By Chance Williams of Free Press
Last Friday marked the launch of Black Voices for Internet Freedom, a new coalition of local, regional and national organizations, leaders and their allies joining together to keep the Internet open and free from discrimination. The coalition is following in the footsteps of Latinos for Internet Freedom, which launched last year.
Black Voices for Internet Freedom is pushing for media policies, such as Net Neutrality, that support the Black community’s access to an affordable and open Internet. The coalition is also focusing attention on the digital divide, which has left millions of people — especially communities of color — without high-speed Internet access in an age where you have to be online to thrive.
As Rev. James Patterson of the Partnership of African American Churches — one of the members of Black Voices for Internet Freedom — put it, Internet freedom is really about the “freedom to be included.” This means that our discussions about Internet freedom naturally include discussions about broadband affordability and access and the open Internet.
The Internet has served as a tool of empowerment for the Black community at a time when other media platforms haven’t been accessible. People of color still own a scant numberof radio and television stations, and networks feature an embarrassingly low number of programs by and for the Black community. The open Internet creates a level playing field where our community can create and disseminate information at a small cost.
We also know that many Black people embrace wireless technology as an on-ramp to the Internet — and sometimes their only point of access — making it essential to extend open Internet protections to the wireless space. The FCC’s Net Neutrality rules, which go into effect on Nov. 20,do nothing to protect users of the mobile Internet. It is unacceptable to ask our community to make do with a separate and unequal Internet experience when we know how essential Internet access is for economic empowerment and democratic participation.
The Black community has fought for equal access and representation whenever a new media technology — from newspapers to radio to television — has emerged. Internet freedom is an extension of this legacy. As Joe Torres, Free Press senior adviser for government and external affairs and author of the new book News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, put it:
"Whenever this happens, our government is faced with a critical decision: Does it regulate the new emerging industry to allow for the greatest number of voices to participate, or does it turn over control to the hands of a few. Historically the government has chosen to centralize control of the media in the hands of a few, which has historically harmed communities of color. It cements a white racial narrative since we have so little control over how we are depicted in the media."
The Internet as it exists right now is a space where our community can share our stories, organize, speak for ourselves and portray ourselves without having to overcome high barriers to entry. Black Voices for Internet Freedom is an extension of the desire to be part of the conversation, not a topic of conversation.
Members of the coalition include Art is Change, the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Free Press, the Highlander Center, the Main Street Project, the Media Literacy Project, the Media Mobilizing Project, the Partnership of African American Churches, the Praxis Project and the Young People’s Project.
Black Voices for Internet Freedom is excited to bring new voices to national policy debates, and we are poised for tremendous growth. We look forward to seeing a new generation of civil rights and social justice leaders emerge.
Watch the entire panel discussion from last Friday’s launch: