Why Our Movements Need #InternetFreedom

September 24, 2014

Organizers of Oakland Townhall meeting with FCC Chairman Wheeler in
January. L to R: Mary Alice Crim, Free Press; unknown;
Steven Renderos, Center for Media Justice; Darshan Khalsa; Malkia Cyril,
Center for Media Justice; Betty Yu; Chance Williams, Free Press; amalia
deloney, Center for Media Justice. Photo Credit: Center for Media Justice.


"The Internet changes
the structure of society all the time—this massiveness made of

- Ai Weiwei


Growing up in a Chinese
immigrant community with garment worker parents, I lacked the connection to
activists and role models that looked like me. I grew up in the age of
Anti-Asian and Anti-immigrant sentiment, with the corporate media demonizing
Japan for taking away American jobs. The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin by disgruntled
autoworkers in Michigan shaped my political activism and inspired Asian
American movements, but at that time, without a way to connect to what was
happening on-the-ground across the nation, I didn’t even know these movements
existed. Today, Asian Americans are among some of most digitally connected in
the U.S. 80% of Asian American
households have broadband access at home, compared to only 60% of the general
population.  This is a powerful platform
for us to be heard on issues that affect us.

While many of us are under no illusion that
simply speaking out is enough to bring about real change, we need platforms
like the Open Internet -- Net Neutrality -- to counter the corporate-controlled
media. Think about what it would be like if we didn’t have social media to elevate
the injustices of our time -- police brutality, labor exploitation, war crimes,
climate change, the attack on our public schools.

The Internet undoubtedly has helped
to inspire and connect individuals and communities across the U.S. who are
fighting for dignity, justice and human rights. From “Idle No More” to fast food workers’ advocacy for a fair wage, we are able to get
plugged in and tap into organizing and solidarity efforts. It
was on social media that millions of us learned about the militarized police
tactics that were used to suppress the uprising in Ferguson; #HandsUpDontShoot
demonstrated to a nation that people of color are building a powerful movement
to demand an end to institutional racism and police violence.

Right now, we have an Open Internet, which
prevents discrimination and levels the playing field online. The Open Internet
allows us to communicate and organize across borders and more importantly, to
tell our own stories unfettered, and without a gatekeeper. For example, Hyphen
’s site currently “travels” at the same speed
to an Internet user as FOXNews.com.

But when it comes to diversity in media
ownership, the numbers are dismal. Ninety percent of the media we consume is
centralized in the hands of five media corporations.  Media consolidation has narrowed the already
limited access for women and people of color, who own just over seven percent of radio licenses and three percent of TV licenses. This is why immigrants,
the working class, and people of color need an Open Internet – It helps people
connect to jobs, housing, school, healthcare, and allows them to more fully
participate and organize in the 21st-century digital age.

For Asian American
communities, the Open Internet has helped to interrupt the dominant narrative
and confronted power structures that have for so many centuries framed Asians
as the “model minority” -- docile and passive.

And as an Asian American
artist, activist, and media justice organizer, I appreciate the Internet's role
in helping level the playing field for so many of us. For example, my interactive media
piece “The
Garment Worker,”
which features the stories
of struggling workers, has reached multiple communities and organizations organizing
for immigrant rights, thanks to being shared online. Thousands of other cultural
workers and their projects, such as Michael Premo and Rachel Falcone’s Sandy
, which provides a
platform for victims and relief workers of Hurricane Sandy to upload testimonies of displacement and resilience -- rely on an Open Internet to share their stories.

Right now, the stakes are high. The Open
Internet is being challenged. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a
government agency that was created to protect the public interest, may be
siding with corporations like Verizon and Comcast that want to further monetize
the Internet and stifle our right to free expression. If they had it their way,
they would interrupt our Open
Internet and our ability to access our favorite websites and apps, and instead give
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and media corporations the ability to
determine which websites we are able to access -- thus creating a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes for content producers
and viewers who can afford to pay extra fees, and a slow lane for the rest of

Over the summer,
when the public raised their voices in protest, the FCC opened up a Notice for
Public Rulemaking Period. Commenters overloaded FCC’s website, causing a temporary
shutdown. Thus far, a record-breaking one million-plus
Americans have filed comments slamming the FCC's proposal. Thousands of websites also participated in Internet Slowdown Day
on September 10, demonstrating how slow their sites would load if these
corporations had their way.

Now is the time to take
action. Groups like the Media
Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net),

a national multi-sector media justice network, are organizing nationwide online and on the ground. Voices for Internet Freedom, Free Press, ColorofChange.org, Presente.org, 18MillionRising.org and many  others are putting pressure
on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to abandon his plan and to instead reclassify The Internet as an
essential service, like the telephone.

It’s important to note that while fighting for
an Open Internet is vital, we also need to stay vigilant on all media justice
issues. The digital divide, digital surveillance, and corporate media mergers are all
connected to Internet Freedom. But this Internet Freedom movement needs the
leadership and involvement of racial justice, civil rights, and social change
movements in order to win on this issue.

The FCC closed its comment period on September
15, and it’s unclear when the agency will vote on the proposal or respond to
comments by the public. As the fight continues, let’s keep the pressure on.


Betty Yu is a NYC based media
maker, artist, activist and cultural worker. She is the former Membership
Organizer of the Media Action Grassroots Network at Center for Media Justice
(CMJ). She just recently joined the Board of CMJ. Learn more about her work at: www.bettyyu.net