The Freedom to Connect – Generation Justice
GJ Fellow Chantel Trujillo and GJ member Bayan Jaber at the the #DontBlockMyInternet rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Millions of us have been fighting for net neutrality for almost ten years. Whether it’s protests on the streets, panel discussions, or political meetings, media activists and organizers have helped give rise to the voices of millions of internet users and the fight was won on February 26th.

The internet was reclassified as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, which translates to: the internet is just as much as a human right as water or electricity. An open internet is beautiful because it’s uncensored, it’s a mass of information constantly refreshing and growing and shared among us all. There’s voices on the internet that you can’t find anywhere else. There’s no barriers, no discrimination, no limits to what you can say. What mainstream media excludes, the internet includes.

For me, the internet is what keeps our fire alive sometimes. As communities of color continue to be marginalized and criminalized, the internet is where we share stories, learn, and organize. It’s where we can travel, link by link, photo by photo, hashtag by hashtag, and find stories that inform, comfort, and empower. Our generation has been raised with this consciousness – it’s how we’ve come to realize that our voices are valuable and they’re even more valuable when shared. When similar minds can come together, even just virtually, global movements can blossom – and they have.

From #BlackLivesMatter, #HandsUpDontShoot, and #ICantBreathe, we have watched racist, police brutality with pairs and pairs of careful eyes, all around the world, on the front lines, capturing the truth. That’s something journalism has always aspired to do, to paint the complete picture. In this past year, it’s been humbling to see how powerful social media is in spreading awareness. I’m not sure we ever expected so much out of a hashtag, or of a Tweet. The mundane concept of an App, itself, is so small compared to the way these ideas have interwoven themselves in our lives. We become inspired by what we see on our screens. We become more understanding by what we see on our screens. We are exposed to new channels of action and creation.

The internet, to me, in a word, is connection. It is a network of networks. As a woman of color, it’s how I get to find other faces that look like mine, voices that speak like me, and minds that think like me. That’s something I struggle to find at school, on television, or in print. Communities of color grow from the internet, we reach across distances and communicate with our families. We can ask questions on the internet, we can look up information, we can fill out job applications. We can buy plane, train, or bus tickets, and still have a way to send messages back home. The web of connections that the internet provides is an everyday survival tool.

I had the opportunity to speak with Steven Renderos, the National Organizer at the Center for Media Justice, about how the fight for net neutrality is especially vital to communities of color. It was special to me that he said “the internet can be oftentimes taken for granted – the reality is that on most other mainstream media channels, we don’t have that level of access, we don’t have access to distribution, or to actually creating the content ourselves.” Communities of color deserve better, they deserve to see themselves on the news and not feel dehumanized. They deserve to be able to tell their own stories, as well. If we mobilize enough voices on the internet, the entire world begins to listen.

Representative John Lewis, long-time civil rights activist, recently said “if we had the internet during the movement, we could have done more, much more, to bring people together from all around the country, to organize and work together to build the beloved community.” I am thankful that we have this ability, and that we fought to protect it. Now we must continue to build.