Updated: Okay, so the Internet won, and Go Daddy has decided to stop supporting SOPA, but that doesn’t mean you should stop yourself from actually taking any one of these steps to speak directly to Congress.
Many in the tech community are against the Stop Online Piracy Act, but it’s time for a bit of a reality check on working with Washington D.C. As Clay Johnson put it pretty bluntly in his post on why Internet companies need to stop bitching about the system and learn how it works, y’all need to stop freaking out about GoDaddy supporting the effort and start doing something that could directly kill it. This whole Go Daddy boycott can be a side project, but if you really want to kill SOPA here’s what you need to do:
Call your Congressperson. Engine Advocacy makes it easy, so just take all of five minutes today and do it. And when you call, don’t just say, “I am against SOPA.” Start by stating your name and town, so the staffer who takes the call knows you’re a constituent. Check here first and see where your representative stands (need to find your representative? check here). Then craft a message just for him or her. Make it polite; make it coherent; and if you actually vote, say that. If you don’t vote, say this is an issue that will drive you to the polls during their re-election campaigns.
For example, when I called my representative, the Big Bad Wolf in all of this, bill sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, I said: “My name is Stacey Higginbotham, and I am a constituent of Mr. Smith’s in Austin, Texas. I am also a technology journalist who believes that my livelihood and the future of U.S. competitiveness is hurt by his stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act. I have voted since I was 18, and my husband is a registered Republican. However, we both feel that this is an issue that will determine our vote in the next election.”
Keep it short, polite and personal if you can articulate why this affects you. To cap it off, say you would like a response for your Congressperson and be prepared to leave your address. A former staffer says this is a good way to get your call more attention. That same staffer underscores the need to be polite, so check your anger at the door.
- Write your Congressperson. I know it sounds nutty, but Congress loves those personalized messages that also help support the U.S. Postal System. So find your representative here, and then type or hand write a short letter that should follow along with the guidelines from above (you can go longer in this format though). You can also submit a form letter or online petition, but nothing says, “I care” like an original written communique.
- Visit your Congressperson. I bet you guys see a theme developing here, right? But if you can present yourself calmly and coherently, then find out if your Representative is speaking at any point in time over the holidays. If they are, go to the event and ask a question or try to shake your Representative’s hand and give him or her your feelings. Go here for a link to Congressional Websites and click through to yours to find out if yours is doing any local events. You may have to call the local district office and ask.
- Talk to your friends. It’s pretty clear that Silicon Valley and certain other tech populations are against this legislation, but what about your Facebook friends and such in the heartlands? Find your family, your friends and acquaintances and educate them about SOPA. Tell them a personal story. Don’t just say it breaks the Internet; say you are worried because it makes your job harder, or because it means their home videos might get taken offline without them having a say. Then tell them how to get in touch with their representatives.
Talk to your employer. At the individual level, it’s frustratingly difficult to make headway in Washington, although, if you care about SOPA today, then you should also remember how your representative voted and make sure you carry that with you as you decide (and vote) when the times comes for his or her re-election. But you can also present information to your employer and see if you can convince your company to take a stand.
Already 40 Internet companies have come out against SOPA. Another thought is that technology firms probably could take a page from the successful voting guides put forth by the big telecommunications and old-line companies. Many old-school companies whose livelihoods depend on the government viewing them in a certain light, issue voting guides for their employees telling them how to vote. Clearly employees can do what they want, but for some, the pamphlets or emails can be very influential.
The final thing is to get your employer to understand the importance of lobbying. It’s a dirty practice, but it’s how influence is peddled in Washington. The tech world has been pretty above the political world, but now that everyone is consuming technology, the industry can’t afford to be holier than K Street.
- Support the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As you probably have gleaned, there’s only so much a single individual can do to sway Washington, so if you don’t want to talk to your friends or employer, but would still like to amplify your voice, then EFF has been working hard to stop SOPA. It has an established DC voice and education effort, so its lobbyists are already familiar in Washington. Plus, if the law does pass, then EFF is likely the organization that will sue to challenge the law.
So go on, boycott any one of the 120 companies supporting SOPA, but make sure you pick one or two of these things to do too, if you’re serious about stopping the law.