A Million Geek March on Washington

It started out as a joke, almost. If organized protest doesn't prevent the Communications Decency Act from becoming law, warned Heather Irwin in a December HotWired report of a San Francisco protest rally, "we'll see you all at the Million Geek March on Washington." The idea of the world's largest fleshmeet of online activists is irresistible. But how would this techified community -- this society of the spectacled -- constitute itself? Would it resemble the revenge of the pocket-protected, or a community as ideologically diverse as those that have marched in recent years for civil rights, reproductive freedom, and gay liberation? And imagine the marketing possibilities: hardware and software manufacturers touting their wares to a bedazzled crowd of computer freaks in the shadow of the Capitol. We may have an answer to these questions fairly soon thanks to John Wash, an overworked Web site developer who took Irwin at her word. In March, Wash announced the Electronic Freedom March (EFM) on a Web page, illustrated with the appropriate ribbons, icons, and "witch-hunt" references from Pantera and Rush lyrics ("Ignorance, and prejudice, and fear walk hand-in-hand," quoth the latter). Unable to fit the Herculean task of organizing such an event into his substantial workload, however, Wash recently passed the ball to an ally he'd met online: former B-52 navigator Keith Glass. "I spent six years in the Air Force defending truth, justice, and the American way," says Glass, 34, "and now I see it taken away." Glass stepped in when he realized Wash's original plan for a June 30 march was flagging. "I just figured somebody had to do it, and if not me, who?" Glass began by establishing a minimum budget of $10,000 for the march, and pushing the date back to either September 28 or 29. The original June date had been planned to coincide with the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation's federal-court challenge to the Communications Decency Act, which now seems headed for a decision in early June. A march held on the weekend prior to Congress's election recess, Glass reckons, will create a powerful visual aid for the appeal the losing side has promised to make to the Supreme Court when it reconvenes on October 7. An activist in Virginia's Republican Party, Glass calls himself a "progressive conservative" -- more libertarian than conservative. Opposed to affirmative action ("the only discriminator should be ability"), he worked for Oliver North's senatorial campaign. "He won the nomination so you support the team," says Glass. He'll vote for Dole, but would have preferred Forbes, Kemp, or even Powell. What does Glass do for a living? "Ever heard of the Beltway Bandits?" he quips. Glass actually works for Answer, a nonprofit think tank analyzing pollution-prevention issues for the Secretary of the Air Force. He's also a "filker," fandom's equivalent of a folksinger. A habituae of science-fiction and fantasy conventions, Glass writes and performs political filk songs consisting of satiric lyrics set to familiar melodies. When I request an example, he recites a song that begins, "Wee Pat Buchanan is an alien." Does Glass consider himself a representative of the online community? "The average net user earns more than $40,000 a year and votes," he replies, citing Center for Democracy and Technology policy analyst Jonah Seiger. Glass himself is "slightly below that demographic, just your basic wage slave." The point, he says, is to "show people on the Hill that the Net is mainstream--not porn freaks, bomb makers, or militia fanatics, which is the impression they have." If Glass is representative of anything, it's the Internet community's double origins in America's simultaneously Calvinist and Westward-ho! tendencies. The pioneer spirit lives on in the Net's continually expanding interconnectivity. At the same time, most Netheads are perhaps too quick to distance themselves from the more transgressive online denizens. One of the many conundrums that has ensnared the Department of Justice in its defense of the Communications Decency Act is its attempt to stifle an entire medium in the name of preventing certain "indecent" messages from reaching the eyes of children. The DoJ has unexpectedly mounted a Catharine MacKinnon-inspired antiporn offense. (Attorney Patricia Russotto prodded a psychologist testifying against the legislation to agree that "these images don't depict a healthy view of women as sexual beings.") An expert witness from Brigham Young University proposed that everyone who uses "indecent" speech should label their sites "L18" (for "less than 18") a handy flag kids would no doubt love to see employed. If online accounts of the trial are any indication, the DoJ hasn't fooled the three Philadelphia judges hearing the ACLU/EFF challenge, and activists predict that the verdict will favor freedom of speech (closing arguments are scheduled for May 10). Until then, Glass is looking for an organization willing to filter donations to the march, some responsible volunteers, and, of course, $10,000 for water and Portosans. "If we're going to do it," he says, "let's do it right." The Electronic Freedom March on Washington: http://march.tico.com/email: march@tico.com

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