On Thursday, May 24th, a group of committed CMA protesters participated in a demonstration (note squadrol on far right) outside the AT&T offices near the busy downtown Chicago intersection of Congress and Federal, one block west of the Harold Washington Library. The protest was titled "AT&T - Bringing Us to Tiers" and was part of a "national day of outrage" against the telephone and cable companies.
On each side of Congress Parkway, fifteen foot long banners were held aloft for thousands and thousands of rush hour travellers to see. Both had an identical message: "STOP AT&T from ruining the internet - www.savetheinternet.org - www.saveaccess.org". And that wasnâ€™t the only signage visible. Plus, a friendly observer from the National Lawyers Guild was present (in the red cap), as were a number of Chicago's finest - perhaps ten servers and protectors at the outset - shrinking down to five later when it dawned on the paddy wagon crew that we were not going to bomb the AT&T building. Perhaps they had better things to do, because soon, we were down to only two bicycle patrol officers. Hundreds of informational fliers were taken by those passing by.
Media coverage? At the outset, a reporter from WBBM-AM (CBS) recorded several minutes of radio interview while cameras from television channels 5 (NBC) & 7 (ABC) watched. Soon, they all left, leaving CAN-TV (public access) which stayed the whole two hours, Indymedia, and other independent reporters. (Though the media responded better this time than in the past, the â€śAmerican Idolâ€ť selection, or perhaps a telco ad, or the story of the opening of a new local business pre-empted our story at most mainstream outlets that day. It must have been because our story merely deals with the sane functioning of communications and democracy. Weâ€™ll post any local coverage we can find.)
My favorite comment from the passersby came halfway through the demonstration, when a middle-aged woman approached and took copies of the fliers from me. As she crossed the intersection, she quipped, "You know I hate it when you call AT&T - their message says, 'thank you for choosing AT&T'. When I signed up for my local phone service, it was Illinois Bell I HAD to deal with. Then SBC. Ha! I never got any choice - I DID NOT choose AT&T either!"
Towards the end of the action, I told the CAN-TV camera operator that he could interview me as long as he included my â€ťnews for dumb fuxâ€ť button in the frame. I explained:
"The term 'internet neutrality' may sound kind of 'geeky'. But it's really not that new of an issue - these are telephone and cable companies after all. Look - when you pick up the phone to make a call, you don't want to have to wait a longer time or have a worse connection than other people, and you certainly don't want to be blocked from calling certain numbers either. Phone networks are supposed to be nondiscriminatory - 'common carriers' - a concept that has been with us for some time now. Net neutrality is also a lot like public access cable TV. Viewers are probably watching this tape on access. So, if you want to make a public access TV show, or a phone call, or use the post office, or the Internet - unless you are involved in serious lawbreaking - you should be able to do so without being discriminated against. Period."
All in all, this was our most successful protest action to date. Let's hope the awful telecom bills in Congress fade away over the coming days and weeks as it looks like they might. You must contact your elected representatives and tell them phone and cable companies must not be permitted to discriminate.
STOP MERGER MANIA! AT&T is trying to buy BellSouth, which would make it the largest telecom company in the world. Comcast and Time Warner â€” the country's two largest cable and Internet companies â€” are trying to wrap up their purchase of Adelphia, the nation's fifth-largest cable company. If these deals go through, Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T will control over half of all the high-speed Internet connections in the United States. Take action - click here.
This entry was posted by Scott Sanders, a co-founder to date of seven Chicago area media and democracy activist groups.
Sanders has worked for long stretches in social science research, in the creation of video documentaries, as a librarian, and also in movie theater management.
You can link to Scott's combined curriculum vitae, timeline, and resume here.
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