Rewind to the last cookout you attended. Remember when Cousin Ray and Uncle Bobby were sitting around the grill, shooting the shit about how the government was conspiring to take down the black community? (As everyone at the cookout knows, Bobby was a Black Panther back in the day, and Ray, fresh out of prison.) They said something about how Flint was only the beginning, and how they wouldn’t be surprised if more instances cropped up over the next few years. As you half-listened, you sat there wondering what they were smoking, and — more importantly — how you could get a hold of some before the next family function?
I hate to say it but: they might have been onto something.
Setting aside all of the public and confirmed government conspiracies from this last year, including Russian involvement in the presidential election (much of which consisted of buying advertisements targeted toward #BlackLivesMatter activists, and the like), the abuse of power that led to the complete and utter shut out of Bernie Sanders, and even some noise about private email servers, there’s one that hits pretty close to home that seems to have slipped in while no one was looking: Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, he has been slowly (but surely) unleashing a covert war on low-income families and communities of color. With the help of Scott Pruitt (the current director of the EPA) and Ajit Pai (the current chairman of the FCC), the 45th president and the rest of the GOP have been working tirelessly to starve these communities of information that they need to survive on the day to day basis.
Beginning with Ajit Pai’s decision to shut down Lifeline, a federal service that helps low-income communities and communities of color access the internet when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, the FCC began restricting access to the internet for families that they believe are abusing federal programs, which mainly includes the families in the aforementioned communities, and ones who reside on tribal lands. While no one was paying attention, the FCC officially consigned the members of these communities to an information-less void, left to the whim of whichever news sources they can access outside of the internet (and with newspapers in rapid decline, radio news being scarce, and cable news being more biased than both Uncle Bobby and Cousin Ray, I can promise there aren’t many).
Combine that with the impending doom of net neutrality, and the few families in these communities who are actually able to pay for the internet will face the likelihood they will have to increase their data packaging to access streaming platforms, social media or reliable, unbiased news sources. Given that the last doesn’t immediately improve anyone’s quality of life, it’s almost certain that there would be a complete lack of access to news in most households.
Why is this a problem? Think about it this way: in 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux organized a massive protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline which was set to cross the Missouri River. These protests, which “officially” lasted from April 2016 to February 2017, had almost ZERO mainstream media coverage. How did we find out about it? Or better yet, in 2014, Flint, Michigan, city officials decided to switch water sources from Lake Huron to Flint River, effectively damning an entire city to bathing in the River Styx for nearly three years. Cable news networks and most newspapers stopped running the story after less than year, even though families are still affected by the decisions of those city officials. But how do we know that?
Say it with me: “The internet.”
It may seem like a no-brainer, but in the information age, the internet is a prime source of news, and of course, information. Without proper access, communities won’t know what contaminants they should be concerned about, which protests are occurring elsewhere that might align with their political interests or anything about any type of news that may be important to them and their lifestyles. They’re effectively alienated from the outside world, leaving the important decisions to be made by a government that doesn’t (currently) have their best interest in mind. Which is exactly where Scott Pruitt comes in.
On October 30th, 2017, in a big “F-U” to Rachel Carson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and all that has ever been accomplished in the name of science, Pruitt made the decision to ban all scientists, analysts, researchers and 5th grade math whizzes who have received a grant from the EPA in the past three years (and those who have plans on receiving a grant in the near future) from participating on the EPA’s science advisory board. While the science world has been wringing their hands trying to figure out if the decision is even legal, Pruitt has been positioning industrial big wigs to take the place of the scientists he’s ousted.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if this didn’t mean that the EPA, a government organization meant to regulate industrial and anthropological contamination, will be controlled by the same industrial companies who are contaminating everything. You can say goodbye to your groundwater tables, beaches, clear skies, and pretty much anything that occurs in nature that you consider beautiful. Accompany this with the fact that the people who are most affected by climate change, resource contamination, and most environmental issues are low-income communities, and communities of color, and you’ve got a full “BINGO” card for “how to screw over an entire class of people.” But I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with Uncle Bobby, Cousin Ray and the FCC?
Well, three questions first:
Had you heard about this decision before I mentioned it in this article?
If you have, where did you hear or read it?
And are you concerned now that you have?
See? While a lack of information or news may make for a calm public, it does nothing for their interests. It leaves them bare bones and helpless to defend themselves against the nefarious forces that are working against them, which, in this case, is a billionaire Disney villain and his Muppet cronies. And while we are all able to focus on the immediate danger of not having access to the internet (railroaded data, data packaging, price hikes for luxuries we all enjoy), we have to remember that our issues do not occur in a vacuum. There are much larger consequences that exist outside of what presently means the most to us.
We should remember that some of us are currently at war with an administration that considers us a hazard, hindrances to a corrupt system, and we’re losing on multiple fronts. And while the fight for something as simple as net neutrality and the reinstatement of Lifeline may seem like we’re being pit against Goliath at his peak, winning and maintaining access to things as simple as information and news will arm us, make us more formidable foes, and — at the very least — give us something to tell Uncle Bobby and Cousin Ray at the next cookout.