They came with signs and slogans, blazing in colors that ran and dripped in the spring rain that pounded Washington for two days in April. With pierced ears, eyes, noses and navels, the throng of protestors screamed in the streets, demanding assistance for the world’s poor. They were exhorting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to change its policies and to recognize the needs of the third-world countries’ disenfranchised.
At the intersection of 20th and K Street, the protestors laid down in front of police cars. At 20th and Pennsylvania, they overran barricades and threatened the orderliness the police were valiantly trying to maintain. At 18th and K Street, a spokeswoman, dressed like a tree, negotiated with the peace officers and brought the political reveling to a halt.
Meanwhile, at 19th and K Street, at the geographic epicenter of the commotion, sat my office. If you had stood on the front sidewalk, you could have whiffed pepper spray and tear gas in the wind. You could have viewed the faces of the protestors, screwed in angry commitment to their respective causes. You could have heard the chorus of chants, slogans and rhymes bursting from bullhorns.
As I watched the protestors in person, and on television, I remembered my experiences of 30 years ago. Back then, with tie-dyed regalia, long curly hair and bell-bottomed fury, I marched with flower children and freaks to protest the Vietnam War. So, my first reaction to the protestors I watched last month was, “I did my time.”
The scene triggered some satisfactory nostalgia. The late ’60s and early ’70s gave birth to many good (and a few lousy) things. One good thing that came out of that era was a renewed faith in the power of people to change governmental policies. Involvement and commitment could, if sustained, result in a positive change for a community or a nation. A feeling of hope could be nurtured by simply trying to make life better.
The lousy thing that came out of it was a subculture of self-absorption. Often, protesters would look to their singular cause as being just, without considering the effect that their hoped-for victory would have on the community as a whole. For example, will protecting lab animals increase mortality for humans because certain kinds of medical research are not conducted? Will outlawing nuclear weapons create global vulnerability? Will a call for religious renewal result in greater intolerance and restrictions on freedom? If proponents of causes do not contemplate the consequences of victory, then have they moved us closer to a better society, or are they only satisfying myopic goals?
With the passage of time and the gathering of experience, I have learned that my comments and suggestions for improving our wireless industry must be balanced against the effect if we all did it “my way.” I have learned that the art of compromise is an advantage and to respect the changes that technology brings. So, while I rant and rave, there must be some tempering of my assault to ensure that my vitriol targets the truly deserving.
I am on the side of the local operator and the small-business owner. But, I would not like to see federal subsidies created to protect their existence. I would not give local operators a competitive advantage, but I believe that they should not be disadvantaged by regulation that is tailored to fit only the largest entities. I appreciate the need to recognize a global economy, but not at the expense of local vitality. I understand the need and use of Wall Street to further a number of economic goals, but I do not believe that regulation should be created to reflect the vagaries of stock prices.
I still believe that the use of auctions by the FCC is wrong. Money paid at auction could be better employed to invigorate the market via construction of competing telecommunications systems. I believe that manufacturers are not entitled to customer lists. I believe that the FCC does not own the radio spectrum. I believe that the Universal Service Fund has strayed from its original purpose and is a forced charity that is being abused by many recipients.
I believe that any application freeze that lasts for more than six months is detrimental to everyone but the FCC. And I believe that the proper function of the FCC is to regulate and protect, not to cobble an industrial policy designed primarily to silence critics and to justify a theme of “bigger is better.”
I would march on the FCC to promote greater access to its policy- and rule-making functions for disenfranchised entities that are deemed too small to matter. I would make the commissioners hold town meetings and answer the questions that continue to nag about the direction and purpose of the FCC’s mission.
I would plead with congressmen to look past the phalanx of lobbyists to see their true constituents who work, hire and pay for homes within their districts; to look into the faces of small business owners who labor to improve the local economy. They should question the actions of their colleagues who would vote to chain the FCC to political plans that would destroy the vitality of local business.
But despite my strongly held beliefs, I don’t march. I haven’t made a sign in decades. And the last time I picketed was with the Teamsters Local 688.
Now, I am a lawyer with a lawyer’s tools. I don’t picket. I petition. I don’t chant. I argue. I don’t use slogans. I use citations. And, instead of standing outside the Halls of Justice, shouting up at “the man” inside, I’m inside staring up at a judge and providing the reasons why my clients, my cause, my reasoning makes sense under the law.
Don’t ask me which one I like better. There is something dangerous, glamorous and inviting about the electricity of the street. There is something staid, orderly and boring about the dark-paneled world of courtrooms and committee chambers. There’s juice in staring down a cop in riot gear. There’s civility in the well-timed give and take of opposing counsel.
Out in the street it all seems so real-too real. In the courthouse, it sometimes just feels like a play in which I’m an actor, saying my lines. But I take comfort in knowing that old passion continues to bubble beneath the lines. My zealous nature is more controlled, but it is not gone. My desire to improve our community is real, even if my methods now are less vocal and with a respectful volume.
So, with these thoughts, I rethink my earlier rumination when I saw the IMF protestors filling the streets of Washington: “I did my time … and I’m still doing it.”