Hands off Net Neutrality

Ashley Hitchings and Rebecca Yao

On December 7, the Raging Grannies Action League and community members congregated beside Digital DNA, the egg-shaped fixture of Lytton Plaza, before taking to the streets, marching and singing to protect net neutrality and to “save the egg.” In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s impending repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections, thousands of protesters demonstrated outside Verizon stores across the nation.

Raging Grannies

T-minus 30 minutes before the rally begins, Raging Grannies Barbara Baxter-Berman, Gail Sredanovic, and Ruth Chippendale lean against Digital DNA, greeting incoming protesters.

“We’re unique in the sense that we’re (a) pretty smart (b) pretty experienced and—” Barbara says, before Gail chimes in, “Pretty old!” and the two burst into giggles.

“—and pretty elderly, [but] we care about our community, we care about our country, we care about this world,” Barbara finishes. “A lot of people just sort of bury themselves in bridge clubs or seeing that the laundry gets finished [but] there’s more to your time on this earth.”

Clad in flamboyant “granny clothes” and floral-adorned hats, the Raging Grannies pander to granny stereotypes, then defy them with “unladylike antics.”

“The older you get, the more you see that if you didn’t do the laundry, you can turn your panties inside out and wear them that way for an extra day,” Barbara says. “But, if you don’t work against warfare and work against this kind of mass hypnosis, we’re all sunk.”

“We also think of our children and our grandchildren and what’s the world going to be like for them and it’s kind of a bit scary,” Ruth says. 

Beyond the outskirts of the crowd sit Karen Swanson Damian and Mishi Myhre, scanning through net neutrality-themed song lyrics.

“We’re out here today with our whole physical being, spending time, spending energy, spending paint — which I thoroughly enjoyed — and connecting with like-minded people,” Damian says. “Even though there is a lot of dreck on the internet, people still get to choose, and I think that’s an important freedom.”

“I’m not really involved, I just came to this,” Damian says. “Although, I’m pissed off and I’m a Granny, so, I guess I’m a Raging Granny!”

“I invited her,” Myhre says with a smile. “She’s my buddy. We came together.” 

Team Internet

As a member of Team Internet, a volunteer network rallying for net neutrality, Myhre reached out to net neutrality petition signatories, inviting them to call their Representatives and join any of the 700 protests nationwide. 

“I sent out probably 10,000 texts the last week or so inviting people to protests all over the nation,” Myhre says, “This is the one closest to home, so this is where I’m at.”

After a week of rallying others to speak up, Myhre is here to voice her own sentiments.

“I’m here to protect free and open internet,” Myhre says. “Just imagine using Ulta Vista as your search engine, you know. Net neutrality — it gives us innovation. We’re going to lose a lot.”

The Artist

Adriana Varella, the creator of Digital DNA, flew in from NYC to attend the rally and protest the Public Art Commission’s recent decision to remove the sculpture from Lytton Plaza.

Although the Art Commission cited the installation’s deterioration and costly maintenance as the impetus behind its deaccession,  Varella says they thinks the city is trying to shroud its message.

“I think this is a huge censory,” Varella says. “They are supposed to maintain public art, but they didn’t do that since 2013.” 

For Varella, the egg represents more than just a quirky composition.

“This is about the story of Palo Alto … about reflection [on] what we have been doing and creating with computers,” Varella says. “In Silicon Valley, you have a factory for war, for communication, for education. We put this work here to reflect that and … everything is now where exactly we imagined it would be and it’s scary. I’m scared.”

After half an hour of singing and shouting in Lytton Plaza, the march to Verizon begins.

A Fervent Family

“For better or for worse, when people need information, they go to the net,” says Svetlana Goldenberg, a computer science teacher at Meira Academy. “As a teacher, it’s not my favorite thing, but … no company should decide what people do and don’t get to see.”

With her two daughters in tow, Goldenberg marches to defend internet accessibility. “This matters more than most things you guys are going to be seeing in your lifetime,” she says. 

Her daughter has more candid reasons for being here. “[I’m here] mostly because I want to watch YouTube and I don’t want, just ’cause of one single person, for everything to be ruined,” she says. 

Reporting for Duty

Amidst the throng of grandmothers and long-time residents are two younger faces — those of  Zachary Chung and Devaki Dikshit, a reporter for the Foothill Script. 

“We’re a small newspaper, we’re an online newspaper, so net neutrality would affect the internet and how they [readers] access our information,” Dikshit says. “I’m not only here because this would be good event to cover to increase public awareness of net neutrality but also to be here and see everything that people support.” 

Protestors march down University Avenue on their way to the Verizon store, chanting “LOL, OMG, we want net neutrality!” and other slogans coined by Team Internet and the Raging Grannies. 

The Internet: the Final Frontier

Bart Smaalders weaves along the outside of the procession wearing a neon yellow biker jacket, earning honks of approval from passing cars for his sign and rallying cheers. Smaalders sports a hat demonstrating his membership in the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an nonprofit that works to protect rights and freedoms related to technology. 

“It isn’t the decision of Verizon headquarters or Comcast or any of these other places to select what we can see, or what needs to be slowed down, or what needs to be filtered out,” Smaalders says. “We have to be the free marketplace of ideas and that’s what the internet is about.” 

“In California with 30 million people it’s hard to say “my vote counts,” but right here on the street, my shoe leather counts. I get to say something by being here physically today.”

Daddy-daughter Duo

In 2006, Registered Nurse Carter McLaughlin’s torrents were blocked by his internet provider, cutting off his access to certain websites. 

“That’s when I realized the internet wasn’t something guaranteed,” McLaughlin says. “It can be taken from you. It is a utility and needs to have Title II protections applied to it because it’s where we live our lives today.”

It’s 5:30 p.m. and while the crowd has thinned, McLaughlin and his daughter remain. To appease his distracted and tired daughter, he presents a plastic phone as an offering. “You want to talk on the phone?” McLaughlin asks his daughter, handing her the toy. When she nudges it aside in disinterest, he quips, “Yeah, I know, it’s not internet enabled anymore.”

Doggone it! 

“Sit babies! I’m trying to get them turned so their butts are not facing the camera but that never works,” laughs Sarah Woodhull as she corrals her dogs into photo-ready positions. 

Wearing a sherpa jacket and a binary beanie, respectively, Woodhull and her friend Clara Jaeckel are braced for the cold and linger in Lytton plaza even as other protesters trickle away.

“If we don’t have net neutrality, the big players are going to take advantage of that and they’re certainly not going to be fair about it,” says Woodhull in a cheery, peppy tone. “So that’s why I’m here.”

“Also, it’s a social justice issue,” Jaeckel adds. “I think it’s a threat to both individual users and to small businesses.”

The Egg

While the protesters march, Adriana Varella and fellow artist Vladimir Teichberg wrap Digital DNA in a tarp, with “CENSORED” plastered over it in black duct tape. Slides are projected over the egg, juxtaposing phrases like “you will not enslave us” over the circuit boards. 

“The story — or the legend at least — of the egg is that … Adrianna sold the Fabregé Egg,” Teichberg says. “It [the city] was expecting this status symbol, this beautiful, decorative whatever, referencing basically the jewels of monarchy, and they got this egg that was that, but —”

“You’re telling my secrets!” Varella cuts in, before hurriedly continuing on, “Can I tell you all the secrets? Okay, I’ll tell you all the secrets. The secret was: I needed to camouflage and then imagine how can I send a message at the same time. We needed to build a beautiful shape … and in this beautiful shape, camouflage the concept.”

“If you look closely, what was inscribed into the [circuit] boards was a desire to question what the hell are we creating here and how is it going to be used?” Teichberg says. “[That is] something that’s becoming more and more relevant.”