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Yesterday was absolutely one of those days that reminds me why I stay in public advocacy. I’m a democracy junkie. Yes, I admit it. The sight of literally millions of people remembering that they are citizens and not just consumers gets me juiced.
The good news is that by every possible metric, SOPAStrike was an enormous success. We absolutely shocked the poop out of members of Congress and broke through the infamous “Washington bubble” that separates our elected officials from what is actually going on in the real world. As a result, we forced more than 20 Senators to come out publicly against PIPA/SOPA, including a number of co-sponsors withdrawing support. Fantastic!
Now the less good news. Some of these conversions are people who hadn’t really thought much about this and are now going “I co-sponsored what? You told me this was a non-controversial bill to stop online piracy and the only opposition was Google! You totally lied to me!” But a lot of them are Senators and Representatives who would still loooove to find a way to make Hollywood happy while not getting tarred and feathered by constituents back home. The chatter on Twitter among the political set is that Pat Leahy (D-VT), the chief architect of PIPA, has retired to a backroom with Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to prepare a “manager's amendment” that will purport to “address all the issues” (primarily the DNS blocking). The idea is to provide a fig leaf for members so that all the Senators and Representatives who caveated their opposition to PIPA/SOPA with the words “as written,” which most of them did (you can see the later ones borrowed the ritual weasel words from the earlier drops -- as the day progresses it gets almost like a formula). This way, Senators can say “Don’t worry constituents, I totally had your back and stood up to Hollywood even though I voted for the bill. But we all know that piracy is bad, we must do something, blah blah strikes a balance blah blah jobs 9/11 gottarunIgottanotherfundraiser.”
Needless to say, the idea that you fix a lobbyist-drafted bill that is this utterly and comprehensively wrong by going into a backroom with the same lobbyists and trying to push a vote through before people can see it and debate it would be crazy anywhere but D.C. But these are the same people who just proved how utterly out of touch they were by not realizing that real people would be upset about censoring the Internet when their buddies from Hollywood assured them everything would be totally cool. If you buy the MPAA line that this is totally made up by Google and that this is just people whipped up by lies, ratehr than people who actually care about this, then you believe you can sooth 'em down with the same old sweet syrup you use to sooth 'em down over indefinite detention.
Finally, given that Hollywood is already making lots of unsubtle threats to the Obama Campaign that if Obama does not change his tune on PIPA/SOPA and play ball, they will cut off the money spigot, these Senators have lots of incentive to believe they can fool the public rather than stand up for their constituents and their principles. Heck, I have no doubt that there are fundraisers pleading with Obama right now to pretend that if something gets passed, it satisfies the White House objections. That the Obama Administration has (so far) refused to recant is a tribute to their commitment to real internet freedom. But it would be a Hell of a lot better for everyone if we can hold the line in the Senate rather than put that commitment to the test.
So we will need to continue pounding Senators with the clue-by-four of reason until either Reid finally calls off the cloture vote scheduled for January 24, or we win the cloture vote by keeping 41 Senators honest. Keep calling offices and going to town hall meetings and demanding that your Senator give a clear "No! We are not gonna rush this and I will vote no on cloture until we have had a chance to have some hearings and read the proposed language so we don't accidentally screw things up." Do not settle for "I have heard your concerns and I will work to address them" or other weasel-words. Finally, join us for the big call in when the Senate comes back on January 23 so you can remind your Senator "I care about this. Vote no on Cloture." Public Knowledge, has a nifty text-to-call feature you can sign up for so you can make absolutely sure you don’t forget to call your Senators on January 23.
In addition, you can find an excellent explanation of why dropping the DNS blocking is not enough to fix PIPA/SOPA from my colleague Sherwin Siy here, and why PIPA/SOPA needs a total reset from my colleague Michael Weinberg here. Alternatively, you can watch this clip from last night’s Daily Show where Jon Stewart, as usual, manages a more in depth analysis that the supposed real news.
Whatever happens, nothing can take away from the fact that yesterday was a great day for the internet and democracy. It nows lies for us to show Washington DC, and the world, that government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth.