When Stephon Clark was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers in March, black activists took to Twitter and Facebook to share the news, organize protests and put pressure on local officials to respond. And as the Trump administration separated hundreds of migrant children at the border, the internet was a vital platform to express moral outrage and mobilize thousands to protest in the streets.
Racial justice leaders across California have always fought for vulnerable voices to be heard. Today, the internet is as vital a tool for civil and human rights activists as television and radio were during the 1960s civil rights movement.
The decision by Gov. Jerry Brown on Senate Bill 822, which would restore net neutrality rules, will either give all voices a level playing field online or reinforce the discrimination and misrepresentation many Californians experience. Whether he signs net neutrality into law will speak volumes about his own commitment to racial and economic equity in the state.
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This is why the Center for Media Justice,along with members and allies of our Media Action Grassroots Network, sent a letter last week to the governor urging him to sign SB 822. Our coalition understands how vital it is, especially in this frightening political moment,for communities of color to be able to organize, tell our own stories and resist online.
The internet is where people of color are going to connect to stories and people that mirror their own experiences. Platforms such as Etsy and Kickstarter have helped entrepreneurs of color launch their own businesses. A search on Etsy for “black-owned” or “women of color owned”will deliver thousands of results. While people of color own less than 10percent of TV and radio stations nationwide, thousands host channels on YouTube and other platforms. According to a 2017 poll, two-thirds of black millennials say that YouTube is a place where they have a voice.
It’s no coincidence that as black and brown people have gone online to expose the attacks on their communities, the Federal Communications Commission under President Donald Trump has actively worked against them, including the decision to repeal Obama administration rules to ensure a free and open internet.
SB 822 prevents internet service providers in California from blocking, throttling and charging websites to appear on the internet. The bill prohibits the creation of discriminatory mobile data plans through a practice known as “zero-rating,” in which customers are forced to use websites and applications the providers prefer, while counting everything else against their customer’s data limit.
Without a free and open Internet,movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter may never have flourished and made such a dramatic impact. The battle for net neutrality is really a continuation of the age-old fight for our right to dissent.
By signing SB 822, Gov. Brown not only has a chance to enact the gold standard of open internet legislation, but to ensure that the Golden State continues to lead in rejecting the rising authoritarianism of the Trump administration.