The Senate had planned on holding a test vote on the controversial PIPA bill today. That was until last Wednesday, when several companies participated in an Internet blackout, and nearly 7 million Internet users signed petitions protesting the bills. Wikipedia blacked-out its page for 24 hours, leaving users helpless when searching for that quick answer to their random questions. Shared links from Google dotted Facebook newsfeeds, warning of the repercussions of SOPA and PIPA.
Why the uproar?
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are two bills which, in a nutshell, try to curb copyright infringement by fining and even imprisoning users who post content that is protected. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I tend to think most people would consider it illegal to blatantly pirate copyrighted material. The issue was the vagueness of the law, which could easily impact and hinder user-generated content sites often used in social media.
The bills, which were introduced last year, burst into the spotlight during the blackout, after months of limited awareness. The number of signatures on petitions doubled in one day because activists were organized in spreading information quickly and across a wide range of media.
And you know what? It worked. By Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the vote on PIPA would be postponed indefinitely, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith tabled SOPA while lawmakers review problem areas of the bills. Citizens spoke and representatives responded.
Too often, this model of public outcry and participation is the exception rather than the rule. Too often, particularly on the state and local level, we just sit back and relax, not really noticing what our legislature or city councils are doing. Too often, we do not take the time to become informed. Too often, this happens because we are college students.
As students, we often live far from home. Though we spend most of our year in the Provo or Orem area, we still feel like visitors. Yet, precisely because we are so far from home, it can be difficult and time consuming to keep up with local and state issues. We live a life somewhat in between our home and our college home. But just because we are passing through doesn’t mean that we can’t get involved or informed.
Citizens need to speak out on local and national issues. Small town, local politics may not be as glamorous as national issues, but participation in both are essential aspects of making our democratic republic work. Our right to protest and express ourselves should not be taken lightly. When you see something you feel is unjust, speak out. Don’t wait for others to speak out and do the work for you.
Throughout my educational career, I’ve heard teachers encourage students to ask questions, particularly if they are unsure of a concept. The common justification: if you have a question, or you are unsure, the changes are pretty high that someone else has the same question. It is only by voicing those questions that the underlying issues can be addressed.
So speak up. Get involved. These issues aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
Here are some small ways to get involved in Provo politics:
Sign up for weekly city emails. The emails not only mention upcoming debates and projects, but also provide updates and local events and concerts that are often free.
Check out Mayor John Curtis’s blog. Yes, our mayor has a blog — and believe it or not, it’s actually pretty interesting. The blog is usually updated daily with posts covering profiles on locals, upcoming events, Provo in the news and links to other fun things to do in Provo.
Attend a city council meeting. City council meetings can be long and tiresome, but they can also be somewhat amusing. Look up the agenda, find something of interest and take your roommates one Wednesday evening.
Katie Harmer is the opinion editor at The Daily Universe. This viewpoint represents her opinion and does not neccesarily represent the opinions of The Daily Universe, BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.