On Thursday night, the skies were overcast in San Francisco and threatening to storm. A group of 50 Net Neutrality supporters standing on the steps of San Francisco City Hall adjusted their signs and opened their umbrellas as it began to pour. The group held out, chanting “Fair communication, no discrimination!”
Then a wall of advancing figures appeared on the horizon, marching toward City Hall. They were protesters decrying the murders of 43 Mexican students. The Net Neutrality activists scrambled for a second as they figured out what was going on, and then they welcomed the protesters into their midst.
The Net Neutrality rally was one of many held during this year of protest against FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to allow discrimination online. Free Press organized Bay Area Speaks with ColorOfChange.org, Common Cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) and the Media Alliance.
A giant suit cutout labeled “I$P” held a briefcase with the words “Net Profit,” and a projector lit up the face of City Hall with Internet emergency signs.
“The Internet is not a luxury…It’s a lifeline, a vital resource for people in need”
The Net Neutrality crew and the Mexican-solidarity protesters took turns sharing the microphone. Common themes resonated: People spoke of being tired of corruption and greed. Activists from both groups emphasized the need to protect the open Internet to speak truth to power and organize. “Let information flow down like rain!” yelled Electronic Frontier Foundation Activist April Glaser.
At 7 p.m., the rally transitioned into a speakout on Net Neutrality inside City Hall. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people packed the room, with some attendees leaning against the wall or sitting on the floor. The first speaker, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, underscored the connection between an open Internet and other issues people are fighting for. “Every issue we care about depends upon getting our media right and keeping our media open,” he said.
With the FCC’s proposal, he added, “We’re about to take history’s most dynamic tool ever, that should be ushering us into a golden age of innovation, and turning it over to the gatekeepers and industry consolidators. Didn’t we see radio and television go down that road?”
Rebecca Kaplan of the Oakland City Council said that the Internet “has been our commons, our free speech.” Wheeler’s proposal, which would let Internet service providers create fast lanes online, would destroy all that.
“If you’re a millionaire talking in the town square, you can shout,” Kaplan said, “but if you’re a poor person, you have to whisper . … We are not going to allow the Internet to be divided up into haves and have-nots.”
“The Internet is not a luxury,” said librarian Amy Sonnie of the Oakland Public Library. “It’s a lifeline, a vital resource for people in need.”