PEN joined a coalition of advocacy groups, led by Free Press, on Monday to advocate for the Open Net and preserve net neutrality. Author Fatima Shaik, a member of PEN's Children's and Young Adult Committee, participated in the rally and gave this fiery speech below. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Writers use the internet like birds build nests. We search all over for strong material to construct literature that will support the next generation.
We also communicate over the airwaves to readers. You have all heard the excitement once a few of us start chirping.
Writers communicate with readers now more than ever because of the internet, and we need the FCC to maintain these relationships. For children’s literacy, for adult intellectual engagement, and for democracy—we don't want our ideas and values controlled by commercial interests.
I am particularly concerned with children as a member of the Children’s and Young Adult Committee of PEN. We have seen children’s excitement about learning grow when they have personal contact with the authors of their books. Now, because of the internet, children communicate freely in group chats to authors, in video school visits, on authors’ websites and even from home. We have the technology and it’s affordable. We ask the FCC to not allow a distinction between rich children and poor children for information.
Adult readers, as well, are intellectually engaged now over the internet. They are learning about their health and finances, having their favorite authors visit their book clubs via the internet, and realizing the depth of their rights and responsibilities through social media. We see one another's actions raw and unfiltered. We clarify our values. We speak out. That’s the definition of democracy.
Writers believed John Milton when he wrote, in essence, that people who have all the information will make good and rational decisions.
Literacy is the great equalizer. In the past, literature brought together people of all classes and countries of origin into a national flock. Now we need media literacy. We read books over the internet. We search libraries across the world. We carry electronic readers with millions of ideas. We come together because of our values. One that we still hold is equality.
But people cannot be media literate without enough access. And they cannot be equal without equal access—what we call net neutrality. So we need the FCC to protect net neutrality.
The airwaves are pathways to our nests. Writers and readers need to nest, rest and think. We ask the FCC to strongly regulate commercial interests for the good of all of us.