Black civil rights leaders who rely on digital activism got good news Wednesday when the Senate voted 52-47 to save net neutrality. With the vote, the first hurdle to ensuring a fair and open internet for all was cleared.
Senate members used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn last year’s Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality repeal, The Verge reported. However, activists are now gearing up for a bigger fight, as more hurdles need to be overcome to reinstate net neutrality. The bill has to make it through the Republican-majority House (traditionally most bills past the House first) and through Trump, CBS News and other outlets reported. Activists can sign petitions, write letters and organize protests to help convince the House and president.
The FCC, who voted for the repeal against Obama-era protections in December and planned to put new anti-neutrality rules in effect in June, came under strong criticism for their controversial decision. The rule will allow for some of the most powerful telecommunication companies, including Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, to have unlimited control over Internet traffic, including what content is accessible to certain people, how fast someone’s Internet speed is and how much they pay to access the web. Activists considered it a slap in the face, as civil rights organizations routinely rely on social media and the web to engage in digital advocacy. The fight for net neutrality, which essentially keeps the Internet from being under the control of Internet and cable service providers, has moved to center stage for activists.
“What Donald Trump did was essentially elevate Ajit Pai to be the chairman of the FCC because he essentially made it clear that he was going to be the president for large corporations,” Maya Wiley, senior vice president for social justice and professor for public and urban policy at the New School in New York City, said to Mic. “That we’re going to seek to advance their business interests, over our democratic interests.”
Wednesday’s Senate vote is important for those activists of color for several reasons.
For one, the votes present the opportunity for Black people to speak up and raise their voices against companies that could censor them. In the words of Calfornia Democratic Senator and Howard University alumnus Kamala Harris, “Make your voice heard now.”
Secondly, the Senate’s discussion on net neutrality can encourage people of color to unite in solidarity for a significant cause. It’s another great opportunity to discover commonalities, protest together and join a movement.
Thirdly, the vote was a chance to fight for the future of digital activism. Many activists are using social media and other online platforms to fight for racial justice: post police brutality videos, organize rallies, start fundraising campaigns and more. Activists also organize voter drives ahead of the midterm elections. Case in point: the Women’s March “Power To The Polls” campaign is focused on voter mobilization and political education. The Black vote is crucial for making a difference in the elections in November and 2020, as well as in challenging Trump’s re-election, Democrats and The States Of Change report have said.
Lastly, having the Senate vote for net neutrality is a vote for those who come from lower-income backgrounds. If the Internet became controlled by companies, costs to access could become prohibitively high. Several people could potentially be cut off from internet access, which is already hard to get in some communities.