NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

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 912 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.

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