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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "Open Internet-Net Neutrality"

I Can See God and Justice Because of the Open Internet

Originally published on http://thesaltcollective.org/god-justice-open-internet/

 

“I can’t stand with you and join you in your struggle if I haven’t heard your story.” — Rabbi Sharon Brous

 

Some of the most influential people in my life are people I’ve never met — or met only once. I’m a white, cis-gendered, middle class, almost-50, married mother of two with a passion for justice and an ever-expanding appreciation of the beauty of God in the world and of the amazing people who have walked before me on a path of faith-inspired justice. I can do this work, in part, because I’ve listened, over and over again, to narratives and videos that bring tears to my face from folks who I visit on the Internet but whose stories I otherwise would have missed. I can learn about justice every day because people who would not be given the time of day by a media conglomerate can bear their souls, share their gifts, and invent new and more creative ways to speak to my heart on the Internet.

 

I remember listening to Cayden Mak, now Executive Director of 18 Million Rising, speaking in 2014 about how the Internet literally saved his life. “Have you ever been young and queer and brown in the great American suburb?” I haven’t. But I can share, just a little bit, his story and bring it into my understanding of the world.

 

Evan Dolive, father and pastor in Texas, who wrote a book stemming from his outrage thinking about Victoria’s Secret marketing sexy underwear to middle schoolers. We spoke once, a few years back, but I get his blogs every week online and while he lives so far away, the perspectives we share are clear to me over the Internet.

 

Rev. Ashely Harness and Rev. Lawrence Richardson, both who publish at the Salt Collective— maybe we crossed paths once in person in Cleveland at the United Church of Christ headquarters. But from then on, I’ve been such a fan, following on Twitter and Facebook, taking in everything from tips on how to write an op-ed rooted in justice and faith, to cheering on Lawrence’s efforts to help care for his precious nephews. A glimpse of the divine in each of them — on the Internet.

 

And my great Faithful Internet co-founder Valarie Kaur, who, drawing on her journey as a Sikh activist, made the most beautiful speech in New York this New Year’s, alongside Rev. William Barber. She told me and a few million others — over the Internet — that the darkness of right now is the darkness of the womb, not the darkness of the tomb. When times seem darkest, replaying that video can get you through. She’ll tell you that her new Revolutionary Love project would not be possible without the open Internet.

 

All these stories are part of the work we do to build a more just world. The Internet is part of the basic building blocks of our work — just like the road outside the front door which takes us to a community meeting, spirit-lifting worship, or to our neighbor’s house to bring chicken soup in the dead of winter.

 

I’ve been working in media justice for more than 20 years, and critical analysis of media has always come down to this (to mangle Marshall McLuhan): whoever owns the medium controls the message. Open Internet policies, protected by net neutrality, mean that whoever owns the medium cannot control the message. An ISP cannot charge more for video to flow without buffering — if it’s good enough for NBC, it’s good enough for all of us.

 

Today, July 12, 2017, miraculously, not only a range of non-profits around the country are joining together to speak out for real Net Neutrality, but also huge corporations that probably could afford to pay for access. We’re all proclaiming the need to protect the fundamental structure of the Internet — which has been with us from the beginning, but is under threat today.

 

The faith community understands the power of story. The Faithful Internet campaign is working to bring that voice to the policy-makers at the Federal Communications Commission who are threatening to turn the Internet over to network owners. You can join us on July 12 via our Thunderclap campaign, sign and share our petition, and visit FaithfulInternet.org where you can learn more and see testimonials from Rev. Otis Moss III, Linda Sarsour, Sister Simone Campbell and Rev. William Barber to name just a few.

The work of healing the world is taking place on the Internet. And that work should not have to bear an additional burden of languishing in an Internet slow lane, waiting until someone pays an additional toll to release it, full force, into the world.

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United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry Statement: New FCC Chairman Pai

We congratulate Ajit Pai on being designated chairman of the Federal Communications Commission today.  We hope to work with Mr. Pai on many areas of common concern, such as media diversity and competition, affordable access to broadband, the end of predatory prison phone rates, and a free and open Internet.  Although Mr. Pai has often spoken eloquently about his commitment to these shared goals, we have not yet been able to find common ground on the means to these ends. 

We believe that media ownership diversity must be premised on hard data, detailed and rigorous study, rigorous enforcement of the FCC's rules, and ownership by women and people of color that does not leave them financially dependent upon large corporations or struggling to succeed as small companies in overly consolidated media markets. 

 

We believe that affordable access to broadband depends on a robust Lifeline program--a program that was built on conservative principles during the Reagan years as a public-private partnership using efficient market mechanisms to assist only those in need.  Low-income people will get affordable broadband if Lifeline is supported, not torn down, by communications policy leaders. 

 

We believe in fair and just telephone rates for the millions of children, families and clergy seeking to connect with in prison, detention centers and jails.  Leaders who agree, as Mr. Pai has said he does, that these rates are unjust and must be reduced have a moral obligation to defend and protect these innocent families.  Relying on the unverified, self-serving claims of companies and correctional facilities facing no limit on their desire to increase profits will lead to even more abusive rates.

 

We believe that, as the backbone of an increasing share of all our national conversations, a free and open Internet protected by Net Neutrality is fundamental to social justice.  All people must be able to speak with their own, God-given, voices, regardless of their incomes or races. Government leaders, locally and nationally, must be able to ensure that all children and families have access to affordable broadband in their schools and homes.  Our ability to speak and participate in civic discourse should not depend on whether we access the internet via a smartphone or a computer.  Commercial popularity should not be the sole arbiter of whether a story can be heard.

 

People of faith know the power of a story to change hearts and to change the world.  In modern times, we visit people in prison via telephone, we love our neighbors as ourselves online, and we care for the least of these because we view them (or not) on television.

 

Today, Mr. Pai must start the hard work of governing, rather than dissenting.  We will see whether Mr. Pai's policies produce an open marketplace of ideas or whether they simply support large corporate conglomerates that are politically indebted to an administration that has shown no reluctance to attack journalists for reporting the facts.  We will see whether low-income families get access to broadband or whether clergy can afford to call their congregants in prison.  We will see if the non-commercial stories of God are pushed to internet slow-lanes in favor of highly profitable commercial entertainment.  As part of the United Church of Christ, we believe in civil dialogue in disagreement, even as we remain committed to our prophetic witness for justice.  Even in times of great challenge, we commit to both.

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Budget riders threaten media justice wins

Over the last year, we've had a couple of great FCC rulings.  We were pleased to see the FCC, last year, take a step toward rules that will promote more media diversity.  The FCC eliminated loopholes that allow companies to own more stations than permitted by FCC rules.  This resulted right away in more stations being sold off to women and people of color and increasing media ownership diversity for the first time in years

In addition, of course we're all excited about the FCC's strong net neutrality ruling this year, supported by our fantastic Faithful Internet campaign.

But unfortunately each of these rulings are at risk during the budget process, when members of Congress attach "policy riders" to the budget.  Essentially even if Congress can't blog the FCC through legislation, it can put limits on how the FCC spends its money and that means Congress can block the FCC's decisions through sneaky back-door maneuvers. 

In the last month we've been working with our allies in the civil rights and faith communities to urge Congress to let the FCC's decisions stand.  You can see the Leadership Conference substantive letter on media diversity, their letter opposing policy riders, and our faith letter opposing both media diversity and net neutrality policy riders. 

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Faithful Internet: A Big Week!

For the last nine months, the UCC OC Inc. has been collaborating with people of faith and faith leaders around the country on our Faithful Internet campaign, co-led by me and Valarie Kaur, lawyer, faith leader and filmmaker extraordinaire. It has been a great privilege to see so many faith leaders consider, some for the first time, the importance of an open Internet for their work as clergy and as social justice advocates.

Our work culminated this week in a social media Thunderclap campaign that reached over a million people. On a visit to the Congressional Black Caucus we delivered faith-leader testimonials and our Groundswell petition signed by more than 1,200 people, and we released Valarie’s beautiful video First We Pray, Then We Organize, which is featured on the Huffington Post. We have been joined on this journey by so many allies, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Rev. William Barber II to Rev. Otis Moss III.

The video, petitions, testimonials and campaigns all have one central message: Communities of faith and social justice advocates cannot perform their work in the 21st century without a free and open Internet. Without Net Neutrality, which the FCC adopted this year, faith leaders and institutions would have to pay for their websites and their content to have equal and fair treatment on the Internet. Without Net Neutrality, content from civil rights and social justice leaders would be trapped behind the “buffering wheel of death” while only content from a few wealthy providers would be easily and readily accessible. 

This morning, I was joined by my colleagues in the United Church of Christ, both local and national leaders, as well as the Media Action Grassroots Network and one of our Faithful Internet fellows. We visited with the policy director and the director of external affairs of the CBC, asking them to convey to the current chair of the CBC, Congressman Butterfield, that we’re concerned about Butterfield's position on Net Neutrality.

Late last year, President Obama proclaimed his continued support of full and robust Net Neutrality, and in February 2015, the FCC voted to adopt strong rules protecting us. Since then, opponents of Net Neutrality have been advocating for congressional legislation to weaken the FCC’s decision.

While the Democratic caucus has stood behind the Obama FCC, Congressman Butterfield has stated publicly that he supports an effort in this Congress to change the FCC’s decision. We have little hope that the current Congress could ever adopt protections as strong as the rules adopted by the current FCC, and we don’t want this Congress — which has not proven to be a friend of social justice issues — to replace strong protections with false ones. 

Of course, members of Congress are always going to be willing to have a dialogue with their colleagues; without those civil conversations our democracy would only become more partisan and more craven. But we hope none of our leaders will be fooled by efforts to undermine Net Neutrality that are disguised as compromise.

Although today Net Neutrality opponents filed their legal attacks on the rules, the FCC's decision was strong, legally sound, and done with fealty to the law that mandates that all people in the U.S. should receive fair and equal access to communications technology. Nothing less will do.

We hope Congressman Butterfield, as chair of the CBC, will follow the lead of caucus members and great heroes like Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Bobby Scott, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Chaka Fattah and Sen. Cory Booker, who have led the way and supported strong Net Neutrality protections. The great civil rights victories of the future depend on it.

Video briefings, webinars, resources and opportunities to take action are all available at faithfulinternet.org.

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Faith Groups Praise FCC Net Neutrality Ruling

We, as organizations representing many diverse religious traditions, express our gratitude to the Federal Communications Commission for the strong net neutrality protections adopted in February and released last week.  These protections will assure Internet openness and are essential for the faith community to function and connect with our members, to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology, and to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded media environment.

An open internet impacts all of us, not just the technology sector or sophisticated elites. All of us rely on the Internet every day. We are relieved that our communities will not be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the Internet: non-profit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay those tolls. Even more important, low-income people cannot afford the higher prices which would be passed on to them from commercial content providers paying for priority access. The Internet is an indispensable medium for people of faith – and others with principled values – to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings. As Chairman Wheeler explained before the vote, Net Neutrality is a guarantee of First Amendment protections on the Internet. We strongly support the FCC’s decision as responsive to our previous letter to the FCC, and oppose efforts to derail those protections either legislatively or in court.

  • National Council of Churches USA
  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society
  • United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

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