We've seen an explosion in the number and effectiveness of online political movements over the past year: Occupy Wall Street, the efforts against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Arab Spring each had some digital component.
Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor and Internet activist, believes this kind of online activism can't be directed from the top-down, but can -- and should -- be "nudged, fed and respected" by those involved.
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In a speech delivered to the audience at Mashable Connect on Friday, Lessig compared online political movements to "starfish, rather than spiders," a reference to a book by Ori Brafman. The difference? Lessig says spiders have brains which controls their actions, while the movement of starfish is dependent on the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide and other outside forces.
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SOPA, Lessig believes, was defeated because the anti-SOPA movement sprouted organically, and it had very little top-down organization. Instead, millions of Americans "finally called their Congresspeople," demanding that they vote against the bill. The stronger forces that became intertwined with the protests -- such as Google and Wikipedia -- provided more of a nudge rather than direct leadership.
When SOPA was cast off into legislative limbo, the Internet community stood guard against the next legal threat -- and that may have arrived in the form of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA.
Lessig's advice for those fighting against CISPA is simple: Take a step back and find the root cause of bad legislation.
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root," said Lessig, quoting philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
And what is the root of evil in this scenario? To Lessig, it's corruption -- which he defines as the overt influence of money in American politics.
"The corruption I'm talking about isn't about anybody committing a crime," said Lessig. "In fact, everything I'm talking about is completely legal. This is a corruption relative to the baseline of how government functions."
The American founding fathers, said Lessig, designed a government wherein Congress and the people form an interdependent, cooperative relationship. However, the system has deteriorated to the point that Congress is now dependent upon the "funders:" lobbyists and corporate interests.
He said 0.26% of Americans donated to a candidate in the last Congressional cycle, while 0.01% gave more than $10,000 -- a sign that average Americans aren't getting their voices heard in Washington.
"The funders are not the people," said Lessig, adding that Congress and corporate interests are engaged in an "endless war" to tire American citizens of politics, enabling them to "preserve the status quo."
To Lessig, upending this system is the only way for the people to reclaim American democracy and fight for what they believe in -- whether that's a free and open Internet, a solution to climate change or an end to military conflicts.
"Until we change this, it'll be the same as it ever was," said Lessig. "No matter what you care about, nothing's going to get fixed until we fix this."
Highlights From Mashable Connect 2012
The contents of each bag given to Mashable Connect attendees.
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