Police reform organizers traveled to Capitol Hill and the Federal Communications Commission on Friday to push for open access to the Internet, which they say is an increasingly vital organizing tool in the wake of the controversial deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
The delegation met with black members of Congress including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). They also met with one commissioner and staffers from the FCC, which will decide in February whether to classify broadband Internet as a public utility, a step that could prevent broadband companies from charging for priority access to their customers.
"We were founded clearly in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, on the key premise of the failure of the media to adequately report on the murder," said Dante Barry, the director of the group Million Hoodies. "If we don't have access to open Internet, and we don't have net neutrality, then it limits the ability for black people to save themselves."
The organizers met with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and staffers for Chairman Tom Wheeler and Jessica Rosenworcel, the three Democratic-appointed members of the commission. The delegation included Ferguson, Missouri, organizer Larry Fellows III and representatives of groups like Black Lives Matter, the Center for Media Justice, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Color of Change.
Wheeler suggested on Wednesday that he will likely push the FCC next month to redesignate service providers like Verizon and Comcast as public utilities to ensure open Internet access, a step the companies have long resisted.
The delegation of young organizers highlights the rift between their Internet-oriented organizations, which have grown in prominence in the wake of the deaths of Martin and Brown, and more old-line groups. The NAACP and the National Urban League have sided with the broadband behemoths in the net neutrality fight, arguing that stricter net neutrality rules would prevent them from expanding Internet access in minority communities.
Both the NAACP and the National Urban League have received major funding from broadband companies or their charitable foundations, sparking criticism.
"In all due respect, the legacy civil rights organizations have been strong on a lot of issues, but on this one they're a little bit behind, and part of it is the corporate interests that are in play," said Barry.