Volunteer Victories: The Team Internet Texting Squad
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — who’s more interested in advocating for deep-pocketed corporations than serving the public interest — was reconfirmed on Monday in a 52–41 Senate vote.
Team Internet — a grassroots network of Net Neutrality activists — pulled out all the stops to try to stop Pai from being reconfirmed. Over the weekend, Team Internet texters recruited over 500 people to call their lawmakers and urge them to #FirePai. Over the course of the campaign, nearly 4,000 people called their members of Congress and close to 60,000 people signed a petition.
Unlike the previous six FCC chairmen, who were reconfirmed unanimously, Pai drew nearly as few votes as Trump appointees Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. This is just one of the many volunteer victories the Team Internet texters helped achieve.
Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press Action Fund launched Team Internet over the summer to push lawmakers to stand up for real Net Neutrality and oppose Pai’s plan to destroy the open internet. The work of Team Internet — a burgeoning grassroots movement comprised of nearly half a million Net Neutrality activists — is supported by thousands of committed volunteers who work alongside staffers from the three advocacy groups.
In the close to three months since the July 12 Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality — in which millions of people and 125,000 websites and organizations participated in an online protest to stop Chairman Pai from gutting the agency’s Net Neutrality protections — Team Internet has used people power to fight for a free and open internet.
The texting squad
“Thanks for all you do! #StrongerTogether” is the salutation IIiana Gomez and Free Press Action Fund Organizer Brandon Forester used to close the first team update sent to the 500 volunteers on the texting squad, one of a handful of volunteer squads that work in concert to support the goals of Team Internet. The texting squad includes two groups of volunteers: texters and text moderators.
The texting squad’s powerful grassroots organizing happens via Relay. This peer-to-peer (P2P) texting tool is used to mobilize Net Neutrality supporters across the nation. Texting in Relay allows volunteers to have real-time conversations with supporters. P2P texting played a central role in efforts to mobilize Bernie Sanders supporters during the 2016 election.
Now, Team Internet texters are using Relay to move Net Neutrality proponents from interest and concern to action.
Reaching out with Relay
Since Team Internet’s launch, the texting squad has initiated nearly 700,000 conversations with activists. This awesome mobilization prompted 500 people to RSVP for a nationwide call about Net Neutrality and Racial Justice in September. The event, which was streamed live on Facebook, focused on Team Internet’s efforts to center racial justice in the Net Neutrality fight.
The texting squad also inspired 200 people to check out the Sept. 27 Net Neutrality Day of Advocacy on Capitol Hill, which was organized by our ally Public Knowledge.
Dave Slomer, a retired calculus teacher, is one of the Team Internet texters. Slomer was inspired to take action following the 2016 presidential election. Frustration with the current political climate also led Melissa Garber, IIiana Gomez and Kenya Johnson to join the texting team.
These committed Team Internet texters highlighted how empowered they feel as a result of their activism. Gomez, a college sophomore, said that volunteering for Team Internet has improved her self-esteem. All of these volunteers said that participating in the texting squad has given them a sense of relief — even hope — in a disorienting and disturbing political moment.
The Slack community
The texting-team members use the Slack app — an online messaging tool — to communicate with each other and ground their work as volunteers. Through Slack they’re able to create the space needed for volunteer-to-volunteer organizing.
Gomez commented on the way fellow volunteer Kevin Blythe connected people across various Slack channels when she joined the texting team, noting, “I felt really comfortable because Kevin was so present.”
Johnson also appreciates the genuine relationships she has with fellow texters over Slack. Her favorite thing about the texting team is “being part of a community that works so well together.”
One reason texting-team members care so much about Net Neutrality is because, as Johnson noted, “the free internet lets us do what we need to do.” They’re all aware of the way a free and open internet supports their organizing and advocacy efforts.
One of Slomer’s favorite things about being on the texting squad is receiving a “Yes, I will take action” response from a new activist. Each “yes” response helps further the fight to keep Net Neutrality intact.
Many of the volunteers on the texting squad are new to activism. The threat to Net Neutrality in a political climate characterized by racist rhetoric drove these individuals to take action.
As volunteers on the texting squad, they fight for Net Neutrality in a supportive environment that rejects racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and other forms of hate.
Both Gomez and Johnson emphasized how much they appreciate being part of an inclusive community. The two women are activist leaders with a keen understanding of why prioritizing race is essential to the Net Neutrality fight.
Johnson cares deeply about the way privatization, corporate greed, and unchecked government and corporate power are slowly strangling valuable public resources. The steep cost of computers and home internet access are financial barriers disadvantaged groups face that concern Johnson. She worries about the digital divide and knows the elimination of Net Neutrality would add to the struggles people of color and other vulnerable groups face.
Gomez is committed to fighting for disenfranchised people. Her activism — first through refusefascism.org and now via Team Internet — allows her to fight the racism that permeates American culture.
Text moderating and mentorship
Gomez and Johnson are veteran texting moderators. As moderators, they’re responsible for making texting assignments, providing campaign updates and supporting texters during their shifts. Johnson emphasized the importance of recognizing all the texters participating in any given shift.
Gomez also appreciates this open and collaborative environment. Indeed, helping other volunteers is one of the things Gomez likes most about being a moderator.
Moderating comes with new responsibilities that can generate anxiety. Still, all of the texters emphasized how they value being part of a community that has your back.
For example, when Luke Strong wanted to learn how to be a text moderator, Organizer Brandon Forester dropped a note in the Slack channel the texting team uses. Moderator Colin Chao responded within minutes and invited Strong to co-moderate with him.
In fact, all the volunteers who serve as moderators are committed to mentoring others. Guidance is shared in a climate free of judgment, and asking questions is encouraged. The relationship between mentor and mentee is fluid, and the diverse skills each volunteer brings to their work are lifted up.
As Free Press Action Fund organizers, we’re privileged to be part of the Team Internet community alongside our partners at Demand Progress and Fight for the Future. We hope you’ll join the fight for Net Neutrality by going to battleforthenet.com/jointeaminternet/ to take action now.