Some Lessons from the Fight Over Internet Freedom

Ok, I've had some time to relax and think through the internet freedom battle.  There are some lessons here that we should take going forward.  First let me caveat the issue; this fight isn't over.  The Sensenbrenner bill has to go the Rules Committee, which is corrupt and may not let the bill onto the floor.  The COPE Act may be snuck through regardless.  The bill could pass and get screwed up in conference.  In other words, there are many many ways we could still lose this.  But the Judiciary vote was a huge deal anyway, since we don't win very often and since this firmly put the issue on the legislative map.

We did not think this was winnable the day before the vote, but when the smoke cleared there was a crushing 20-13 bipartisan victory.  There are three reasons this happened.

1) Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers whipped the Democrats aggressively on the issue.  They made it clear that this vote was meaningful and that a 'no' vote would be problematic from the member's point of view.  Nancy Pelosi is not a great communicator, but when the chips are down, she is with us.  She made this happen.  And John Conyers is a bulldog, one of the best we have in Congress.

2) The outside pressure was intense.  I'm not trying to be a blog triumphalist or anything, but the pressure from the internet was remarkable.  It wasn't just the 'netroots', it was the 'geekroots' (which Mitchipd straddles nicely).  There's a common vision here of a progressive communications and energy system that unites the two communities, and we'll see more alliances as time goes on.  Congress responded to this pressure, and so did the press.  An issue with very little mainstream coverage was nonetheless considered white hot.

3) Without Tom Delay, the Republican machinery is breaking down and allowing more independent action from individual Congressmen.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, after being undercut on immigration, wasn't about to happily allow Barton's Commerce Committee to grab a big chunk of turf.  He put up a fight, and the whipping that the internet and Pelosi/Conyers had done shored up the Democratic side and allowed the internet freedom people to win this one.

Ok, so what does this mean?

1) Victories are possible.

I know this seems obvious, but think about the ways that we are told we will lose.  We are told, by none other than John Kerry, that the only way to win fights is to put more Democrats in the Senate, that fighting now is futile.  We are told that aggressiveness will simply energize the other side.  We are told that the media is biased and that there's no way around it.  We are told that Americans are conservative and that pushing progressive ideas is impossible.  We are told that pushing progressive ideas will jeopardize Democrats.  We are told that the center is the key to politics, and we must be quiet to access that center.  

None of this is true.  We can win.  It's not easy, but we can win.  Republicans will vote for progressive ideas.

2) Strength is politically attractive. 

Internet freedom was a bipartisan issue.  Or rather, both parties were going to vote it down, and did, in the House Telecom Subcommittee vote prior to the formation of the public Save the Internet coalition.  Then the public outcry began.  Soon it became a partisan issue as Democrats came around to our side, and then it became a bipartisan issue again as Republicans also came around to our side.  

Of course, when we started whipping Democrats, we heard people fret about how we 'shouldn't make this a partisan issue'.  It wasn't a partisan issue, it was a progressive issue (and a conservative issue), but the dynamics of the fight at that point put Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other.  Rather than energizing Republicans, the fear of self-loathing liberals everywhere, the public outcry and the whipping of Democrats made the Republicans scared that they were conceding a good electoral issue.  Republican politicians are after all politicians, and they don't like voters being mad at them.  

So the strength moved both parties, because strength is attractive to politicians of any stripe.

3) Ideas matter.

Behind the internet freedom idea is a very powerful vision of a connected society.  That vision is the source of political strength, not tactical gambits and access to money.  You can have all the money in the world, you can have all the savvy in the world, but without vision and ideas, you will ultimately lose because strength comes from being able to organize a group around a shared set of values.  That's why the telecom companies spent something on the order of $10-50 million on this fight, and we spent maybe $10,000, and the fight was about even.

Where to Go Next

We may lose this battle yet.  It's winnable, which it wasn't before.  I think in the long-term, we're going to see a vision of a progressive communications and energy system implemented.  I would encourage all of us, however, to stop thinking about our politics in terms of horse race analysis and targeting, and begin to think in terms of big ideas and a vision for what we want America to look like.  

Internet freedom is a big issue, and we'll keep on it.  So is global warming.  So is creating a global open society.  These are the challenges of our time.  

We can and should build our politics around addressing them.

Tags: net neutrality (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Re: Victories are possible

Matt

You said: "We are told, by none other than John Kerry, that the only way to win fights is to put more Democrats in the Senate, that fighting now is futile."

Kerry didn't say "fighting is now futile." I get that this is your translation of what he said, but how you got to that conclusion is beyond me.

I hope your readers will read all of John Kerry's post on the Dem Daily and his response in the comments to questions from our readers.

Maybe I'm reading your inference wrong - I hope that is the case.

Kerry believes victory is possible for Dems and he's out there doing everything he can to make that happen in '06.

by Pamela 2006-05-28 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Victories are possible

But the real answer? We don't have enough Democrats in the Senate. Want to end the cronyism? Win the Senate this November.

End of story - that's the only real and lasting answer. John Kerry

by Matt Stoller 2006-05-28 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Victories are possible

Talk about putting words into someone's mouth. He didn't say "futile" - he didn't even imply "futile" - he's saying we need to take back the Senate in November. Should I assume you don't want that?

Why don't you put some words into the mouths of those Dems who aren't fighting the fight right now - because Kerry is, and honestly to imply otherwise is petty.

by Pamela 2006-05-28 09:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Some Lessons from the Fight

(1)  "Strength is politically attractive."  Good lesson here.  And it works both ways.  Strength (in numbers, passion and commitment) is attractive to politicians, but strength (resoluteness, steadfastness to principle) is also attractive to voters. It goes both ways, and I wish more politicians could see it.

(2)  There is a real natural coalition between progressives and technogeeks, also with ordinary kids who love technology and what it does for them.  Imagine such a coalition over some other issues of cultural freedom.  Even an anti-puritanism coalition.

by Mimikatz 2006-05-28 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Some Lessons

Beware.  This issue may well be sui generis, because we're allied with the NRA, etc.; it gets bipartisan support because it's a bipartisan measure.  Moreover, even Congressmen, might listen to Webheads on Web issues, but that's no guarantee that they'll listen on, say, Alito II.

Also, the vote may be a smokescreen.  I read somewhere that the telcos just want the Senate and House to pass any ol' bill; they'll put in all the finishing touches late at night in the conference committee.

by drlimerick 2006-05-28 12:06PM | 0 recs
This is a point to hang on to!

I haven't looked to see where the Stevens bill has got to.

But stitching things up in conference and presenting a fait accompli is somewhat the GOP MO.

Will Senate Dems filibuster the conference report, if so? Almost certainly not, on past form; but, if folks start lobbying now, who knows?

by skeptic06 2006-05-29 04:57AM | 0 recs
Re: This is a point to hang on to!

The Dems could always VOTE AGAINST THE FINAL BILL if it is really bad, also the R's who joined us.  The important thing is to hold them accountable.

by Mimikatz 2006-05-29 09:09AM | 0 recs
Those TV Ads

Matt,

I'm concerned about those misleading TV ads against net neutrality that I've been seeing a lot of in the last couple of days. I barely watch any TV and I've seen 3-4 of these.  

It reminds me of what happened in the early 90's on health insurance.  

Thoughts on how to combat or take these into account?

by lynnallen 2006-05-28 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Some Lessons from the Fight Over Internet Free

Now, a win is a win, and - especially since what one might call (tongue in cheek!) the forces of enlightenment haven't exactly been winning too many recently. Or for a long time.

But, even within confines of passing the COPE/IFNA (HR 5252/5417), it's only one inning in the ballgame.

Now, Matt rightly says we're far from a getting a result we want on these bills; but then takes something of a high-fiving tone that makes me wonder whether he's quite internalized his words of caution.

On the question why the vote in Judiciary went our way:

How good the whipping was depends rather on how much whipping was needed. IFNA is not exactly socialism run rampant; if Judiciary Dems were worried about a hole in their funding from miffed telcos, there were always Google and friends around to give them comfort.

And - dark hints about committee membership would have caused mostly eyerolling after the Hastings and Jefferson farragoes: not a good line, that one, for Nancy, I'd have thought!

Also, you have to ask yourself this: what logs were rolled? Were they logs that we'd rather not have been rolled? Were, for instance, Dem reps looking to Pelosi for passes on votes they proposed to cast against the leadership's wishes in favor of juicy corporate welfare bills, for instance?

(Though - would they even think they needed passes? The record on tort reform, bankruptcy, CAFTA and others seems pretty to be: one word from Nancy and they do as they like.)

And when Matt says

Nancy Pelosi...when the chips are down, she is with us.

I'm afraid I'd greatly doubt that, failing a deal of evidence to the contrary.

The other hypothesis would be that, when she was that, with the Google and Jimmy S factors at play, the vote on IFNA was winnable, she jumped on the bandwagon.

And - what counts as an occasion when the chips have been down? And what counts as being with us?

I'm not saying (though I get the impression that many in the lefty sphere do say) that Pelosi is a complete washout as leader, even less that there's an obvious candidate whose path she's blocking.

But, from what I gather, her performance has not exactly been stellar.

(I'd also be interested in why the GOP members split as they did - logs rolled, blandishments and inticements.)

On the more general questions raised:

It's quite right that the gloomy list of why not to fight reasons Matt lists are unpersuasive, reading like excuses from MCs already committed to inaction.

However, the conclusion

We can win.  It's not easy, but we can win.  Republicans will vote for progressive ideas.

doesn't follow from the premiss.

We haven't won, in a general sense; winning the IFNA vote in Judiciary is like just scoring a run. And the idea isn't progressive except in the TR/Woodrow Wilson sense of the term. IFNA invoking the Clayton Act and all.

(And tf the Dems are ringing the bells for having brought us back to the era of the hobble skirt and Birth of a Nation, that may give us a clue why they haven't won much lately!)

I agree that a party confident in its own strength is attractive (up to a point), and, when harnessed to an attractive cause (as net neutrality - attractive to an elite, also be it noted), it's liable to find itself with momentum and an ability to get things done.

It's great to see this happen to the Dems. One swallow, however, doth not a summer make.

(And, on the David v Goliath tack, I'd be curious to know how much the moneybags on our side have laid out.)

On the next steps:

I'm looking at the membership of Rules - and frankly, on the GOP side, I haven't a clue who these guys are.

You call them corrupt: any more than any other bunch of MCs?

If Rules decides to sit on IFNA and report a closed rule on COPE, there would always be the option of a discharge petition. (The minimum wage one - to see HR 2429 to the floor - has accrued just 189 sigs.)

It's the lobbying equivalent of the north face of the Eiger. But, with Dem reps in such a sprightly, determined, can-do mood, who knows what might be possible...

by skeptic06 2006-05-28 02:17PM | 0 recs
Not to be cynical, but

There were a lot of huge corporations that were for net neutrality. Including Google, Microsoft, etc.

I'm not saying that the Phone Companies weren't out to screw us, they were, but I'm not sure if this would have happened if we hadn't had huge corporations in our corner as well.

by delmoi 2006-05-28 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Not to be cynical, but

True.  But Google has one or two lobbyists.  That's it.

by Matt Stoller 2006-05-28 03:33PM | 0 recs
Good Points From Mimikatz & Drlimerick

We're in a rare period right now, up until the mid-terms.  There are a number of natural alliances out there along the lines Mimikatz suggests with the entire science/technology sector--including, as noted, the consumer fan base.  The more anti-science the GOP becomes the more this swings our way.  But they aren't very likely to come up for a lot of votes--as Dr. Limerick warns.

Our challenge is to proactively craft an agenda that brings things up for action, and forces people to take sides, which reinforces these connections.  There may not be time to do much along those lines between now and the midterms.  But we should definitely take this as the long-term lesson, along with mitchipd's in the post Matt linked to, "Community Broadband & Community Organizing", which said:

I think the widespread enthusiasm for NN is a wonderful mobilization of democracy-enhancing energy and coalition building.  But I also can't help but see it as a stop-gap measure that will slow but not stop the process of choking off the ability to grow of the open Internet we know and love.

I'd like to see the NN coalition transition to a Community Internet/Internet road movement, which offers not only a more complete solution, but  also a political mobilization strategy that has both a national and "local community" center of gravity.  As such, it can help link the progressive grassroots in towns and cities around the country with the national netroots.  

Just imagine (please, really do) what kind of communication tools local activists would have at their disposal if they were in a community that offered 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps of symmetrical bandwidth to every home (that's the bandwidth range that's cost effective to deliver given today's technology).  Then think about how fired up activists in other communities will be to follow this model when they see what's possible but unavailable in their communities, which would be served only by cable/telco broadband networks that cost more and deliver a lot less.

There are definite possibilities here, IMHO, and the payoff could be enormous.  Local politics are so often kept in a dysfunctional state simply because it takes so much effort over such a long time to organize the vast majority of folks whose basic interests and values, while not identical, are reasonably close, and diametrically opposed to the handful of organized interests who run most of what goes on.

Ironically, people are far more trusting of local government than they are of national government, but they have far less support in the way of watch-dog groups, academic experts and investigative media to help keep the game even remotely honest.  The possibilities with the activist tools we could mobilize along the lines mitchipd envisions could change local government more drastically than anything since the progressive movement of a hundred years ago.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-05-28 03:17PM | 0 recs
Follow NN with a move on energy?

Matt said:

"Rather than energizing Republicans, the fear of self-loathing liberals everywhere, the public outcry and the whipping of Democrats made the Republicans scared that they were conceding a good electoral issue. Republican politicians are after all politicians, and they don't like voters being mad at them...

I think in the long-term, we're going to see a vision of a progressive communications and energy system implemented.  I would encourage all of us, however, to stop thinking about our politics in terms of horse race analysis and targeting, and begin to think in terms of big ideas and a vision for what we want America to look like.  Internet freedom is a big issue, and we'll keep on it.  So is global warming.  So is creating a global open society.  These are the challenges of our time.  We can and should build our politics around addressing them."

My gut and my head tell me the net neutrality fight COULD be the start of the "long-term" Matt refers to, and that a positive (and winning) vision can go a long way toward reversing the "self-loathing" he cites, while also helping to realign the issues, voters and language of American politics.  

Matt also references the energy issue, which schroeder and I discuss in this thread: http://www.mydd.com/story/2006/5/18/1316 9/8973, with schroeder pointing to a great piece of collaborative work by a group of Kossacks:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/18/ 62733/6577

I don't know much about energy legislative strategies, but I can't help but wonder, after reading Matt's post, if there might be some action on that front that could help move the progressive "renewable energy" issue a step forward, while also helping Dems embrace a more positive and attractive message/identity that could help win votes in November and beyond.  I don't have any ideas myself, but thought I'd bring it up in case any of you more politically savvy types might.

by mitchipd 2006-05-28 06:20PM | 0 recs
Thank the independents

IF you are happy that the GOP and some of the power brokers that got us into this mess, are backing us out of it. .. thank the independents.

If you're happy that some of the GOP are becoming independent, thank them.

If the democrat party still doesn't stand for anything, thank independents like Russ Feingold, for that side of the aisle to be where they need to be..

and finally, thank the Da Vinci code for showing that Ralph Reed and all of his Karl Rove cronies are  effing things up - since when have you ever seen an entire national church conference try to spend eight sermons in two months on nothing more than a summer film?  Reeds machinery is what is really breaking down - the guy is losing control of the "christians" and the "Evangelicals" who were really only people that could only understand commercials anyway. They're sending a message with all this silly carping about a silly film: that they never trusted their base to be able to hold any kind of independent thought in their heads to begin with...

And the sad fact is, most of them just supported Bush because the principle of wartime elections is, never throw out the incumbent - war is a nasty business + you never know what the enemy will try to do if you broadcast that they can eff up your electoral process...

we should be proud of the fact that George W Bush was elected in 2004, proud of the fact that his cronies are being shut down by both their own party, and the democrats -

and ashamed of the fact that the democrats are still standing around with their hands in their pockets. They can do so much more than respond to manufactured crises like "net freedom". lord almight. the net was already free

by turnerbroadcasting 2006-05-28 06:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Fight Over Internet Freedom
I think there are rich possibities in the alliance with the conservatives for bold and meaningful action on several fronts -- and global warming is one of them.  
Can we get together with some conservatives and be proactive in finding the areas in which we -- the progressives and conservatives -- agree, and ignoring for the time being those areas where we disagee-- employing the techniques of mediators.
I think we could get somewhere on health care reform in this way, as well as making solid progress on environmental issues.
We would confound the political structure that depends on keeping us divided  and preventing anything from happening so a few people (the new oligarchy) can get richer.
While the politicians are bought off and dysfunctional, of course we have to start below the radar, and then they are shocked -- but we might be able to keep shaking them up if we keep in mind areas where we might agree with the conservatives and get together on them.
by syolles 2006-05-29 11:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Fight Over Internet Freedom

Your comment reminds me of something that may only apply on the personal level, but may have broader implications for political alliance-building.  It's that the process of finding common ground can build momentum because one of the things it does is to help the parties involved stop "demonizing" each other.  Yes, there are a few ultra-hot-button issues where the tendency to demonize is deeply entrenched (e.g., the right to choose an abortion as viewed by some religious people).  But I wonder how many really fit into that category and, more importantly, I think there are a lot more where common ground could be found.

How we stop demonizing in today's political environment, is, of course, a much tougher question than how we do it with our conservative or liberal neighbor.  I'd like to think that a good portion of political communication still comes down to person-to-person interactions, but maybe I'm wrong about that.  

Unfortunately, the TV/cable medium, in a pathological dance with some of the political powers that be, is a seriously dehumanizing (and very loud) voice in this nation's political dialog...which again brings me back to the importance of an open, neutral, high-capacity and ubiquitous Internet that can, over time (hopefully faster rather than slower), displace the MSM, including TV as we know it today.

by mitchipd 2006-05-29 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Fight Over Internet Freedom
It was my suggestion that we try to ignore the hot-button issues all together, that we link up with people on the right on an issue-by-issue basis -- only on the issues where we agree and can make some progress.  Net neutrality, environment, health care. Period.  If we get somewhere that would be magnificent.  There are many who want to prevent any progress on any of these and I suppose it is in their favor to keep the hot-button issues in the forefront.  So we have to go underground.
Despite Hillary kowtowing to the wingnuts on some stupid stuff like flag-burning and whatever she's into -- she has concentrated on the bridge building.  I don't think that makes her the leader we need at all, but I do think it could help make her a good legislator.  And we will need some good legislators ...
by syolles 2006-05-29 08:26PM | 0 recs

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