Team Internet Activists Share Their Stories on Capitol Hill
Activists from across the country recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to tell their lawmakers that they oppose FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s effort to eliminate the Title II Net Neutrality rules that protect the free and open internet. Sean Frame, Spencer Graves and Lesley Perg are a few of the Team Internet activists who are challenging the corporate power of internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T.
Team Internet — a grassroots effort launched by Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press Action Fund following the July 12 Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality — would not exist without the work of inspiring activists like Frame, Graves and Perg.
The power of the pack
Frame and Perg are two of the more than 40 people who shared their stories with lawmakers during the Sept. 27 Net Neutrality Day of Advocacy organized by Public Knowledge.
This event was an opportunity for everyday people — as opposed to corporate lobbyists — to give the fight to save Net Neutrality a human face. To win this fight we must tell our lawmakers our unique stories — stories about how we use the internet to access valuable news, health and educational resources; innovate in the realms of art, technology and business; and engage socially, politically and culturally — and urge our representatives to protect this valuable public resource.
The activists started the day at the Georgetown University Law School. During a two-hour training, Kate Forscey and Chris Lewis of Public Knowledge, Sandra Fulton of Free Press Action Fund, Carmen Scurato of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and others gave participants guidance on how to effectively communicate with members of Congress. Then staffers from participating organizations led the activists to meetings with lawmakers and their staff.
Perg — a Minnesotan with a doctorate in climate science — believes Net Neutrality is “imperative for a functioning democracy.” Her work with Adult Basic Education students dovetails with her commitment to Net Neutrality.
The Khan Academy, an online educational resource that Perg uses to teach immigrants and people of color, is a specific example. This tool is particularly vulnerable, she says, due to its use of video streaming. It would be impossible, she noted, for a nonprofit like Khan to compete with a company like Comcast on an internet “with prioritized video streaming.”
The personal letter Perg delivered in her three meetings with Minnesota lawmakers — Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D) and Al Franken (D), and Rep. Jason Lewis (R) — emphasized the way the elimination of the Title II Net Neutrality rules would harm disenfranchised communities (Perg appears below outside Sen. Franken’s office).
Frame — an El Dorado, California resident who owns a film and video-production business — is a lifelong activist. In his teen years, punk music was his route to political engagement. This music subculture was a space that allowed him to move beyond his White middle-class suburban existence.
Like Perg, he understands the importance of centering race (and class) in the fight for Net Neutrality. As a governing board member for the Placerville Union School District, he worked to get a $3.2 million bond for device-and-infrastructure upgrades on the ballot. The ballot initiative, which was approved in November 2015, is one way Frame is helping to address the digital divide in his community.
Frame visited the offices of five lawmakers from California — Sens. Kamala Harris (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D) as well as Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D), Doris Matsui (D) and Tom McClintock (R). Frame noted that being a rural resident gives him a “unique take on the story. I think people living in D.C., for example, probably never think twice about high-speed internet.”
Spencer Graves’ day on Capitol Hill was a little bit different. Graves is a Team Internet activist from Kansas who traveled to the Capitol to attend the Online News Association conference and then extended his trip so he could meet with his lawmakers. Graves met with staff from the offices of Sens. Jerry Moran (R) and Patrick Roberts (R), and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R).
Mark Stanley, director of operations and communication at Demand Progress, is one of the Team Internet staff members who accompanied Graves to the meeting at Yoder’s office. “I’m here to support Spencer. He’s been a great member of Team Internet. He’s done some fantastic work,” Stanley said during a Facebook livestream following the meeting.
“It’s volunteers like Spencer,” Stanley added, “who are going to help us push enough lawmakers to support real Net Neutrality.”
Net Neutrality matters to Graves, an activist who serves on the board of directors for Kansas City Community Radio, because it allows anybody to “compete in the marketplace of ideas based solely on the quality of their presentation.” In addition to his lobbying in D.C., Graves is fighting for the free and open internet at home in Overland Park, Kansas. In late August, he attended an in-district meeting at Yoder’s office.
You don’t have to make the journey to Capitol Hill to register your concerns with lawmakers. Instead, you can stop by your lawmakers’ local offices. Go to battleforthenet.com/jointeaminternet/ to set up an in-district meeting, and check out our host guide for some useful tips. We’ll recruit activists to join you and will give you all the info you need to make your meeting a success.