Within living memory there has not been such an expression of direct democracy as that allowed by the open and neutral Internet. It reminds one of an old New England town meeting in which everyone from the mayor to the town crank had a chance to vent, but now expanded to cosmic dimensions. The Internet’s dense meshwork of pathways, free of editorial censorship and the political and profit-oriented interests of corporate media owners, has made possible the involvement of vast segments of the human family previously kept in a state of silence and political impotence.
That this constitutes major interference to interests intent on controlling information distribution is self-evident. Therefore it’s natural that establishment interests in many political, media and corporate spheres would seek to gain authority over this universe of unsuppressed information and free expression. As Geraldine Ferraro so famously said, “We’ve got to get this Internet under control.”
Joe Lieberman’s loss of the Democratic Primary in Connecticut, largely a result of a grassroots “cybercampaign,” has cast a spotlight on corporate-owned media’s growing inability to control public perceptions and the flow of information. It’s a spotlight powerful enough that even the marginally attentive can now see it.
Establishment interests within the Beltway have long fretted over perceived threats posed by the Internet. For example, in a 1997 article by Cokie and Steven Roberts titled “Internet could become a threat to representative government,” the authors expressed concern not only about “kooky cults” and “cyber seduction” but also, and more to the point, about the fact that three quarters of polled citizens wanted national issues placed on ballots. “Computers could make that possible. And if we’re not careful, they might”, warned the Roberts. “The best thing the lawmakers can do to fix that is to call a halt to the money chase, to show constituents that they count. If that doesn’t happen, Congress could eventually find its very existence threatened, thanks to the Internet.”
Lawmakers, though, have fixed nothing, least of all the money chase, as Washington lobbyists now outnumber our “representatives” by a 63:1 ratio. Moreover, constituents most certainly are feeling less than ever as if they count.
Lieberman’s defeat, which fact immediately flew around the globe -- via the Internet -- has sent loud danger signals to Republican and right wing think tanks and minds regarding the growing power of “netroots.” Rightist strategists can now be expected to take the corporate war that already existed against a wide open and “neutral” Internet and ratchet that war up considerably. Such a renewed campaign might be multi-pronged with both overt and subtle aspects. Whatever the nature of the offensive, it should put Internet-oriented activists on alert. After all, if Karl Rove and his ilk have proven anything it is that they are masterful at what they do and also in their timing.
Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, now living in Madison, Wisconsin. He is editor of Learning to Listen to the Land and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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