OpenMedia, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship
From me, to you — it’s been a pleasure. Lots of gratitude for those who taught me and supported our work along the way.
It’s my last day! When I came to OpenMedia as a free expression campaigner over three years ago, it was staffed by a handful of scrappy organizers, who had an outsized impact in the Canadian digital policy space, and aspirations to empower citizens around the world to take a seat at the decision-making table, instead of being relegated to the outskirts.
Today, we’re still staffed by scrappy organizers, but our team has grown, and we’re firing on all cylinders in a number of jurisdictions to defend the Internet and the all the wonderful ways we use it. We’re fighting to preserve Net Neutrality in the U.S., we’re saving the hyperlink and pushing back against copyright censorship in the European Union, we’re helping to shape the trade negotiation process for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we’re pressuring the Canadian government to reform privacy and surveillance policies, and we’re defending our right to encrypt— to name only a few things.
I’ve worked on all of these campaigns and many more, most recently stepping into the role of Communications Manager. But when I came on board in June of 2014, I had no experience working on trade, copyright, net neutrality, or mass surveillance.
The reason I was able to grow my understanding and skill is directly related to OpenMedia’s vision of a more collaborative world. Core to our mode of operation are partnerships with highly-skilled experts and activists in the space. To many of those people, I owe a debt of gratitude for the countless hours that have been put into picking apart leaked documents, analyzing government policies, and foregrounding industry and corporate proposals that will impact the digital rights and fundamental freedoms of Internet users.
These many organizations, academics, artists, and experts have been a key link in the OpenMedia chain — starting with what most often is a policy proposal or law that is impenetrable to the average Internet user, moving to consult with partners who help to dissect and understand its broader implications and real-life impacts, and finally translating what we’ve learned into bite-sized pieces that can be digested by even the most technologically disinclined, to both understand and take meaningful action.
But we can’t take meaningful action and have impact without Internet users far and wide, which is why our community is the critical partner to expertise and deep policy knowledge; experts alone cannot make the change we need.
Digital policymaking has in the past — and arguably the present — been a space for the elite and privileged. Those who have the time, the innate skill, or the money to buy a team of lawyers, will take hold of the discussion. Because our work often seems complicated — and let’s be honest, boring — to the vast majority of people, important decisions that impact our fundamental rights, like freedom of expression and privacy, are made by a technocracy, or worse, distant politicians who know nothing about how the Internet works. This is not by accident. When powerful interests, including the full gamut of government officials, lobbyists, and corporate actors, can claim that people “don’t care”, they’re given a mandate to shape the debate in whatever way best suits their narrow interests.
This is critical to so many, because the Internet isn’t just a neat set of digital tools. It’s not only Facebook, it’s not only Twitter, it’s not only Google — gasp! More critically, the Internet isn’t important just for its own sake, it’s important as a space we can all use to come together and organize, to lift the voices of people in marginalized communities and provide a platform for action, a place to innovate and disrupt, a place to challenge power, to share and create culture, and to communicate. It’s an extension of our physical world.
It’s for these reasons why the mission of OpenMedia compelled me to join the organization, and it’s also why, although I may be leaving, I have no doubt that my future will include continuing to advocate for digital policies that recognize and prioritize our humanity as we explore and expand our digital horizons. This may be the end of my formal relationship with OpenMedia, but it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
In short, I believe we need three things to ensure our rights are protected in a digital age: experts and academics who help guide, explore and analyze; an engaged community that recognizes how digital policies shape their actions and impact their lives; and digital rights organizers to help bridge the gap between awareness and understanding.
So today, take an action online to safeguard your digital rights, retweet an academic who shared a policy analysis (even if it’s a link to a pdf), and hug a digital rights organizer. As we move more of our lives to the online sphere, as more of our devices become smart (or ‘smart’), and as we increasingly digitize history, communication and culture, we need to keep advocating for rules that put people at the centre of decision-making processes that will shape how we move and work in digital spaces.
Because, after all, the Internet is real life.