This nation’s fast-growing populist movement against unbridled corporate power scored an astonishing trifecta this week.
In the span of just a few hours on Wednesday, three vastly different protest movements all achieved startling success the same way: by mobilizing the fury of tens of thousands of ordinary citizens.
An unprecedented one-day Internet blackout drew the most attention. Organized by free speech advocates, and backed by several major Internet companies, the protest sought to derail bills in Congress that the powerful entertainment industry has demanded against online piracy of movies and music.
If that legislation passes, its critics argue, the government will be able to shut down access to any website suspected of carrying copyrighted works, even if the website operator does so unknowingly, and even before any court hearing is held.
“These bills are very badly written,” Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told me in an interview yesterday. “It’s all well and good . . . to find solutions to criminal behavior online. It’s not OK to set up a censorship regime in response to that.”
Wikipedia and more than 10,000 websites went dark, while firms like Tumblr, Google and Facebook directed millions of their users to flood Congress with phone calls and petitions.
By the end of the day, several stunned senators and congressmen who had originally supported the legislation — including both Democrats and Republicans — had jumped ship, and the bills in their current forms now seem dead.
The Internet blackout was just one citizen victory that day.
Environmental activists were equally elated when President Obama announced his rejection of a permit request by energy giant TransCanada to build a 1,700-mile pipeline to pump oil from Canada’s tar sands through the heartland of the U.S. all the way to Texas.
Republicans in Congress had pushed through legislation requiring Obama to make a decision by February. But he faced strong opposition to the pipeline from environmentalists and midwestern farmers concerned about the potential damage to the land, especially to the country’s largest aquifer in Nebraska.
Last year, more than 1,200 people were arrested in protests against the pipeline outside the White House. So despite the Republican ultimatum, and despite fierce lobbying by the oil and gas industry, Obama finally showed some backbone.
The third grassroots success was in Wisconsin, where an unprecedented coalition of labor unions and citizen groups delivered more than 1 million signatures from voters demanding a recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Remember Walker? He’s the guy who pushed through a controversial law last year ending collective-bargaining rights for most public workers in Wisconsin, a law that sparked weeks of massive sit-ins in the state’s capitol.
Those million signatures were nearly twice the number required for a recall. They amount to an astounding 46% of all the votes cast in last year’s Wisconsin elections.
Walker’s fate will likely be decided in a new vote in the spring or summer. That vote will instantly become a referendum on whether workers in this country still have a right to collectively bargain for their wages and labor conditions.
Three amazing victories in one day, for young Internet activists and civil libertarians, for environmentalists, and for union members.
Yes, the Occupy Wall Street camps are all gone now, but the populist fire they kindled still burns bright in the growing number of Americans standing up to the 1%.