Until yesterday, I hadn’t planned on participating in the 24 Hours of Democracy project. I planned to support it, of course, but I didn’t feel that I really had anything to say that hadn’t already been said by many others. Other, more eloquent voices saying things I wish I had the cleverness or passion or forethought to say for myself.
But as I thought about it, I decided that that’s exactly why I should write an essay of my own. I may be just one in a chorus of voices, but nonetheless, it’s my voice. My words. My right.
The days and weeks leading up to this day have been interesting ones for me. It seems that every time I turn around, something leads me to think about my rights as an American, and as a human being…
A theater here in Seattle is on a mission to enlighten the world about America’s greatest liberal intellectual, Noam Chomsky, by showing movies about him for a full year. Much of Chomsky’s writing on mass media and democracy is relevant to the Communications Decency Act, especially in the larger context of the Telecommunications Reform Bill as a whole. While major sections of the bill deregulate mass media in truly dangerous ways, the CDA restricts free speech in an area dominated by individuals, the Internet. It’s what we should expect from the power elite, really.
But the Internet is different. It doesn’t exist by the same rules of economics and power as the media giants. Unlike the airwaves, which have long since been sold off to the highest bidder, I feel I have a real stake in the Internet. It’s mine. At least this little corner of it is. I don’t need a special license to publish here. Cool.
I’ve been reading a wonderful book by Terry Pindell titled Last Train to Toronto. Mr. Pindell spent the latter half of 1989 riding the rails in Canada. Seeing the sights, enjoying the ride, but most of all meeting the people of Canada. In the book, he talks about his journeys while telling the story of our neighbor to the North.
It’s remarkable how little most Americans know about Canada and Canadian history. For most schoolchildren in this country, Canadian history ends before it even really began. We tend to assume that Canadians are “just like us.” As Dave Foley of the Canadian comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall once said, “We’re just like Americas, but without the guns.” But they’re not just like Americans. And Canada is not just like the US.
The personal rights we cherish in the United States cannot always be taken for granted in Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police can “search without warrants, arrest on suspicion, wiretap without a court order, and open mail.” And free speech in Canada is a very different beast than in the United States. An individual’s right to free speech is carefully weighed against the impact of that speech.
But the internet is not in Canada. Nor is it in the United States. It exists beyond the archaic notions of nations. My personal community includes people from around the globe.
I’ve been working on putting my genealogy on the web. Genealogy may seen like a dreary and stolid pursuit, but it’s not. My family tree is alive with the voices of my ancestors. Their lives. Their world. What would my ancestors think of the freedoms I have here in America today? And what would they think of the government’s attempts to take away some of those freedoms? What will my children think? Or their children?
The most onerous provisions of the CDA were ostensibly enacted to “protect the children.” But what exactly are we protecting them from? A few “dirty” words? Some text and graphics that actually admit that human beings have sex (and enjoy it)? The stuff that’s genuinely nasty is already illegal, whether on the internet or elsewhere. The children need protection, it’s true. From offensive legislation that seeks to remove their fundamental rights.
On this day in 1856, my great great grandfather was born somewhere in Germany. He may not have known it, but on the day he was born Americans were celebrating the birthday of one of their forefathers, George Washington. More than a century later, I too was born on February 22nd. I celebrate the beginning of my 30th year during these 24 Hours of Democracy.
I hope that a century from now, my descendants will be born into a world with all the rights and opportunities I have. I hope they have a medium like the Internet to freely exchange their thoughts, beliefs, and dreams. And I hope they look back on today with pride that their ancestor fought with words and technology to maintain those freedoms.
Bradley D. Mohr
Seattle, Washington, USA
February 22, 1996