Are you an activist?

Back in June, I received an email from my 13-year-old daughter about a rule change being made by the FCC allowing for greater consolidation of media ownership. The email sent me to a website (MoveOn.org) that was conducting a grassroots effort to lobby Congress to vote against the change. Moved by my daughter's indignation (and impressed by her understanding of the issues), I added my voice to the effort, as much in support of her activism as the issue itself.

On July 23, the House of Representatives voted 400 to 21 to block the change. My daughter clipped the article from The Wall Street Journal and taped it to her wall. I saw this as a reinforcing lesson in democracy for a child whose views are still forming. Sadly, for me, this minor venture into activism was all too rare. And it made me realise that, as concerned as I am about political, social and environmental issues, I've behaved most of my life as a passivist (not to be confused with "pacifist").

I'm certainly not alone. Americans, by and large, rarely stretch to engage in the democratic process. We're too busy: working, going to the doctor's and the grocery store, driving the kids around, putting dinner on the table. It's not until something dire and personally threatening comes along that most of us can muster the energy to try to effect change. The trouble is, by then it's often too late.

Offshore outsourcing has become such an issue for IT workers, many of whom have seen their jobs move overseas.

There are three pivotal questions that will determine if offshoring and the resulting loss of US jobs will achieve urgent status for the rest of us:

- Will offshore outsourcing be reserved for only the most basic types of IT work? There's already evidence that it won't.

- Will the headache of managing the relationships make companies willing to pay the higher price for domestic workers? Doubtful--companies are already figuring out how to make these arrangements work smoothly.

- Will some new type of knowledge work arise to create replacement jobs for hundreds of thousands of displaced IT workers? That's anyone's guess, but there's nothing on the horizon to suggest it. (See "Backlash," by Christopher Koch.)

I'm not a protectionist. But given the stakes, I do believe Congress should act swiftly to limit the number of H-1B and L-1 visas that offshore companies use to bring workers into this country to coordinate work overseas. And they should add a provision to the L-1 requiring equitable pay scales. This won't stop offshore work, and perhaps it shouldn't. But it may give us some time to think things through and better manage the transition.

Is this an issue you should be active in? Email me (after you email your congressman) and let me know what you think.

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