I don’t know how many of you followed last week’s January 18th Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – US Senate bill) saga on the Internet last week.  PIPA (Protect-IP Act) was the companion US House bill.  January 18th was, I believe, an historic date, in which an epic political battle occurred between grassroots activism and the horde of media industry lobbyists who had lobbied (and influenced), the US legislature – both Senate and Congress.  Grassroots activism WON!

Here is the chronology:

  • Big media had lobbied and got Congress to introduce the SOPA and PIPA bills back in May, 2011.
  • Back in May 2011, there was only one US Senator publically opposed to SOPA.
  • As of December 31, 2011, there were only 6 Senators who had gone on record opposing SOPA.
  • At 8 AM, January 18, 2012, there were still only six US Senators opposing SOPA.
  • By 5 PM, January 18, 2012, there were forty two Senators publically stating opposition to the SOPA bill.
  • 5 PM, January 18, 2012, SOPA was dead, certainly in its present language.

What Happened?

3,000,000 emails were sent to members of Congress during the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM on January 18, 2012.  How did that happen?  A number of leading Internet websites, including Wikipedia, WordPress, Mozilla, Flickr, Craigslist, and thousands of other websites around the country participated in a 24-hour blackout of their sites.  Even Google blacked out its name, on the Google.com site.  I know.  I attempted to visit both the Wikipedia and the WordPress websites on January 18, 2012.

Instead of reaching those websites, I was redirected to a “Blackout” page.  One of those redirected pages, (I’ve now forgotten which one), offered me the opportunity to send an automated email message to my US legislators, which I did.  I had previously read some news articles about the “big brother” nature of SOPA/PIPA and the potentially destructive unintended consequences that this massive legislative over reach could have on the Internet, as we currently know it.  I was primed to act.  But I had not, up until January 18, 2012, actually taken any action in support of my then-formed opinion of the issue.

Being unable to instantly obtain the particular information, which I happened to be seeking that day, plus the instant opportunity to act on my general dislike of the pending legislation and my immediately unhappy mood, galvanized me to action.  I sent my automated emails to my legislators, and went on my way that day, resigned to waiting 24 hours for the opportunity to obtain my sought-after information.  That evening, I received an automated email from fightforthefuture.org informing me that the battle had been won.  Thirty six US Senators had reversed their public position on SOPA between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, and now were publically opposing the legislation.  The day before yesterday, I even received an email from Senator Marco Rubio’s office, my FL senator, telling me in a politically nimble fashion, how he was for SOPA before he was against SOPA.  Clearly even Marco was a bit flummoxed by the whole event.

Now, I do not agree with the much of the other advocacy positions that many of the groups, which formed this coalition, espouse – Michael Moore being one perfect example.  I relay this story simply to emphasize the significance of what can happen with a properly focused, brilliantly strategized, well organized, and smartly executed grassroots campaign.  Just think about it.  Can you imagine what it would take to reverse the public position of 36 US Senators over the course of 8 hours?  An act of war, perhaps. 9-11, certainly.  But I’m not sure anything much less poignant could make this significant an impact.  Many, if not most, grassroots campaigns are nowhere near this successful.  This battle is an incredible case study for grassroots activism, which must be carefully and thoroughly studied by anyone interested in grassroots activism.

Here is the Fight For The Future video educating about PIPA:

Here are a few news articles documenting how this effort took place:

This overall story is a wakeup call for me – about how we focus on issues, strategize action, and organize campaigns.  No grassroots campaign is alike, but much can be learned from this successful case.