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MN Townhall on the Future of the Internet

April 20, 2010


Comments of Chaka Mkali
 
Greetings  commissioners  Copps  and  Clyburn,  
   
My  name  is  Chaka  Mkali  and  I’m  the  director  of  organizing  and  community  building  at  Hope  
Community.  Hope  is  a  Community  Development  Corporation  in  the  Phillips  neighborhood  of  
South  Minneapolis  that  provides  173  units  of  affordable  housing  and  extensive  community  
engagement  opportunities  for  tenants  and  surrounding  neighbors  and  residents  of  the  greater  
Phillips  neighborhood.  The  Phillips  neighborhood  is  70%  people  of  color,  with  significant  
populations  of  Native  American,  East  African,  Latino  and  African  American  residents-­‐-­‐which  
makes  Phillips  one  of  the  most  racially  and  ethnically  diverse  zip  codes  in  the  Midwest.  Yet  the  
median  income  is  $22,044,  far  below  the  median  for  the  city  of  Minneapolis.    
 
As  the  director  of  organizing  and  community  building  I  use  the  internet  to  communicate  with  
the  14  lead  organizers  I  supervise  through  our  advisory  panel,  recruit  future  community  
organizers  and  neighborhood  leaders,    and  conduct  research.  I  use  it  to  communicate  with  the  
City  Council,  Park  Board  Commissioners,  receive  job  leads  for  tenants  ,    and  e-­‐vites  for  
community  actions,  connect  with  neighborhood  partners  (like  the  Sibley  bike  library  to  provide  
transportation  access),  and  network  with  local,  national  and  international  CDC’s,  community  
organizing  and  faith  based  organizations  to  share  organizing  models  and  best  practices.  
 
Recently  the  executive  director  of  the  center  for  Fair  Housing  in  Mobile,  Alabama  was  searching  
the  net  for  strategies  to  engage  community  and  stumbled  across  our  listening  models.  She  was  
interested  in  how  to  empower  youth  through  the  use  the  community  listening  sessions  to  
respond  to  pressing  housing-­‐justice  issues  that  involved  human  rights  in  the  post  Katrina  gulf  
region.  
 
As  a  community  organizer  the  power  of  an  open  and  free  Internet  brings  people  and  
organizations  that  are  miles  away  (yet  share  the  same  values)  together  to  exchange  and  
network,  it  has  brought  education,  jobs,  local  news  and  civic  participation  to  a  neighborhood  
which  has  the  lowest  voter  turn  out,  as  well  as  the  lowest  census  count  in  the  city.  If  the  FCC  
does  not  impose  regulations  protecting  Internet  users,  and  reasserting  their  authority  over  
broadband  and  pass  strong  net  neutrality,  we  compromise  democracy  and  democratic  
participation  while  perpetuating  disparities  with  staggering  impacts.    None  of  us  here  today  
want  that  on  our  hearts  and  minds.  
 
 
As  a  socially  and  politically  conscious  Hip-­‐Hop  artist  on  a  local  independent  label,  it  is  difficult  to  
compete  with  major  labels  with  distribution,  touring,  radio  and  video  if  you  don’t  fit  nicely  into  
the  Marketing  Box.    Having  access  to  open  Internet  allows  me  to  bypass  the  middle  man  -­‐-­‐
leveling  the  playing  field  and  amplifying  my  voice  in  ways  previously  unimaginable-­‐-­‐through  
Twitter,  Facebook,  You  Tube,  Blogs  and  other  Hip-­‐Hop  Websites.    
 
Music  for  me  is  not  solely  for  monetary  gain-­‐-­‐it’s  an  opportunity  to  build  a  community  locally,  
nationally  and  internationally,  collaborate  and  share  music,  make  connections  and  build  on  the  
commonalities  while  acknowledging  and  celebrating  differences.  If  our  Internet  freedoms  
aren’t  protected,  there  is  no  way  I  would  be  able  to  compete  with  Corporations  with  unlimited  
resources,  promoting  a  homogenous  sound  that  is  not  reflective  of  the  values  of  our  
community.  Competition  innovation  and  economic  stability  lie  inside  an  unrestricted,  
uncensored  equal  access  Internet.    
 
 As  a  community  Muralist  and  Artist  it  is  imperative  that  the  public  can  communicate  through  
as  many  means  as  possible.    So  many  times  in  marginalized  communities  decisions  are  made  for  
us,  with  little  input  from  us,  yet  we  live  with  the  impacts.    As  an  Artist  I  use  images  as  a  means  
for  Neighborhood  beautification,  Democracy  and  story-­‐telling.      We  use  community  mapping  
and  Google-­‐docs  to  continually  connect  to  a  community  long  after  the  public  mural  unveiling.    
We  use  the  Internet  to  solicit  neighborhood  businesses,  share  our  previous  mural  projects  
while  connecting  with  other  organizations  to  build  a  cultural  corridor  reflective  of  our  
community  values.    With  an  open  Internet  we  are  able  to  develop  the  next  set  of  leaders  in  the  
process  through  inclusion  and  participation.