. We need to protect – THE INTERNET – the last bastion for freedom of expression.

Ok, I lost you pues...let me explain. Se acuerda, the SOPA (NO Fideo) and PIPA revolt on January 18, 2012? It was a series of coordinated protests against two proposed laws in the United States Congress—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Internet Privacy Act (PIPA).

Both were designed to tackle the problem of foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music and other products. Supporters of the bills included television networks, music publishers, movie industry bodies, book publishers and manufacturers. It was presumably well intentioned.

Critics of the bills included; Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Flickr, Wikipedia, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Zynga. Those companies do not create much content on their own. Instead, they often help their users find or share text and images, music and video. And, they didn't want to be held responsible for millions of users' actions.

The companies worried that regulators and courts could use the proposed laws to force them to change how they work, at a very basic level. The dispute boiled down to copyright vs free speech.

So, what did those companies do to oppose and protest the proposed congressional legislation?

Google, Mozilla, and Flickr, soon featured protests against the acts. Wikipedia, the largest Web player, blocked access to its pages for a full 24 hours. 162 million people experienced the blackout on the online encyclopedia's landing page.

In addition, 8 million U.S. readers took Wikipedia's suggestion and looked up their congressional reps from the site. 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets were sent in the first 16 hours of the day Wednesday.

WordPress reported at least 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the SOPA and PIPA protest by blacking out their blogs entirely, and an additional 12,500 sites had posted a "Stop Censorship" ribbon. This was a prime example of Activism on the Internet.

The numbers were pretty incredible! More than 1 million messages were sent to Congress that fateful day. More than 4.5 million people signed Google's petition registering their opposition to the bills. Many lawmakers abandoned support of the legislation. And, there was a broad spectrum of opposition.

From Artists, security engineers, human rights activists, technology investors, law professors, gaming companies, to organizations that normally stay out of these kinds of battles, like Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Reddit. All stood behind the Internet protest.

They recognized the danger these bills posed to free expression and access to information. Activism via the Internet won the day!

But what are we doing today to protect free speech on the net?

Did you know, on March 11, 2020, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, a bill that threatens all online communications and the encryption technologies used to secure those conversations.

The legislation would create a new congressionally appointed commission under the authority of the Attorney General.

The development of “best practices,” would be employed to ostensibly avoid liability for "online child sexual abuse material." The commission would require all websites, applications, broadband providers and other online entities to comply to avoid liability for sex-crap posted on their sites or sent over their services by third parties.

This new bill has strong bipartisan backing and takes aim at free speech and privacy online under the pretense of saving sexually abused children. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was tried before. Like the 2018 "sex trafficking" law FOSTA (look it up huevon), the new EARN IT Act could strip crucial legal protections from a huge array of apps, blogs, social media, messaging services, crowdsourced content platforms, and more. Upending the internet as we know it in the process.

The EARN IT Act, despite its claim to prohibit child sexual abuse, has already earned the disapproval of leading free-speech and digital-rights groups that have raised concerns about its threats to internet users’ privacy and free speech rights. The proposed solutions could radically change the way we communicate online by allowing a backdoor entry for law enforcement...Encryption as we know it would end.

The legislation sets up the U.S. government as the arbiter of all communications and conversations that happen on the internet — a terrible idea in any instance.

Yet, it exposes online entities to state criminal prosecution and civil suits for content they did not themselves create.

This bill is working its way closer to congressional vote but we don't see or hear about it because the media is too busy watching the Covid-19 body count and we are too busy binge eating, cooking, cleaning and watching TV. Que pasa Raza?

Where is the activism from all our online brethren leaders? Google, Wiki, Facebook?

Does it mean anything to them? Does it mean something to US? Simon, que YES!

If you like to traverse freely among different platforms and sites to find “truth.” Then, entering the "rabbit hole" of internet advice, vice and verse…is the last bastion of free press as we know it today. We have and will continue to protect our children from sex freaks and predators but giving up our privacy without even knowing not the solution.

Check the history of the internet and the protests that remain active in keeping access to information available. Then email your political representatives and tell them to Kill the EARN IT Act...and save encryption security!

Excerpts from:

Martin, Brian (2007). Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr (eds.), Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, Thousand Oaks, CA. (Sage, pp. 19-27)

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