EFF's annual Pioneer Awards ceremony gives the digital civil liberties community a chance to honor the work of those who fight for online freedom through remarkable innovation, activism, journalism, or leadership. This year, EFF recognized the accomplishments of free expression advocate Annie Game, journalist Mike Masnick, and whistleblower Chelsea Manning at the 26th annual Pioneer Awards ceremony in San Francisco on September 14.
The program began with a video segment and keynote address by Ashley Nicole Black, an Emmy-winning comedy writer and correspondent on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. "I'm here because Samantha Bee said no," she quipped. Black's speech—touching on everything from mass surveillance ("I wrote these jokes on Google Docs, so I hope the NSA likes them") to net neutrality ("The Internet was not meant to be controlled. It is mysterious and self-regulating, like a vagina")—sparked raucous laughter from the audience.
EFF Director of International Free Expression Jillian York presented the evening's first award to Annie Game, Executive Director of IFEX. Game explained that her first thought upon learning she'd won a Pioneer Award was of, well, pioneers. "Guys trudging through the wilderness with muddy boots and bad teeth, and how hard those people have to work. We face huge challenges, and I thought, 'that's what we're doing,'" she said. She noted that we need "productive rage" and alliances to fight for freedom of expression. "If we didn't have smart, committed advocates working on all the angles, this world would be intolerable," Game said.
EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry introduced honoree Mike Masnick, founder and editor of Techdirt. "The sort of obvious interpretation to me is that this is an award for getting sued," Masnick joked, referring to Techdirt's fight against a $15 million defamation lawsuit which was dismissed just days before the ceremony. He made an impassioned call for stronger anti-SLAPP laws. (Frequently employed to silence protected speech, SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation.") "We need to be able to speak without fear of being threatened or silence," he said, visibly choking up. "EFF has supported Techdirt's work for many years, and this was the year I needed it most."
EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman introduced the evening's final honoree, whistleblower Chelsea Manning. A former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Manning's conscience-driven leaks of classified Iraq war documents—which exposed human rights abuses and corruption the government kept hidden from the public—resulted in an unprecedented 35-year prison sentence, of which she served 7 years before President Obama commuted the remainder of her prison term. "It's kind of eerie, I feel like I'm in a dystopian novel all of a sudden," Manning said of her post-prison life. She went on to explain that whistleblowing doesn't require any particular credentials. "I'm not special. From my perspective, I'm just a street kid. I cared about civil liberties, human rights issues. I went into the military and was faced with a decision, and I'm still grappling with that," she said. "I don't have any super powers, or magical abilities. I'm just like you guys."
Manning also explained the origins of her signature Twitter hashtag, #WeGotThis, and emphasized individuals' power as political actors. "Every single one of us in this room has hope. Hope is inside of you. Nobody can ever give you hope. I had to learn that," she said. "Don't ever let what's happening in the world get you down."
EFF established the Pioneer Awards in 1992 to recognize leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology.
Each year, EFF Pioneer Award winners are nominated by members of the public. We invite you to keep an eye out for potential nominees and share their accomplishments with us next year at https://www.eff.org/awards/pioneer.
Special thanks to Airbnb, Dropbox, Ron Reed, and Ridder, Costa & Johnstone for supporting EFF and the 2017 Pioneer Awards ceremony. If you or your company are interested in learning more about sponsorship, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org..