How Net Neutrality Activists Won the Fight for the Internet

By John Zangas

16687077912_720a252095_zThe “Save the Internet” fight waged against telecoms for Net Neutrality was an epic David vs. Goliath battle. Grassroots Net activists with little funding and handmade signs were pitted against deep-pocket telecom Titans and legions of lobbyists skilled at smoothing Congressional corridors. Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) debated and voted for an open and free Internet on February 26.

Although the movement for Net Neutrality had been simmering for several years, the public had to become educated on a wonky subject and mobilized quickly and effectively. The goal was regulating the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Continue reading

Why we need more serial hecklers like Medea Benjamin


Watch Medea Benjamin interview with Cool Revolution.

Thanks to Medea Benjamin, we’re talking about how U.S. drones obliterated a 16-year-old from Colorado. By accident.

Benjamin repeatedly interrupted President Obama during his speech at the National Defense University. She wouldn’t back down, even when Obama said, “Why don’t you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do.”

Medea Benjamin, founder of the organization CODEPINK, has actually been to Pakistan and seen the results of drone bombing. Obama has not. She had several pointed questions for him, which she yelled from the back of the room even as she was being thrown out.

“Will you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims? That will make us safer.”

Right-wing opinion spewer Michelle Malkin called her a “serial heckler.” A conspiracy theory sprang up on social media that Benjamin was planted by Obama to help make him look good.

In my opinion, she derailed him. Obama spent most of the speech justifying the drone program as “legal” and making us safer. He failed to address how the U.N. has said that drone strikes in Pakistan violate its sovereignty. He failed to justify the deaths of three American citizens killed by drones and the maiming and killing of children by drone attacks. Or the terror thousands have suffered in the Mideast anticipating drone attacks on their homes and villages.

Toward the end of his address Benjamin started in and wouldn’t let up. Eventually, Obama was brought to a standstill. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he conceded.


— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 23, 2013

We get the usual sexism whenever CODEPINK comes to town. They, and Medea, are screeching loonies, freaks, bitches and worse. At least they’re not dressed up like vaginas this time (like they did at the Democratic National Convention). At first Obama called Benjamin a “young lady.”

Right-wingers found plenty to heckle in the heckler. And Obama-worshiping liberals squirmed in their seats and said, “Won’t she just shut up??”

The fact is, disruption and interruption get attention. Passivity doesn’t. Look at what passivity has gotten us for the last decade. Iraq, Afghanistan, financial collapse, unemployment, loss of civil liberties, cuts to education, lack of accountability. And on and on.

Political activity for most people means “being informed,” sadly equated with watching MSNBC. People sitting in front of the TV getting outraged and fearful serves the interests of the powerful. It keeps them paralyzed. To combat impotence and vent rage, you might rant on Facebook, troll on websites, and tweet clever, snarky haikus.

Medea Benjamin, February 2013

My favorite form of pseudo-activism is signing online petitions. From my brief days of fundraising, I know that fifty percent of the time online petitions are a way to scoop up info on potential donors.

You can get involved in “the democratic process” and knock on doors for a candidate. The bravest souls scrawl a slogan on a sign and actually get out on the streets. The hardcore get arrested.

A variety of tactics, from moderate to radical, is important in movements for social change. But the moderate may have little to no effect these days. We’re entering an age  – or maybe we’re long past it – when thousands of people carrying signs make no difference to those wielding power. Post-9/11, crowds are viewed as a threat to maintaining order. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to break out the teargas and tasers.

During Obama’s speech, Benjamin asked questions that the White House press corps can’t and won’t ask. Maybe the questions don’t occur to them. Even if they did, they don’t dare ask them for fear of losing “access.”

What mainstream media has been good for in the past is investigative journalism. Free press is supposed to be the watchdog of government corruption and wrongdoing. What they didn’t realize when they snickered at Wikileaks was that eventually the Obama administration was going to come down hard on them too. Investigative reporting through whistleblowers is all but impossible now.

So what have we got left? It’s getting cramped in here–less wiggle room to reform the corrupt system, agitate on the streets, expose wrongdoing and hold lawbreakers accountable.

We can go into the halls of power and say fuck dignity and make a ruckus, that’s what we can do.

Every person in power needs to know that prepared speeches and talking points aren’t going to cut it any more. Pushed to the breaking point by unemployment, low wages and illegal foreclosures, ordinary people are becoming radicalized.

Your next interview, Mr. President, ain’t gonna be softball questions thrown by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. It’s gonna be Medea Benjamin in your face every day.

VIDEO of exchange between Obama and Benjamin.

Cool Revolution interviews Medea Benjamin.

Cool Hero of the Day: Rosa Parks

Democracy Now interviews the author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday:

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement…. Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil-rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. “Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated as children’s book hero,” Theoharis says. “We diminish her legacy making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was.”

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory: “I don’t deal in dreams” [VIDEO]

John Zangas interviews comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace March in Washington, DC. Gregory says he prefers accomplishments to dreams. He also thinks that the FBI and CIA pose an even greater threat to social movements today than they did in the 1960s.

JZ: So you feel the dream is still alive?

DG: I don’t deal in dreams. Dreams are dead…. All those trifling things, they never say dreams. The electric chair, that ain’t no dream. It’s real. The only thing I didn’t agree with, he said we should overcome “someday.”

Cool Quote of the Day

ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly. For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater. […] when you start hating anybody, it destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love everybody. Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life. So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama on November 17, 1957

Cool Quote of the Day

The human world is continually speeding up while the non-human world of plants, insects, and animals, with its once vast range of ecological diversity, is rapidly declining, causing irreversible imbalances throughout the web of life. A spiritual practice exclusively concerned with my enlightenment, my transcendence, or my emancipation from this life, this body, or this earth is not a spiritual practice tuned in to these times of ecological, social, physical, and psychological imbalance. The declining health of our ecosystems and the call for action in our cities, economies, communities, and families remind us that we don’t have time to wait for enlightenment in isolated caves or inner sanctums; instead, it’s time to consider action in the world and inner practice as synchronistic and parallel. Action in the world is not an externally imposed duty or simply a preliminary stage on the path to greater awareness but is itself a valid spiritual path and an expression of interdependence, freedom, and awakening.

Michael Stone, Yoga for a World Out of Balance

Activist community seeks to keep its home at Peace House

It’s a race to raise half a million dollars in one month.

Otherwise, the resident activists of Peace House on 12th Street will be turned out on the streets.

Peace House now serves as a refuge, usually a temporary one, for activists on the streets. Particularly since the February raids on the Occupy DC camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, when 24-hour no-sleeping rules went into effect, Peace House has provided a couple nights of sleep and a shower for displaced Occupiers.

But Peace House will soon be sold, if not to the activists under its roof within the next month, then to a buyer on the open market.

Peace House stands out among the other houses on 12th St. with its turquoise brick facade, bright flags, and the word “Peace” arching over the entrance. When I visit, someone is stretched out with a laptop on the comfy purple velvet sofa in the living room, and a few gather in the small room off the kitchen with a couple of well-loved dogs. Lots of artwork hangs on the walls, and even more “protest art” is lying around, most of it from the BP protest marking the Gulf oil spill the previous week, including paper maché “Frankenfish.” Resident artist Ray is in the backyard working on a paper maché Uncle Sam.

While Denise Valdez cooks black bean soup in the kitchen, Mira Dabit shows me around and talks about the mission of Peace House–art, education and activism. Mira wants it to be “a real space for anybody who has a revolutionary idea, an idea to change society. We’re trying to do events relevant to everyone.”

Resident artist Ray

Even though time is short, she wants fundraising to tap more than just big-time donors. “We want to have a dollar from everybody–so everybody has a share in this house.”

Both Mira and Denise see Peace House as important in keeping Occupy alive in DC and stress that it’s a vital center for community. The moral support the house provides to full-time artists and activists seems clear. Mira says, “There are some days I wake up and don’t want to do this any more, but by noon I’m energized.” “Yeah,” adds Denise, who has a son in Austin, Texas. “Sometimes I just want to go home. But this is my home now, this is my family.”

If the community of activists can’t buy the house, they have no real contingency plan at the moment. They would probably be dispersed. They seem to take the attitude of founder Concepcion Picciotto, who says, “This is my life, what will be, will be.”

Concepcion carries on a 31-year vigil started by Bill Thomas in front of the White House against nuclear proliferation.

Concepcion Picciotto

Unable to leave the vigil tent unattended, she returns to Peace House only when a volunteer relieves her. “God has given me health and strength to do this,” she says.

She’s adamant that Ellen Thomas, wife of Bill, is not authorized to sell the house, which is titled to non-profit Proposition One. “[Bill] Thomas never signed anything, he bought the house for activists.”

But others don’t seem to be challenging Ellen Thomas’ authority to sell, and the goal is to raise a half million–or a good portion of it–by the end of May to purchase the house.

Peace House will hold an art show and auction on Sunday, April 29 from 12 to 6pm. Peace House is located at 1233 12th St., between M and N Streets.

To donate to Peace House, go here.

(Images by

Cool Quote of the Day

Action in the world is not an externally imposed duty or simply a preliminary stage on the path to greater awareness but is in itself a valid spiritual path and an expression of interdependence, freedom, and awakening.

Michael Stone, Yoga for a World Out of Balance

(Image by Rezaul.Haque)