Congressman John Lewis was a witness to history growing up in Alabama during the 1950s. Inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott -- as well as hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio -- the future congressman decided at a young age to dedicate his life to fighting for racial and social justice.
Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters while a student in college during the early 1960s. He became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He participated in the Freedom Rides to end segregation at interstate bus terminals. And he also took part in one of the defining moments of the civil rights era on March 7, 1965.
Lewis and several civil rights leaders led hundreds of protesters on a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery to demand voting rights for African Americans. But when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma they were brutally attacked by the police, including Lewis, in what is now remembered as "Bloody Sunday." The attacks shocked the nation and quickened the passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Rep. Lewis emerged from the civil rights movement as an American hero -- an icon. And after serving for more than 20 years in Congress, he remains one of our country's most revered public figures. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called John Lewis the conscience of the congress.
This is why so many of us who have been fighting to preserve an open Internet woke up yesterday morning inspired by the news that Rep. Lewis, along with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling on the commission to support strong Network Neutrality rules.
The letter comes at a critical time. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has scheduled a vote on December 21 on Network Neutrality rules he proposed that will do anything but protect an open Internet. Instead, the chairman has caved in to the demands of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, proposing fake Network Neutrality rules that would allow the big phone and cable companies to create fast and slow lanes on the Internet by implementing a pay-for-play system online -- also known as paid prioritization.
The letter calls for the FCC to pass real Network Neutrality rules that would ban paid prioritization, ensure that wireless broadband networks are not exempted from open Internet protections, and prevent carriers from exploiting loopholes that will allow them to skirt the rules.
Opponents of Network Neutrality have tried to label anyone fighting to preserve open Internet protections as part of the digital elite. Rep. Lewis' presence on the letter validates that the fight to preserve an open Internet is deeply rooted in the historic struggle for fairness and equality in our society -- everything for which the Congressman has stood. And it is perfectly in sync with the sentiments of more than 70,000 of our members who see the preservation of Net Neutrality as a 21st century civil rights issue.
Rep. Grijalva has quickly become the conscience of Latino politics in Washington over the past decade and has a lot in common with Rep. Lewis.
Rep. Lewis is the son of a sharecropper while Rep. Grijalva is the son of a migrant worker who emigrated from Mexico as part of the U.S. government's bracero program. Rep. Lewis has repeatedly put his life in harm's way in the struggle for racial equality. Rep. Grijavla has emerged as a national political figure over the past year for supporting a boycott of Arizona following the passage of a state anti-immigrant law that would have allowed the police to racially profile Latinos. But taking such a principled stance has made Grijalva the target of several death threats.
Now the two men, who symbolize the moral fight for social justice, are standing together and calling on the FCC to protect our Internet freedom.
Rep. Grijalva got it exactly right when he stated earlier this year why our democracy needs strong Network Neutrality rules:
"In today's world, social movements and calls to action often begin on the Internet," the congressman said. "Moreover, the Internet is the last refuge of our democracy against corporate domination of the media -- our last refuge for the free exchange of ideas and information. We cannot return to the days when powerful corporate interests control the story, the medium and the message. The Internet must remain in the hands of the people."
I couldn't agree more.