I Promised My Grandfather
Friday, February 9, 1996 by Dave Winer.
I said: "I'm voting against Clinton in November."
Kyle D. Skrinak, email@example.com, said: "Perhaps I missed it, but may I suggest you declare who you intend to support. Outside of a libertarian candidate, I am unfamiliar with which presidential candidate would be against this censorship."
Fair enough. A lot of people asked that question. And Mr. Skrinak asked it with respect.
My answer: I don't know!
I can say I'm going to vote against Clinton without saying who I'm going to vote for. That's my right as a US citizen.
It's only February. The US presidential election is in November. There's lots of time. Between now and November the web will grow by an order of magnitude. Try to remember what it looked like in June 1995. It was a sleepy backwater then, even though it looked like a boom. We still have spring, summer and fall before we have to make a choice. Perhaps even Clinton can get my vote. But he's got a bunch of digging (and explaining!) to do.
People have also questioned my use of the term "crime against humanity" to describe the attempted censorship of the Internet. People say I'm off here, not in direction, but in scale. They ask how can you compare this act with the other acts that have been called crimes against humanity?
I have two answers. First, it's a felony to leave the scene of an accident, and it's a felony to blow up a Federal courthouse in Oklahoma City. Scale has nothing to do with it. If this isn't a crime against humanity, who is it a crime against? Do we hold our politicians accountable for their actions, especially if they're on a global scale? Are just US citizens offended by their attempt to shut down free speech on the Internet? No. The mail has been coming in from all over the planet. And rightly so. This act has global implications.
Second, I made a promise to my grandfather to oppose this kind of shit. I'm a first-generation US citizen. Both sides of my family left Europe, fleeing Hitler, for their lives! I listened to my parents and grandparents. I've read about this stuff. How did Hitler start? How many people said "It can't happen here!" And how sorry were they later, when they couldn't do anything about it but run for their lives.
Well, it's still early, we *can* do something about it. These ideas must meet our resistance. I think it's our obligation, if not to humanity, to evolution and peace.
Saying it's unconstitutional is like saying it can't happen here. You're trusting something that might not be trustworthy.
A year ago, when the Exon amendment was first discussed, did you think that Congress could pass such a bill? It can happen. Did you think that Clinton would sign it? It happened. Could the courts go along with it? Hmmm. Could people go to jail? What do *you* think?
The opposition is incredibly well financed and organized. According to the EFF they're distributing kits to federal prosecutors all over the country, teaching them how to prosecute under the new censorship law. They're going to make hay while the sun shines. Maybe the law is unconstitutional. Maybe the courts will say so. But for now, it's on the books, it's the law of the land. Can you go to jail for your opinions in the USA? According to the law -- yes. Some of us will go to jail. I think we know that now.
Hey -- I'm pissed when I get a jury duty notice. Imagine how it would feel to get arrested for speaking my mind, for writing DaveNet? How would it feel to get convicted and sent to jail? I don't want to find out! I like my life. I want to be free. I don't want to be a prisoner!
I made a promise to my grandfather, but I also made a promise to myself. I thought we had cleansed this kind of crap from our society after Vietnam. We lost a whole generation on that one. Let's not lose another one.
Yes, it can happen here.
It can happen anywhere, anytime.
All it takes is your silence.
Yesterday was a day of great growth for me. It started at 4AM, writing my ode to Rick Smolan, entitled Holding Hands in Cyberspace. Then it turns out I was wildly and unrealistically optimistic. I look at Rick's website, there's Al Gore, talking about the fucking environment! I want to believe Rick is a good guy, but the evidence indicates otherwise. I leave him a voicemail, explaining that our thirteen year friendship is in jeopardy. No answer. I feel I've misled my readers. So I retract my support for his project. A few hours later a blue ribbon shows up on his site. Click on it. Nothing happens.
Is this good enough? No.
I think Rick truly has a good heart. He wants to do the right thing, deep inside. But he didn't do the right thing.
I can't support him. Can you have a friend who you can't support? No.
I said in an email that this is the first time in my life that I didn't sell out for friendship. That's where the growth came from.
In the early evening, I spoke with Howard Rheingold, firstname.lastname@example.org.
He encouraged me to work something out with Rick. His magic words were -- "eventually Rick will thank you for doing this." That gets inside of me, it resonates.
Howard is a great writer! I asked him to write something for DaveNet. I asked him to write about his day, yesterday -- his 24 Hours -- something for Rick and others to think about.
Here's what Howard said.
I got up this morning and headed for Planet Hollywood, a place I never would have stepped foot in otherwise, to do a panel with Paul Saffo and Esther Dyson. Illustra got this big to-do together weeks ago, as self-promotion leveraged on Rick Smolan's self-promotion.
I thought Rick was doing a pretty cool thing, bringing people's attention to some of the pleasant and beneficial things happening in cyberspace. God knows we need as much of that as possible to counter the hysteria whipped up by Ralph Reed and buddies. Illustra seems like a cool product. Empowers people to publish. And they paid me.
This morning turned out, through one of those weird accidents that history hands you, the day of the Web blackout. I blacked out my main page before I headed out this morning.
The Illustra thing, frankly, was one of the biggest wasted opportunities I've ever seen. They did a great job getting a couple hundred interesting people together and then put on a boring blah-blah for hours.
Then came the panel. I always take the opportunity to seize the subject and wrench it over to how the fuck are we going to look our children in the eyes ten years from now when they ask us what we were doing while a bunch of tiny-minded puritan fascists shat on liberties that Americans have died for. I think some people woke up. At least they said so. I hope I gave them something to talk about. I feel fine about the bux I took from Illustra to do the gig. And I felt fine about helping Illustra promote 24 Hours promote Illustra. Until I read my Davemail tonight.
Rick. Be a journalist. You are the last hope on an ugly day.
American journalists, with a few exceptions should hang their heads in shame. I'm one of the guys who gets the calls for the quotes and soundbites. For years. Ever since this Internet stuff started heating up. I've done ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, BBC, NHK. I've done German, French, Austrian, Italian, Australian TV. I've given the quotes to the reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, and a hundred podunk papers. And every goddamn sound bite about democracy hits the cutting room floor and is replaced by the same idiotic shtick about cyberporn or sexual predators in chat rooms. Over and over again. For years.
I have asked reporters whether they care about the kind of country their children grow up in. I literally got down on my knees and begged the last CBS crew that came out here. The reporters and field producers are sincere. There is some asshole sitting in LA or New York whose job it is to kill the stuff that isn't as shallow as a tin pan full of cold dogpiss, and substitute some off-the-rack sleaze.
There is a code of ethics for journalists, and right up there at the top is a reminder that the press in a free society has an obligation to inform citizens about events that affect our freedom. Well, journalism is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of entertainment, and these journalists have loaded the shotgun, handed it to their enemies, dropped their trousers, bent over, and put the muzzles in their own asses. I believe most of the editors and producers who failed us so miserably have done it out of cluelessness more than malice or conspiracy or craven sucking-up-to-the-owners.
The most important piece of legislation in the past fifty years took a year to work its way through Congress and is now law. A multi-trillion dollar industry has been divvied up. Do any of us know who really won and who really lost? Does anybody know about any of it except the cyberporn stuff? It was a sideshow, a juicy piece of meat to distract the watchdogs of our minds, while the real action took place elsewhere.
I've been writing columns about this since 1994. So has Brock. Wired has been on the case. And very few others.
It isn't just the politicians who deserve our wrath, the craven cowards. It's the journalists and their bosses.
But history handed us this delicious opportunity. After a year of failure to get the attention of the New York Times and CNNs of the world, Rick Smolan, media lubricator extraordinaire, managed to get a lot of attention focused on something happening on the Net that *isn't* sinister.
And now Dave Winer tells us that Rick isn't going to acknowledge the Web blackout.
Rick, it's this simple. You are a journalist. You chose February 8 as your day to cover. To ignore the anti-CDA protest that is one of the biggest stories on the day you chose to cover months ago is to abrogate the right to ever call yourself a journalist again.
It isn't too late. I know this is a headache you didn't ask for. Sometimes history asks people to make a judgement call at a bad time. Sometimes people regret the decisions they failed to make. We have an opportunity here to use all the attention you have masterfully focused on this event to shed some light. You gotta do it.
Acknowledge the protest.
The following story has been floating around the net, attributed to Charles Phillip Whitedog. I don't have an email address for Mr. Whitedog. His signature reads "Charles Phillip Whitedog, Ojibway and Network Man; Multimission Ground Systems Office (Mission Control); Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA."
"About 1966 or so, a NASA team doing work for the Apollo moon mission took the astronauts near Tuba City where the terrain of the Navajo Reservation looks very much like the lunar surface. With all the trucks and large vehicles were two large figures that were dressed in full Lunar spacesuits.
"Nearby, a Navajo sheep herder and his son were watching the strange creatures walk about, occasionally being tended by personnel. The two Navajo people were noticed and approached by the NASA personnel. Since the man did not know English, his son asked for him what the strange creatures were and the NASA people told them that they are just men that are getting ready to go to the moon. The man became very excited and asked if he could send a message to the moon with the astronauts.
"The NASA personnel thought this was a great idea so they rustled up a tape recorder. After the man gave them his message they asked his son to translate. His son would not.
"Later, they tried a few more people on the reservation to translate and every person they asked would chuckle and then refuse to translate.
"Finally, with cash in hand, someone translated the message: 'Watch out for these guys, they come to take your land.'"
I did eventually talk with Rick, and at 10:30PM I drove to San Francisco to get my picture taken by him, and to chat with some of the people doing the "24 Hours in Cyberspace" project. Rick had been up for 36 hours. You could tell. Look in his eyes. He's barely standing up. I felt sorry for him!
We don't understand each other. Yes, there is a blue ribbon on the 24 Hours website. Cooool -- kind of. But it doesn't go anywhere, it's not a link. It's just a picture.
And in that I think we have the perfect metaphor for Rick's project.
Smolan could be an online journalist if he wants to be one. By an accident of history, he could have been a *great* online journalist. In a real sense, the first one. Welcome Rick! I said in Holding Hands in Cyberspace.
Imagine running CNN on the day of a big plane crash.
And not covering it. (That sounds like an Alanis Morissette song!)
You have the co-pilot of the plane on camera.
And he talks drivel about the global environment.
Rick was asleep during his 24 Hours.
But, as Howard says, there's still time.
For me, I've had to take a stand against a man I admire.
And I hate that!
PS: Steve Russell wrote the most eloquent rant I've seen on this stuff so far. Read it all the way thru. Be patient. Now you understand what's really going on.
PPS: Chuck Shotton, email@example.com, writes: Check out Pathfinder's Rate-O-Matic site and
it'll tell you which candidate most closely represents your views. I was really surprised at the matches I got when I went thru and answered the questions.