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A dream and a voice

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The holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was Monday, with downtown Little Rock and the Birds**t Lot where we dock the Mobile Observatory every morning a ghost town.

The Observer, like a lot of Americans, has long been an admirer of King, one man who changed a whole country (and maybe even the world) for the better just by the force of his will, the power of his words and the resolve of his mind. On the cluttered Wall of Fame and Shame beside our desk, among the complaint e-mails and the thank you cards, The Observer keeps a portrait of Dr. King. It's actually a ragged and torn church fan, the stick ripped out and discarded, the paper worried and creased almost to the point of disintegration, as if some poor sinner folded and unfolded it a thousand times while the preacher bore down on him or her with the Wrath of Judgment. We found it in the back pew of a church down in East Little Rock some years back while visiting a service there for a story — the first and last time in a good 15 years that we've darkened the door of a church on Sunday. We didn't figure anybody would miss it, and besides, we've got a lot more use for "A Letter from Birmingham Jail" than we ever had for any of the sermons we dozed through as a kid, in our best shoes and slicked-down hair.

For several years now, Dr. King has hovered over our telephone. "Courage," he says. "Faith and courage." As we tell anybody who comments on our portrait of the Good Doctor while visiting our desk: It's MLK Day 24/7/365 up here, friends.

The Observer didn't feel too hot last weekend. Sitting on the couch wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, hostage to a stomach bug, we logged onto YouTube, looking for a sweet tune to brighten sickly spirits. What happened next — well, we've all been there: the "copyright infringement screen of death." We're all seeing a lot more of it these days, it seems.

Only after five attempts did The Observer finally wave the white flag at the YouTube angels, surrendering to the message of the Corporate Gods who own them.

Intending to avoid the inevitable brain aneurysm, The Observer had just opted for the "Can you feel the good vibes radiating?" playlist on our Kindle when the loud "Breaking News Alert" chime interrupted the momentary escape. Pausing, first, to take another swig of Emergen-C and to pop a few gummy vitamins, The Observer was relieved to see that President Obama had just pledged his administration would not support the current forms of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) currently being debated in Congress.

The Observer had initially become familiar with these bills thanks to posts by friends and advocacy groups on Facebook. After some research, it became clear that both pieces of legislation have the potential to change the Internet as we know it. While PIPA would afford the government and corporations the ability to take legal action against any site deemed an "enabler" of copyright infringement, SOPA simply lays the groundwork for a "black list" of sites, with the added bonus of legal authority to block any and all financial support to those sites. Not surprisingly, SOPA and PIPA are opposed by Google, Facebook and Reddit. Less surprising? They enjoy the support of Time Warner, Comcast, Disney, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

In many ways, the technology of today has rapidly become the technology of The Observer's generation — not because we invented it, but because we built upon the technology we inherited. Yet, for all the ways these innovations have empowered us to have more control over the lives we lead, there are those who aim not only to stifle this technological progress, but to force us all two steps back into technological history — into a world robbed of the open Internet we took apart and reassembled into something more powerful than any government or corporation: a global voice.

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