Bringing Spirit and Matter Together in Internet Advocacy

As the internet freedom and media policy movement continues to grow around the world, I’d like to advocate for the importance for expanding our message to new groups and enhancing the spirit of storytelling within the field of communications policy.

As I worked on events in San Diego bringing together technologists, activists, open source advocates and in my most recent experience of working with a team at Google to build the Internet at Liberty event, I felt an overwhelming sense that these events are not just a space for people to temporarily share ideas but part of a larger trajectory in building a global internet freedom movement with the purpose of keeping communications technologies secure, affordable and open.

The people who work in the internet freedom, media reform and media justice movement in the U.S. and internationally have made incredible strides in advocacy, research and solid victories in states and at the federal level. It’s fascinating and encouraging to work with some of the most brilliant legal and policy minds of this movement.

The more that I learn working on initiatives in this movement the more I recognize all the opportunities that exist to expand our message to people around the world. This movement is not just about incredibly well written amicus briefs and research papers or press releases, it’s about protecting communications, creativity, innovation and opportunities that communications technologies offer and not just saying this message, but demonstrating through the stories of real people how this is true by creating videos, blogs and events.

The movement for better media, improved discourse and enhanced internet rights is about expanding our awareness and consciousness, recognizing the circumstances and truth that each of us experience so that we can better help ourselves and each others lives.

Communications technologies are a vehicles of consciousness, which when open have the enormous potential of making us more aware of the challenges we face individually and collectively, helping us find solutions, gain experience and to recognize that we are not all that different from one another. We face many similar personal and professional challenges as well as share similar hopes and dreams. The Internet has also reminded us how critical it is that we unite- and that working in unity is possible. Of course this has been said before, in times before the internet existed, but we can all agree that the Internet has helped us recognize that well created and sustained networks can bring many people together for a shared goal. The possibilities are endless and we have to live that level of belief in order to be successful in our objectives.

Enhancing our focus on storytelling to build the movement

Storytelling has been an intrinsic, important part of human culture and societies and so it makes sense to carry our advocacy messages through stories which are engaging. In order to sustain a movement we have to listen, encourage and empower people to share the personal ways our lives are affected by being able to communicate freely or when our communications are censored, surveilled or taken down.

Movements and causes are very personal to people. Internet policy and the idea that we are protecting THE INTERNET (a web of networks that isn’t exactly the easiest concept to wrap one’s mind around) isn’t personal enough for people. We have remind people of the economic advancements, opportunities to new resources, activities and connections with friends and family old and new an open Internet offers. At the same time, we can’t just focus on all the Internet offers us. We must tell the stories of people who face real barriers to starting their own TV and radio stations or who have created new projects online only to be served with takedown notices. We must support the international stories of journalists and advocates who are fighting for their lives to share a story with the world that will expand people’s understanding of what is happening to people in the Global South.

We need to bring people’s spirits, energy and enthusiasm into this movement and say: You don’t need to be a lawyer, you don’t need to read every research paper that comes out to understand what is going on, because you are using the Internet, radio, TV everyday so you are experiencing the benefits and challenges of current communications technology policy. We also need to remind people: Let’s not take our freedoms for granted and let’s fight for more privacy, less surveillance, affordable prices and better content- because all these issues are intertwined!

Engaging our brothers and sisters who are building movements around the world

As a movement that protects the opportunities for communities of all backgrounds to communicate, we of all movements are not an island. Improving communications policy is about protecting the right of advocates around the world to speak openly about the causes which they care the most about. The causes that we care so deeply about whether they be racial justice, environmental sustainability, ending corruption on Wall Street- these are all movements that are sustained and grown through the use of the Internet, through podcasts and radio and sometimes even TV, if corporate owners of media deem messages to be well suited for their channel. Here is a clear example of how we can shed light on the ties of our movement with food security advocates:

This year The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to President Obama encouraging him to raise press freedom during African food talks:

The (Ethiopian) government routinely downplays the extent of the crisis by denying journalists access to sensitive areas and censoring independent news coverage. This undermines the ability of donor nations and aid groups to raise funds and make decisions about how best to mitigate the disaster…An independent press and civil society with the freedom to operate without fear or restriction are particularly necessary in Ethiopia to contextualize official claims about drought and food shortages, improve transparency in aid distribution, and alleviate hunger…Furthermore, the free flow of information and open debate could help Prime Minister Meles build national consensus and ensure that the government’s policies are the result of broad consultation with all segments of society. We believe such engagement would improve the impact of the government’s new strategies to reform Ethiopia’s agricultural practices.

In many ways we can look at the message of this letter and recognize how many issues don’t receive adequate news coverage around the world and in the U.S. leaving many stories left unheard. In upcoming blogs I will go further into the way that access to mobile and Internet technologies are advancing different causes. This is how we build the movement, by working together and helping advocates understand the causes which they are dedicated to are interdependent with our cause of open, secure and affordable communications.

Wondering how we can interweave storytelling into videos, blogs, events and partner with new groups to expand the internet freedom movement?? Email me and let’s continue the discussion! meraszendro@gmail.com

Attributions

First image: source

Second image: source

Third image: “The country of Niger, West Africa: 004” by babasteve shared under Creative Commons license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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One thought on “Bringing Spirit and Matter Together in Internet Advocacy

  1. I like your ideas, Mera. I hope they can be adopted by many. I know what the dangers are and will support your leadership on keeping the internet free, open, and widely accessible to all.

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