As the world faces a health crisis that is rapidly becoming a political and economic crisis, we at May First Movement Technology believe our use and democratic control of information technology is more critical than ever. We think our movement should begin conversations, as inclusive as possible, to talk about how we do that.
The COVID crisis is the latest in a long series of socially disruptive events that make clear that the system under which we live is not sustainable. Every social disaster – a market collapse, a health crisis, an environmental disaster, a social disruption – leaves us with a less functional society; fewer people meeting basic needs and surviving; and a great number discarded through imprisonment or social separation and neglect.
This one is no exception. Eventually, the frighteningly contagious, death- dealing sickness will be brought under control but the disruptive, destructive and deadly impact of the experience will change much about our society and our culture.
Logically, it will change the way our movement communicates and organizes to respond to that social impact.
Our movement can’t hold large gatherings right now. That’s a huge challenge since our movement is comprised of organizations working around specific issues or in specific communities, and use national and regional convergences to develop wider analysis and strategize by sharing our thinking and experiences. We can’t do that right now and, given the escalating costs of travel (both financial and environmental), accommodation and facilities rental, such convergences may prove to be counter-productive in the future. The need to meet,connect and build our strength remains; our meeting culture must change.
This is occurring at a time when the world situation makes greater movement communications even more necessary. The entire globe is facing an inevitable and enduring social crisis. The already fragile economy of the U.S., based to such a large extent on temporary, freelance and “as needed” jobs and production, has been bludgeoned by the “social distancing” rules necessary for survival and the mass closures of consumption businesses like stores and restaurants. Unemployment is already at an all-time high and there is no reason to believe that these jobs will be magically “restored” after the health crisis is over.
In Mexico, according to the analyses, the worst is yet to come. Only the first weeks of social estrangement have been experienced and 350,000 jobs have been lost, not counting informal jobs. The pandemic merges with daily problems like access to health, economic inequality, migration and phenomena like organized crime. The main attention is now focused on the cities, leaving indigenous and rural areas marginalized, the places where social movements are most active and vital.
The movements for change in both countries are going to have to respond to this, not only by standing on the front lines against the structural oppression that emanates from this situation but by developing strategies to address the wider crisis and the broader impact. If this situation has taught us anything, it’s how inter-related the countries of the world are and how important it is to develop a global strategy of response. As a bi-national organization in the U.S. and Mexico, at May First we have for years experienced this need and the advantages in addressing it in our own daily work.
The fact is simple: we have to communicate more than ever before and, given this situation, we have to find new ways to do that.
One thing is clear: we can’t rely on the ruling class to get us out the mess it created. Whether it be through intrusive, controlling software like Zoom (or other proprietary, closed source corporate software) or through increasing surveillance and other police actions, the response of governments and ruling classes will almost certainly restrict our rights further and repress our activities. We have to act on our own and we have to start by discussing how we are going to communicate with each other. Central questions include for example:
1 – How do we develop real, viable and functional online meeting software that is open, free, accessible and operated by the movement alternative to Zoom, the corporate software that combines superb performance with intrusive, virulent surveillance and user data sharing with the government? As good as the commercial tools can be, movements like ours simply can’t rely on programs that don’t protect privacy and data sovereignty. In fact, proprietary corporate-sponsored software is not the answer for us. At a moment when controlling our own communications is vital, putting those communications in the hands of companies is not a sustainable solution.
We gratefully acknowledge the work of the many people active in the creation and development of free/libre and open source software whose work provides us with communication tools that allow us the autonomy, control and protection we need for our social justice movement work. We are mutual allies in the cause of liberation for all.
It’s up to programmers technologists in our movement to begin collaborating to develop fully functional, stable and openly available alternatives. It’s up to movement activists to support and collaborate with those technologists in that work. It’s up to us all to stop giving money to the software corporations and reroute those funds to our movement programmers to support this work.
2 – How do we alter our meeting culture? If we are to incorporate into our movements the growing number of community, workplace and school-based organizations who are vital to any movement for change, we have to have to develop a new culture of communication that frees us from large convergences and regional conferences as our main mode of meeting. There is no question that on-line meeting and messaging will be central to the solution but what forms will this take? Essentially, we have to re-organize ourselves and so we need to start conversations about how to do that.
We think our movement needs to begin conversations on these issues and include communications technology in the agenda of all conversations already taking place. We want to be part of that process and will do what’s needed to help make it happen.