Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Mission accomplished: Internet strike turns SOPA, PIPA into a top story for the first time

We’re back!

Twenty-one hours ago, we took down this blog, The Advocate, along with Pacific NW Portal and our home page to protest two destructive bills that threaten Internet freedom, stability, and security: the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA). In their place, we activated an action center explaining our reasons for going dark and urging readers and supporters to join us in conveying our opposition to our region’s representatives in Congress.

Tens of thousands of other sites took similar measures as part of what became a coordinated, global Internet strike against censorship… the biggest, most widespread virtual protest ever organized.

Some sites went partially or completely dark, like we did, making content temporarily unavailable and redirecting traffic to a blackout page. Other sites got readers’ attention through splash pages or popups. Still others chose to censor their logos to emphasize the call to action.

Though the style and approach of blackout varied from site to site, the objective was the same: Raise awareness and mobilize opposition to two very bad bills in Congress that have metaphorically been flying under the radar for months.

Did we succeed in doing that? We absolutely did. This was a historic, unprecedented event, characterized by broad participation and high visibility. It changed the debate over these bills, and in a good way.

As Rachel Maddow observed on her MSNBC show earlier tonight (emphasis ours):

We cover all kinds of protests on this show. All kinds of nonviolent, direct action. All kinds of ways that people try to get Congress to do something if they are not a member of Congress. Occupy Congress yesterday converged on Capitol Hill for rallies and meetings with lawmakers. Occupy D.C. has been sleeping outside in the capital city for months now. The Tea Party marching on Washington, including that one big, really big, march they had back in their heyday… the 9/12 one. People storming legislative hearings. People screaming from the galleries until they’re hauled outside and arrested. People do a million different things to try to get Congress to move.

But I never seen Congress move so far, so fast, on just one day of protest, as the way they did today, when Google put up that censored bar, that redacted bar, over their logo, and Wikipedia turned off the lights.

How effective was today’s protest? Well, besides the huge amount of badly needed media coverage that was generated, the calls, tweets, emails, and faxes produced by the strike resulted in at least twenty U.S. senators distancing themselves from PIPA, or declaring their outright opposition to PIPA. (That’s the Senate version of the legislation, which is scheduled for a procedural vote next week).

In other words, this protest caused the positions of a fifth of the members of the crusty, undemocratically-run institution that we know as the United States Senate to change from either undecided or in favor to against, or leaning against.

That is a pretty remarkable outcome.

Two of the senators who spoke out against SOPA and PIPA today hail from our own region: Patty Murray and Jeff Merkley. We at NPI have been urging them to join their colleagues Ron Wyden and Maria Cantwell in taking a stand against SOPA and PIPA for more than a month. Today, they finally responded.

Merkley, who serves as Oregon’s junior U.S. Senator, spoke out first mid-morning (Pacific Time) with a fairly unequivocal statement:

Thanks for all the calls, emails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA and #PIPA. We can’t endanger an open internet.

In a second tweet, later in the day, he added:

Protecting IP is important, but we need to carefully tailor the solution. #PIPA and #SOPA don’t cut it.

Murray, who serves as Washington’s senior U.S. Senator (and heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) chose to weigh in towards the end of the day. She tweeted that she has reservations with the bills as currently written:

Protecting IP is vital for jobs & econ in WA, but I have real concerns with #SOPA & #PIPA as currently drafted. Changes should be made. -PM [Patty Murray]

Murray and Merkley were not among the cachet of senators recruited by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to sponsor PIPA, so their comments today should not be characterized as reversals of past positions.

However, their colleague, Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, is on the list of cosponsors and was – until last Friday, a few days after the strike had been announced – considered to be supporter. But he isn’t any longer.

As the remaining portions of PIPA progress, I will continue to seek out meaningful amendments and alternative proposals to address the bill’s current flaws.  Since I am no longer a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, remaining a cosponsor of the bill provides me the opportunity to be an active participant in the process of addressing the most serious concerns raised by my constituents. I would not vote for final passage of PIPA, as currently written, on the Senate floor.

Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, another Democratic cosponsor (and the target of a rally in Manhattan), told constituents on her Facebook page that she has concerns with the bill, but stopped short of pledging to oppose it.

Thank you for all your messages regarding Protect IP. I agree there are real concerns with the current legislation & I’m working to make important changes to the bill. We must work to strike a balance between ending online piracy to protect New York jobs & ensuring Internet freedom so our tech community can continue to flourish.

Sixteen Republican senators have also joined the ranks of the opposition in the last forty-eight hours. Most issued short statements through Twitter or Facebook that they would not be supporting the legislation.

Here’s the complete list, in alphabetical order:

You’ll notice that six senators on that list have their names emphasized in boldface. That’s because they are – or were – cosponsors of PIPA. Their defections, along with Ben Cardin’s, means that PIPA has lost seven of its cosponsors.

ProPublica’s “SOPA Opera”, which tracks where members of Congress stand on SOPA and PIPA, now puts the number of supporters at sixty-two and the number of opponents at one hundred and two. That’s a dramatic change from what the numbers were a few days ago.

Here’s a few more metrics which illustrate how successful the protest was:

  • According to Wikipedia, “more than 12,000 people commented on the Wikimedia Foundation’s blog post announcing the blackout. The breathtaking majority supported the blackout.” In addition, the encyclopedia says more than one hundred and sixty-two million people saw Wikipedia’s blackout page, and more than eight million entered their zip code to find their elected representatives’ contact information.
  • Google disclosed that more than 4.5 million people signed its petition to
  • The White House said that as of 1:15 PM Pacific Time, a total of 103,785 people had signed “We the People” petitions requesting that the Obama administration defend the Internet. One an anti-SOPA petition had 51,689 signatories, while another had 52,096 signatories.
  • BlackoutSOPA reports that (as of this writing) 79,926 people had changed their profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to protest SOPA and PIPA. These badges were seen by an seen by estimated 64,594,252 Twitter followers and 10,772,942 Facebook friends.
  • Fight for the Future, which hosts the American Censorship Day and SOPA Strike websites, has tallied the total number of participating sites at 75,000. 350,000 people used its tools to contact their elected representatives during the Day of Action.
  • Twitter announced that from 12 AM Eastern until 4 PM Eastern, its users posted 2.4+ million SOPA-related tweets, with the top five terms as follows: SOPA, Stop SOPA, PIPA, Tell Congress, and #factswithoutwikipedia. That’s an average of 150,000 tweets an hour, or 2,500 every minute.
  • Midway through the day of action, Engine Advocacy tweeted that its system was handling 2,000 calls a second to Congress. The high number of calls caused the Senate’s phone system to become jammed.

Though all of us who care about Internet freedom can certainly be proud of what we’ve accomplished today, this fight is not over. SOPA and PIPA are not dead. Let me repeat that: SOPA and PIPA are not dead. The Internet strike didn’t kill these bills… it merely weakened them.

That in itself is very important, but we’ve absolutely got to keep the pressure on. Winning a legislative battle like this requires endurance.

Fortunately, we’ve made some major strides. Before this week, not many people knew about the threat posed by SOPA and PIPA. And there are undoubtedly people out there who still don’t know. But not as many as there used to be.

This week, for the first time, these bills became a top story – in newspapers, on cable television networks, on radio shows, on corporate media websites. And that’s because of the strike. We collectively forced the media conglomerates that are behind SOPA and PIPA to report on our objections to these bills. And we gave Capitol Hill a good jolt. But we have so much more work to do. We must remain vigilant and active to ensure that Congress doesn’t mess with Internet freedom.