What I saw at the revolution

Yes, this really happened, in the form of 3.9 million tweets, 2,000 people a second trying to call their members of Congress and more than 5,000 people a minute signing petitions opposing PIPA and SOPA. 162 million people went to Wikipedia’s English page and 8 million of them got contact information to call Congress.  2.5 million views were counted on Reddit during its 12-hour protest and 8 million people on Google signed its petition. These are numbers over which any campaign operative would salivate, but it had nothing to do with someone running for office, or even a political party. In this case, the candidate was the Internet and its constituents in one 12-hour period voted squarely against everyone who dared to mess with it – in a way only the Internet could.

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So much has been written about the details of these twin anti-piracy bills and there will more to come as everyone tries to start over. But in the quiet, exhausted, depleted time before it all starts again, we should all recognize that January 18 was far more meaningful than just stopping those bills. January 18 was the day that millions of Americans – Internet users all of them – decided not to give up on the political process. Broken as it is, with Congress earning an 84 percent-and-growing-every-day disapproval rating, with SOPA and PIPA just the latest in a constant rally of captive Washington, special interest, big money lawmaking, regular people actually made a difference. Regular people, representing every political ideology or none at all, whose voices have been trampled and abused and silenced by Washington-For-Sale, actually stopped a bill. And not one bill, but two. 

Yes, there will eventually a bill that effectively addresses online offshore piracy, and there should. But that was not the point of January 18. The point is that maybe, even in the smallest ways, there are rays of hope among the ruins of American politics for a post-partisan unification of former foes who seek to keep the Internet vibrant, free, and most of all---open to innovation. Could it be that the Internet is America’s long-awaited third party? Is it the Internet that will create – or maybe it already has – a platform that advances our collective and uniquely American goals of freedom, equality and independence regardless of our political ideologies, or even, in spite of them?

It remains to be seen, I suppose. But it is incumbent upon all of us to stop for just a minute and see this moment for what it is and understand that we are in the midst of a watershed moment in how business is done in America. We may not be able to change the way the Old Economy works in Washington but we can ensure that the New Economy is not For Sale. 

In fact, we just proved it.

Maura Corbett, president and founder of the Glen Echo Group, a strategic communications and public affairs firm that specializes in the intersection between emerging technology and public policy.