After SOPA/PIPA: Where the Left/Right Online Alliance Goes Next
March 15, 2012
MICAH SIFRY: Hi everybody, this is Micah Sifry from Personal Democracy Media and welcome back to another installment of Personal Democracy Plus conferences calls, the regular bi-weekly calls we hold with movers, shakers, thinkers, innovators and doers at the collision point between technology and politics, government and civic life.
Today we’re going to dive in with two leaders of the movement that successfully stopped the Stop Online Privacy Act and Protect IP Act, SOPA and PIPA last January, Patrick Ruffini coming from the right who started a group called Don’t Censor the Net; and David Segal who comes from Demand Progress, a group that works on a bunch of issues more on the left. But the two of them are here together today, both to talk about this unusual cross partisan alliance that we saw grow up in the months around the fight over the SOPA and PIPA bills and that appears to be continuing in a variety of interesting ways. And in fact, that will be certainly the substance of a good part of this call.
Where else might this strange bedfellows’ alliance converge and why, in fact, do we think this is happening?
So just to start out, Patrick, you first; tell us why you got involved in this issue. People may know you from other work you’ve done. You were involved in the Republican e:Campaign for the Presidential race in 2004, and then worked for the Republican National Committee. And you have a thriving online political practice called Engage DC. Why this issue and why this unusual alliance?
PATRICK RUFFINI: Thank you, Micah. Yes, this is something, at the risk of sounding self-promotional, I do go into a little bit and the e:book that we’re actually putting out on this. And just a caveat, this is a free download --
MICAH SIFRY: No, plug away, don’t worry about it.
PATRICK RUFFINI: But I kind of laid it out as sort of telling my story about how I got involved and why I wanted to get involved, and why I thought this issue was so important. Really, digital politics for me has been really my entire career, it’s something I got involved in very early in the late 1990s doing stuff and doing stuff more with a grassroots focus than maybe with a political operative focus that maybe that characterized me and my work later on.
So, I saw very early on, and like many other people who I think got hooked on the internet, you know, in the mid to late 90s, saw the disruptive potential of the medium and saw that it had the potential to change not only politics, but do any number of various (inaudible) in our society and we’re now starting to really, I think, see that come to fruition.
I mean, I had this kind of random idea for a book kind of making the argument that we’re about half-way through this kind of historic transition between sort of an analog economy to an all digital economy to the extent that it can be.
And so it’s disruptive to existing power structures; it’s disruptive to hierarchies; and back very early on, the government was able to successfully censor the internet with the Communications Decency Act, which effectively banned pornography which didn’t really succeed in that and it was eventually ruled unconstitutional. But very early on we saw this that government didn’t get it. And they didn’t get the internet and they were able to actually pass legislation doing that. The internet eventually successfully fought back, but it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Fast forward to late 2010 and it’s like déjà vu all over again when we saw it, it wasn’t called the SOPA affect then, it was called COICA [PH] and they had this weird acronym that talked about online counterfeits. And what that would have done was a create a blacklist of websites (inaudible) Department of Justice that essentially all the service providers, all the DNS providers, all the internet companies would have been responsible for checking and shutting down those websites, which I thought, “wait a second, this is from somebody who’s been involved in internet politics, seen kind of the democratizing potential of the internet. This just seems like why are we even discussing this?”
And from talking a little bit about the limited government center right’s perspective on this, this seemed like heavy-handed government regulation of the internet when I think we’ll talk more about this in terms of where this thing is going. But that seemed to me like the reason the internet works is because there’s no government that controls it, the users that are fundamentally making the decisions about the internet and about -- and they do that collectively and the engineers and that’s why it works. And I think there’s a broader -- from my perhaps ideological perspective -- there are broader lessons about that that can be applied to other areas of politics.
So, we got involved very early on, we met up with David very early on and really combined forces when very few other people -- this was before really a lot of the internet companies got involved, before the blackouts. And really kind of saw the interesting progression of the issue from people not really -- nobody in Washington believed that we could stop this. That at best we were going to be amending this.
And I always had a sense in the back of my mind that that just seems off, right? It just seems off that based on everything that David knows about political organizing, everything that I’ve learned about political organizing, it actually shouldn’t be that hard to stop if you can enlist the grassroots in a movement, in a bi-partisan movement to stop it. And I thought that these bills were way over-valued relative to their actual chance to passage given what they were going to do was censor the internet for the first time seriously in 15 years.
So, I think over time that message became clear, I think that the internet, the tech community getting involved en masse was absolutely the turning point in educating Americans way beyond Washington about what this bill would do. And it showed how we can all kind of work together on an issue instead of oftentimes we’re kind of working against each other on issues.
MICAH SIFRY: Well I’d like to come to that in a second. But David, tell us your side of the story. I mean you have a more direct political background. You were in Rhode Island as a state rep, democratic party state rep, and also were on the Providence City Counsel as a member of The Green Party.
First of all, why is Demand Progress? Why is Demand Progress so involved on this issue and also how do you feel about this unusual cross partisan coalition?
DAVID SEGAL: So, Demand Progress started in the fall of 2010. I had just run an unsuccessful campaign for Congress and the democratic primary in Rhode Island’s 1st District and it had a lot of support from netroots groups over the course of that campaign and somebody who I met who was one of the founders of one of those groups decided to shift over and start up something new with me.
And we -- well, I guess we have an elevator pitch now that we didn’t really have back then but we’re trying to fill a pretty clear void in netroots based organizing in support of civil liberties and civil rights and government reform issues. And the first thing that we did that really took off was put out a petition I think in October of 2010, in opposition to COICA [PH] which was the predecessor to SOPA and PIPA and it just took off for some combination of dumb luck.
And in case of branding, we called it the Internet Black List Bill and placement in a few key places, front page of The Huffington Post, that sort of thing. And it became what I think was really the first broad-based grassroots moment of opposition to this legislation. We had 300,000; 400,000 people sign on to it and within (inaudible) get into the room with people on Capitol Hill to start pushing back against this with Judiciary Committee staffers and the like.
And we’ve been happy to follow the natural course that that’s led us down. We’re working on civil liberties and non-civil rights issues, online and offline.
And as to the broader left / right issue, I agree with Patrick said and then would add another wrinkle to it. And in this case in particular is that this represented -- it was such a clear manifestation of corruption, of the crony capitalism that runs Washington today. And nobody supports crony capitalism unless you’re one of the beneficiaries of it. That’s true among people on the left and the right and you can call it “corporate welfare,” you can call it, “rent seeking” or different terminology for it, but this was such a stark example an ossified industry trying to use its political clout, overwrought political clout, to defend itself against the innovation, against something that was clearly to the benefit of people at large rather than having to innovate themselves and something that I think struck people on the left and right as equally wrong.
MICAH SIFRY: But you know, there are a lot of directions to go and I’m going to push on you guys a little bit because it really is worth clarifying. I mean, for argument’s sake, the auto industry is a declining industry that’s ossified, if you want to use a word, again that maybe shouldn’t have been given a big government bailout. I suspect on that issue that you and Patrick would disagree quite strongly.
So, what is it about this versus other kinds of topics that can so easily bring together people from the left and people from the right? I mean, is there -- do you guys really feel like you have a common identity here that you share more with each other than say with your colleagues respectively on the left or on the right? Is this a marriage of convenience?
DAVID SEGAL: I think there’s a synergy between people who -- sort of the
MICAH SIFRY: This is David, right?
DAVID SEGAL: Sorry, it’s David. I think there are people on -- people who have strong ideologies on the left and the right who overlap on the back end. The old left, right access is not the paradigm that defines politics anymore. I’m not -- you know, 100 percent of it ever really, really did.
But on issues like civil liberties, like government reform of a variety of sorts, most corporate welfare, militarism to some extent, prison industrial complex, criminal justice reform and drug reform issues, you do see this overlap between the self-identifying and the libertarian rights and progressive left.
MICAH SIFRY: Right, so Patrick, that’s what I was going to ask. Is this really from your side of the spectrum, the sort of people who joined in coming from right, are they more from the libertarian side of the right or would you say it cuts across?
PATRICK RUFFINI: It was something that cut across this issue and perhaps it doesn’t on every issue. I would say that this is something -- the reason why this resonated in some degree, I think it was just about the internet to some degree because I think that the internet is so ingrained in our lives now that people I think really identify with the freedom that they can enjoy there. And there’s no -- although there’s a lot of kind of scare mongering on Capitol Hill about safety and pornography and I think there’s a little more (inaudible) under the veneer of pornography, right? Topping pornography basically would do nothing of the sort.
I think that there’s a common ideology, and I wouldn’t even -- around the internet. And in a sense we’re creating a new ideology, maybe this sounds too idealistic, but that’s very specific to the internet, that believes in networks, that believes that government doesn’t necessarily have the answers. However, you know, big companies don’t necessarily have the answers either, so I think there’s a little bit of -- I would say that there’s probably -- you know, what people on the right like about the internet is that it’s free, it’s self-governing, it’s (inaudible) entrepreneurial that we could see start ups enter -- actually tackle big social problems. And people I think who are more entrepreneurial think in those terms that have approached these issues.
And I think folks on the left are kind of like, I don’t want to characterize it myself, also see the potential and the opportunity for collaboration for different decision-making structures for perhaps some sort of anti-big-corporate power element to it where both sides can kind of interlock as it relates to this. And hopefully it’s not something like we’re in the early days and it will eventually fracture. But it seems like for now that there’s a consensus around those ideas.
MICAH SIFRY: David, do you agree with that? Is that a fair description from your point of view?
DAVID SEGAL: Yes, I think I do, through and through. And then in terms of translating those concerns into activism and there’s no forum that’s better for that than the internet, too. So, even if people were just as impassioned about another issue, it probably would have been more difficult to transform that into actual constituent contacts, pressure on Congress. But you had in this instance, the platforms that were under threat be the platforms by which people learned about the threat and those platforms also happen to be the vessel in human history most readily able to facilitate communication between humans in general, but between constituents and Congress members, too.
So, it’s kind of a ‘perfect storm’ and I think that played an important role in it.
MICAH SIFRY: Yeah, no question of that. And the truth is is that certainly if anybody listening, if you’ve been coming to PDF conferences over the years, I mean we’ve long noticed that there is more than just a desire to -- from partisan activists on the left and on the right to sort of hang out for two days and talk shop, and put policy disagreements aside about the PDF community.
There does seem to be some sort of emerging common ground on a few points like the ones that Patrick was describing, the notion that the internet -- the generative internet can be a platform for all kinds of innovation whether it’s business innovation or civic innovation.
And I think we’ve been arguing that maybe there’s a way to get past this sort of stale debate of big government versus smaller government and just say we want smarter government. And smarter government could be networks of people solving problems together with just a little bit of help from government as opposed to bureaucrats tasked with doing the job that maybe neighbors can do better.
So, those are -- it seems to me there is a potential frame here. Can we go just a little further into what is it -- how do you actually work as a coalition around something like this? What’s the infrastructure of this conversation? Is it just email lists where you share? Or is there more direct coordination going on? Or is it, as David Weinberger would put, ‘small pieces loosely joined?’ You just sort of function as a network and notice what each other are doing and act in supportive ways without really saying, ‘let’s all do something on the same day,’ necessarily?
I’m asking if it’s a division of labor, right? Like, Patrick, you work the conservatives in Congress and David you work the liberals in Congress.
DAVID SEGAL: So, I think one of the things we’re seeing is now after this movement has kind of erupted, we’re seeing everyone trying to figure out what’s next. And I think there’s a lot of different groups that are starting up around this agenda, particularly in the startup community. I mean I think there’s like two or three different groups.
And to me, I mean, it seems like -- just to go back how I think there’s a sort of a free market metaphor here that these groups will compete and then they’ll settle into different niches. But it’s good to not necessarily have very tight coordination on the front end to me at least because that will easily resolve with time, people will see who’s doing what better and they’ll adjust their efforts accordingly.
It also helps that maybe you don’t necessarily have these institutionalized lobby groups who need to construct a broad policy agenda to attract funding, to attract large amounts of funding to operate and have a physical presence in DC. That if you have smaller, more nimble activists, almost pop up activist organizations they can move a lot faster and can join on specific issues or opt out of other issues.
But I do think that -- just the fact that we’re seeing even this year, in the last year, that the fact that movement seemed to be crystallizing just a lot faster than they used to. And that even this (inaudible) internally in this coalition of the Kone 2012 video and not to beat a dead horse on that but it just seems like something can get going in 24 hours if need be.
And that was so much for the blackouts, at least when you’re talking about the mass scale. There’s a lot of prep work that went into the blackouts, but in terms of mass awareness that can easily be pinned up on the right issue.
MICAH SIFRY: Right, what about the role of companies in this whole thing? I mean, it isn’t as if this is just grassroots organizations like the ones that the two of you have been steering. But there has been and continues to be a well-financed, ongoing fight between industry groups here. It’s big Hollywood, the content cartel, if you will, on one side and a large chunk of the tech industry on the other. And the tech industry is obviously got its own very strong internal divisions and it’s fiercely competitive in other ways.
So, it wasn’t every tech company, it was particular ones, Tumbler taking a very early role and as a very new startup in some ways feeling less bound by some of the more corporate ways of doing things that some of the older tech companies have started -- have embraced with hiring lobbyists and all the rest.
But how does this grassroots coalition relate to those companies? Are they your allies here? Do you have a issue with taking money from them? To what degree is that critical to the success of this movement or it’s nice to have their help, but you’re not worried if they go the other way.
People are trying to figure this out. I mean, there’s really a debate here. I have to tell you I’m at Harvard at the moment and very interesting to see the response to some folks here after the bills were dropped. One of the first things some people wanted to talk about was whether Google was abusing its power by on that single day blacking out its logo and obviously driving millions of emails to members of Congress. That was the first question is Google abusing its power? Took some work to convince them that this was much broader, more grassroots.
But how do you guys relate to the industry side of this?
DAVID SEGAL: I think it will vary issue by issue. I mean in addition to this being the perfect storm of platforms by which people learn about things and by which people communicate about things being the thing that threatened, and this was also the one issue where you’re able to get the whole of the tech world to line up on the same side. You wouldn’t see the same thing on an initiative on privacy or even on net neutrality regulations. It’s really just internet freedom and the negative freedom the libertarian sense of freedom where I think you can get all these actors lined up.
And in practice over the course of this organizing, we worked in coalition with the groups that you named, especially with Tumbler, with Mozilla, we had conference calls regularly and a couple of massive meetings housed out of Tumbler’s offices in New York and Mozilla’s offices in the Bay where we tried to get the activists and the web platform proprietors and a few sympathetic members of Congress and academics, all on the same page and pushing forward with unified strategy.
I imagine that if this particular sort of threat rears its head again, we’ll be able to pull that coalition back together. But like I said if we’re dealing with an issue like a privacy bill, we’ll see a lot of it fall off.
PATRICK RUFFINI: I would say that a lot of this is -- you know, I agree that this is not necessarily like something you can use as a template, as a model, but the reason why I think that most people weren’t troubled by these companies getting involved in that way is because there was a sense that the users were in alignment with the companies.
And oftentimes, you know, even on issues that should be -- that we now think are a clear slam dunk, I mean just -- we shouldn’t forget the fact that all over DC, everyone was saying that this was a done deal. And the language that the companies used initially was very tame around these (inaudible). They didn’t come out and oppose them, they just simply want further -- we just want to be invited to the table. And we weren’t even at the table when these bills were introduced. And in terms of outright opposition to them, you didn’t see that til very late. I mean companies in general are just by their nature and as they should be, are going to be very risk-averse and are not necessarily going to be leading the charge from an activist standpoint.
But the reason why I would say it worked in this instance is the internet companies in general, as a general rule -- I mean, I don’t want to paint in too broad brushes, but I mean I think they need to -- part of their business relies on them being in alignment with users. And users can peel off very easily if they sense that the companies are taking advantages of them.
And that’s not the case of Hollywood. I mean, Hollywood has consistently been putting anti-piracy messages on DVDs, they’ve been running trailers in the movie theater and none of it’s sticking because I think that people do sense that Hollywood is not on their side.
I’m not saying the tech industry’s always on the user side, but there’s sort of a sense that they actually are being kept -- their feet are being held to the fire.
DAVID SEGAL: (Inaudible) the point you’re talking about, the willingness of Tumbler and some of these -- some of the newer startups to engage in this issue. I think that taking a bold stand on this comports really well with their desire -- with their particular desires for branding on top of all of the rest. They were facing an existential threat, but also they want to be seen as the organization that cares about the internet and has values aligned with its users in that respect.
MICAH SIFRY: For both of you guys, I mean you’re, let’s say from a newer generation, I don’t know exactly what age you both are, but I’m going to go with somewhere in your 30s? Is that right?
PATRICK RUFFINI: Yes.
MICAH SIFRY: Okay, the reason I’m asking is because when you think about certainly Hollywood is full of these movie stars who identify with liberal causes and there’s a whole slate of organizations on the left that regularly tap into support from Hollywood. And I bet may be set out this fight because of all those cross cutting relationships, right?
And you know, I’m wondering if -- and Patrick, I would guess that there’s something -- they’re similarly we often see campaigns coming from some of the more organized groups on the right that would very rarely touch and alliance with liberals.
And so I’m wondering if part of this is also a generational thing that if you had to do a demographic study of who the people were that emailed on this for the most part these are people probably under the age of 40 and even more under the age of 30, they’re fresh to a lot of these issues and not necessarily as tied into a established left / right way of seeing the world.
Do you agree with that?
PATRICK RUFFINI: I think that a lot of merit to that. I mean I think that in terms of the levels of (inaudible) different to do -- it’s definitely a different sort of activist than we would see working on a republican campaign, and probably a democratic campaign, too. I mean I think that there are definitely a lot of people involved who wouldn’t have otherwise been involved and --
MICAH SIFRY: Can you describe -- I mean, I’m curious, you know, obviously a lot of this is virtual, but you know, give us a picture of who are the grassroots activists that sort of came out of the woodwork that you got to know. Not by name, necessarily but by type. I mean, what were you seeing?
DAVID SEGAL: It was everywhere. And I remember one of the first striking moments was when Damon Former wrote a piece about the legislation sometime this summer -- or about one of the bills -- it was the Senate bill that eventually got pulled into SOPA. It was going to make is a felony to stream certain unlicensed content online punishable by up to five years in prison. And Damon Former thought this posed a real threat to gamers who put up playlists on line to review games to show people how to beat a level, that sort of thing.
And we saw dozens, maybe even more than dozens of videos spring up on YouTube over the course of a couple of days and just noticed that all of these people were streaming for our site, signing letters to Congress. And assumed at first it was just -- we added you know, some single, gigantic link from somewhere randomly, but it was this much more crowd-sourced phenomenon where gamers were just talking to each other about how this was going to make it impossible for them to do the thing that they loved. And something I’m sure that they had never, ever before considered a political act in any respect.
And I think you saw that repeat again and again and again with these different sub-constituencies on the left and on the right, people --
MICAH SIFRY: But nobody thinks of gamers as being on the left or on the right. It’s like, you know, getting Mommy bloggers to pay attention to an issue.
So, I mean this is really interesting is mapping the sort of hidden communities online that identify with the internet and care about the freedom that it gives them. What else did you see? Patrick?
PATRICK RUFFINI: I would say, I mean that’s the -- you know, particularly I mean, there’s a lot of -- you know, when we saw the -- as much as anything, the politicians on our side -- I mean it was interesting because obviously there were like support initially and we were talking about (inaudible) 40 senators on one side and one senator on the other side at one point in time. And a few peeled off, Rand (inaudible) and Jerry Moran.
But the interesting thing was that I think that this also taught -- and this -- to kind of stick to a tie point -- this also taught the politicians how to listen to the internet a little bit better. I still don’t think we’re there yet, but the thing we would consistently hear and with particularly on the blackout day when republicans were peeling off the bill right and left, largely I think because they were unencumbered by these sort of countervailing influences of Hollywood and unions that supported SOPA and PIPA.
But one of the things we saw was like very interesting things happening on their Facebook pages, where this was an issue that generated more likes, more comments than even issues like healthcare, even issues like Obama-care, the Facebook pages of conservative members of Congress. And oftentimes, they -- I mean they were rushing to their Facebook page first to announce their new (inaudible) opposition to SOPA and PIPA.
So, I think it definitely -- even the folks who would directly contact a member of Congress. I mean I know my mother contacted a member of Congress and not that she’s not political and blocked out her Twitter profile, almost never used Twitter, but I just feel like there’s something about this that did cut through into a different slice of the pie.
MICAH SIFRY: Going to take a pause here as we talk to Patrick Ruffini and Dave Segal and just say if anybody listening would like to ask a question or make a comment, what you need to do is hit *6 on your phone and I’ll pull you in. Mostly just glancing down through the Twitter stream to see if there’s anything there that anyone has raised, but just hit *6, we’ll give you a second to appear in the queue. If not, I’ll just keep us going.
Let’s look forward a little bit guys, so first and foremost; is there anything right now that the anti-SOPA/PIPA coalition is worried about working on -- like what’s right in the foreground for you?
DAVID SEGAL: As the coalition as a whole, I think we’re looking for future threats to internet freedoms. We’re very concerned about the DNS blocking -- I’m sorry, about the domain seizure provisions that Homeland Security and Immigration has been exercising over in recent months with very little oversight. Some groups, the ones with international basis in particular, are going off to work on (inaudible) number of privacy bills that Demand Progress and Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU are working on.
And then we’re all trying to figure out, for those of us who are allowed to (inaudible) non profits or are trying to figure out how to pivot quickly towards the elections and support candidates, we’re going to be working on these issues, especially while it’s all remaining fresh in people’s minds and while we have the (inaudible) of people who are terrible on this issue whom we can try and hold accountable.
MICAH SIFRY: Patrick, you want to add to this?
PATRICK RUFFINI: No, I think that’s probably right. I do think that -- I think there’s been some low-level noise around cyber-security for instance, and some of the bills in the Senate right now. I think people on the more business side of the equation are looking at issues like crowd funding as more of a positive agenda.
And I know like this was a big issue and we were all (inaudible) south by southwest, and not only discussing, ‘here are the things we want to kill, here are things we want to build.’ And what’s the positive legislation that can come out of this? What are the positive proposals? And perhaps a little bit more nuance than kind of banging your fist on the table like we had to do with SOPA and PIPA, and may have to do again moving forward.
But how do we do something a little bit more constructive? I know that one of the things that was really interesting to me, Public Knowledge a conservative group in my book, but I thought that something really helpful in terms of putting out their agenda for copyright. How do we actually change the playing field and change the frame of reference on these issues that precipitate SOPA and PIPA to reverse -- perhaps we need to re-think or in some measure reverse some of the advances in copyright that made it justifiable for members of Congress to think this was a logical next step.
MICAH SIFRY: No question, the re-thinking or re-trenching, pulling back on some of the excesses on what’s been done on copyright is a piece of this.
I’m glad you mentioned the crowd funding topic. Saralee Sterling just had a piece on Tech President yesterday looking at the base for this idea, and at the moment the lead legislation is coming from the right from Senator Scott Brown here in Massachusetts, the Democratizing Access to Capital Act.
David, is that something that Demand Progress is looking at or is that beyond your scope?
DAVID SEGAL: I think we just have bandwidth issues right now, especially as we continued to work on issues that involve sort of more traditional public square civil liberties, like the (inaudible) detention provisions of the Defense Authorization Act and it’s something that we support, but I think that there are other groups that have emerged over the course of this organizing, particularly the ones that are trying to provide a place to startups and entrepreneurs and VCs that are probably going to take the lead on that.
MICAH SIFRY: Is that because -- so, is it just bandwidth or is it also because the sort of progressive base on this just doesn’t get as excited about enabling small investors to come together around startups. I mean I’ve noticed that some people on the sort of liberal champions in the Senate like Richard Durban and the whole consumer -- all the consumer groups -- and I should in full disclosure here say that I’m a Board Member of Consumer Reports -- you know, I think have come out questioning some provisions of this legislation because they’re afraid that people -- it’ll make it easier to create Ponzi schemes and rip people off.
So, this may be one of those issues where -- is it that -- I mean, we’re trying to define that this murky new ideology that Patrick was talking about, you know, sort of beyond left and right. Crowd funding does seem to be like one of the ones where --
DAVID SEGAL: Yeah, I absolutely think that it is. I definitely think that it is, it’s just -- for us it’s just an issue of being able to do only so much and knowing that there are other interests out there that are working hard on it. If we see a critical moment, we might try to jump in but it’s not an issue or we feel like we have the capacity to take the lead.
MICAH SIFRY: Right. And in fairness to you, I shouldn’t expect either of you guys as individuals or even with the organizations you’ve begun, they’re both pretty small relatively speaking, small, nimble, pop-up organizations as Patrick, you described it, so it isn’t as if you can put your arms around everything. Philosophically I think it’s interesting to hear you say it’s something that would resonate for you.
And I guess the bigger question is, will other groups, liberal or conservative, decide that something like opening up more opportunities for crowd funding at larger scale, that that’s a good idea, whether or not it’s a left idea or a right idea.
Are there other kinds of issues like that, Patrick, that you see maybe a little further ahead on the horizon where you just say to yourself, this is another one of those places where the left / right polarization falls away?
I mean, I’ve seen it a little bit on, to some degree, on this idea that why can’t we have a better dialogue in politics? Two years ago when President Obama spoke at a House Republican luncheon, I think it was, and it was unusual because he took questions directly from member of Congress in the audience, the whole thing was live, the whole thing was real time, on the air, on the web, and the dialogue that resulted was really unusual.
And so a friend of mine, David Korn who’s on the left, obviously he’s the Washington netter of Mother Jones, said something about, you know, we need more of this. We ought to have this type of question time every week. And then some friends of his on the right -- well I don’t know how far on the right you put Mark McKinnon at this point -- but I think Liz Mayer jumped in, who is a former RNC official, said, ‘yeah, we think this is a good idea, too. We built something called Demand Question Time, we threw it up on the web, and in two or three days we had 20,000 signatures.
And at first we thought, wow, people want more dialogue, they want more cross partisan, find a way to work together. But then we actually went together and surveyed the people who signed the petition and it turned out that most of them were on the liberal side and not so much on the conservative side.
So, I’m wondering what other sorts of process issues where the SOPA / PIPA coalition might go or is it still just going to pretty much just stay on internet issues?
Patrick? What are your thoughts?
PATRICK RUFFINI: Well I think that the coalition that David said earlier, resembled in many ways the coalition against the (sounds like: tarp), against the auto bailouts, against all funds of crony capitalism. And that was a big -- obviously if you recall, it was a big burning issue two or three years ago. And the government was doing these kinds of things left and right.
And so it no longer feels as relevant today because this probably may not need to do, to stage those kinds of interventions, but I think as the internet grows in scope where I suspect we’ll see more opportunities, but they’re not going to be readily apparent. And I don’t necessarily know this is the “kumbay yah” moment where the political system generally -- I think that it is perhaps the growth of something of an alternative to the political system, in the sense of not necessarily a third party, but a third way of thinking about issues and how change happens. And what sort of exists outside of the political arena.
And I think what this was a statement from people of diverse backgrounds are saying, ‘let’s let that space emerge and stay untouched,’ sort of outside external political influence. And I think that was something that probably generated a lot more passion than a process issue might that’s sort of a feel good issue. But this was sort of an existential issue to a lot of folks.
MICAH SIFRY: That’s very interesting, I like the way you put it. So, it’s really the -- before all of this gets absorbed and scrutinized and kind of co-opted into existing formations inside the Beltway, figuratively speaking, that maybe this is a new way of thinking first that’s taking shape. That’s a very nice way of putting it.
Tell us a bit about the book, Hacking Politics. It’s a bit of an unusual undertaking. This is an e:book, is it done? Is it available and what’s in it?
DAVID SEGAL: We’re trying to -- it’s coming out in a trickle --
MICAH SIFRY: The trickle book!
DAVID SEGAL: -- the trickle book, online for you to download. We’re trying to make clear to the world just how defuse and unusual the movement that helped kill this legislation was. So, part of it’s just about giving a voice to all of the groups and sub-groups and some individuals who were involved in the organizing; part of it’s about pushing back against the narrative that’s pervasive inside that you see that this was just Google. I think that everybody -- you know, outside the world every one of the 14, 15 million people emails Congress around this, know that this was more than just Google and Google’s lobbyists.
But in DC, that monolithic Tech vs. Hollywood narrative has more resonance than it deserves, and we’ve been able to push back against it to some degree at least and want to continue to do so.
MICAH SIFRY: So, the book will “trickle,” that means you’re going to -- if I download it today and then you add more material to it later, I have to go back and download it again? Or will you send me an email and tell me you’ve updated?
PATRICK RUFFINI: We’ve actually done it so you’ll have a personalized link so you can (inaudible) your own book. And that link will auto-update, but it’s (inaudible) published on Tumbler, certainly one of the platforms that was critical in this fight and publishing and folks from different angles, different viewpoints, different types of content on the blog. You’ll multi-media content, you’ll see videos, you’ll see graphics, and you’ll see both things that were written during the fight as well as sort of retrospectives about what it was like.
And in some ways, I mean I kind of (inaudible) this would have made a great movie (inaudible) other side if the other side of the site would care to make it. A couple of the more interesting fights I’ve been involved with.
MICAH SIFRY: I’ve seen a lot of independently made movies these days that are just as good as anything Hollywood can make.
So, what you’re saying really is that the book is really a Tumbler blog, but it’s also got -- you can read it on your e:reader at the same time, right?
DAVID SEGAL: Yes.
MICAH SIFRY: That’s interesting, that’s an interesting hybrid of the form. And is there a way for people if they want to contribute to the book, can they send you material?
PATRICK RUFFINI: Yes. Anybody can submit content on HackingPolitics.com, anyone can basically submit a post that they would contribute to a blog, we’ll take a look at it. And obviously I think it gives -- as we build out the content, it gives options for -- perhaps (inaudible) official, get a lot of content so maybe they won’t all go into the kind of default version, but there will be the option to include that and the versions you can personally generate for yourself and pick and choose different sections.
MICAH SIFRY: That’s very interesting. Are you eventually going to turn it into a traditional book or it’s always going to exist in cyber space?
PATRICK RUFFINI: Who knows?
MICAH SIFRY: I might want to know if there are royalties coming at some point, you might want to tell your contributors what the deal is.
PATRICK RUFFINI: Yeah, we haven’t had any claims to do that.
MICAH SIFRY: Yeah, well we have -- I should just mention while we’re on the subject of books that PDM just released its own first e:book called The Year Past, the Year Ahead, which you can get off of Amazon or check it out on our website, PersonalDemocracy.com.
Well guys, this has been really great. I appreciate it, I think it’ll be fun to check back with you from time to time and certainly we’ll talk to you and see you at Personal Democracy Forum this year in June. Really, really interesting and sort of birth of a movement moment here that we’re going to keep tracking.
Thank you again Patrick and David. We’ve been talking to Patrick Ruffini of Don’t Censor the Internet and David Segal of Demand Progress. Really appreciate you guys giving of your time.
This call will also be turned into a podcast and made available for listening to online.
Again, this is Micah Sifry from Personal Democracy Media, thanks for listening.
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