Open Letter to Michael Eisner, Chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Company

by Don Marti

Open letter to Michael Eisner, Chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Company.

Dear Mr. Eisner,

I hear you're planning a trip to Washington, DC next month to close the deal on a computer censorship bill, the SSSCA, you're buying from Congress. I'm writing to ask you to please stay home.

I'm not asking because of concerns for your safety. All Americans are getting back to regular work and travel, and that's the right thing to do. But you and your bill should stay out of Washington, DC, and let our elected representatives do their jobs.

Here's why.

On the morning of September 11th, I was wondering about one thing. Nothing the mass media could spare the time to answer, though. My question was "What happened to Jim and Ari?" They work in a building facing the World Trade Center, and often use the subway station underneath.

In mid-morning, an internet server still chugging along on lower Broadway passed along the answer. "I just talked to Ari. He and Jim are OK."

That was it. A few words, passed along by a freely available mail program on an old Pentium system in the corner of an office. Words that ended up copied many times and passed along to internet places where Jim and Ari's friends gather. Low-budget Internet hosts you've never heard of, with names like and, running software you've never heard of, with names like Postfix and GNU Mailman.

This isn't the flashy Internet of IPOs and Herman Miller chairs. It's the Internet where a regular person with a couple books and a used computer can start up a meeting, an argument, a conversation about anything. No venture capitalists, no advertisers, no licenses, no chat room monitors--just independent know-how, Linux Documentation Project style.

What did we learn from the low-profile Internet this week? Just little things. Some guy went to one hospital to give blood, they sent him to another, and everyone with type O blood please come, too. The A Train is running, making all stops except World Trade Center. Here's a complete bus schedule. A librarian in Indiana told the police she is keeping the library open, so that people can get on the Internet for news of their friends and family.

The Ventures came out with a song called, "Be Strong America" and their webmaster put it up as an MP3 file for free distribution. Other people posted photos and movies of their trips by foot out of Manhattan or Washington. Forwarded copies made the proverbial rounds as if they were virus warnings or lawyer jokes.

The song is corny, and the news is minor, but I know from the Jim and Ari message how much it could mean. On the evening of the 11th, President Bush said, "These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." Americans knew that because, as we watched TV, our inboxes became full of copies of copies of copies of individual stories of human steel.

The stories weren't all good news. A sister's friend and her fiancee, missing. One of the members of someone's favorite band was working his day job at a sky-high restaurant. Another sister was a flight attendant. And nobody would say the Internet could help with that loss.

It wasn't accurate or eloquent. Primitive reactions spewed out, ill-informed calls for revenge, racism, ignorance--the best I could say for some of the hateful garbage was, well, at least this guy is just typing, instead of breaking shop windows or worse.

It's wasn't fun and it wasn't sanitary; there can be no happy ending to this story. But it was America.

President Bush said, "The federal government and all our agencies are conducting business. But it is not business as usual." Mr. Eisner, please take that as a hint. It's a mistake for any American to shut down another's freedom to speak, whether the person being censored is editing an on-line newspaper or just making tweaks to the software that runs the "Crackmonkey" site.

The SSSCA, which you are in the middle of buying from Congress, would outlaw the software that powers the independent Internet, the Internet that had many of us crying on our keyboards this week, from loss, relief or rage. At times like this, a slightly cracked monkey means more to us than a perfectly coiffed mouse.

It would be shameful for you to show up at the US Capitol with a duffel bag full of "campaign contributions" at a time like this. Paying Congress to silence your fellow citizens, now, is not the act of a loyal American.

The SSSCA is all the more dangerous because we're a big country. I would love to be able to say that even without the Internet, our independent radio stations, local newspapers and town meetings would get our communicating done. I would love to be able to say that many voices in all media brought us news, personal appeals, debate.

But that's not what happened. Blame the price of paper, the limited radio spectrum or our spread-out geography, but the fact is that the only national, public voice most of us have is the Internet. Our national conversation runs on open standards and interoperable software. Allowing it to exist only at the pleasure of major media corporations and software giants would turn our democracy over to unaccountable private-sector rulers.

I recognize that you just want more outlets for your movies, and the Internet might look like TV to you at first. But you have plenty of markets for your products--not just TV, but the multiplexes, the theme parks, the malls. Please let Americans keep our disorderly public places, too. The Internet is annoying, flaming and rumor-mongering, but for many of us it's all the free speech we've got.

Mr. Eisner, please stay home.


Donald B. Marti Jr.American

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