by The Board of May First Movement Technology
The Corona Virus outbreak has become a major concern for people globally. Not surprisingly, movements for fundamental change reflect this. Announcements of suspended, postponed or cancelled events (including major conferences) are increasing daily. If the trend continues, our movement may literally stop meeting in person completely at least for the forseeable future. That would enormously undermine our greatest strength - our community built of vision, determination, care, and commitment.
We have always counted on personal interactions to discuss and analyze situations and plan our activities. As part of a global movement that values humanity over capital, we don’t have the resources to do things any other way; therefore, our response to this situation is vitally important in this moment and in the future.
Part of the problem is the remarkably muddled and obfuscating response by governments to the epidemic. The situation has revealed capitalist society to be particularly ill-equipped, under-informed and insufficiently organized to deal with any kind of major population-affecting threat. At the same time, the response we have seen from the U.S. government has been predictably class- based, white-preferencing, and brazenly dismissive of poor people. For example, telling people to “stay home” means one thing to 10 percent of the workforce comprised overwhelmingly of people from privileged backgrounds who can do their jobs from home and thereby mitigate impact of this pandemic. Compare that to the majority of workers who are less than $400 from houselessness in the US. These precarious workers are also less likely to have employer provided healthcare and absenteeism would mean a total loss of income. The President’s primary concern for the stock market and the hospitality industry, presents a bizarre and heartless spasm of capitalist narcissism.
If things continue this way, the threat that exists from the virus will be magnified by the anxiety, hysteria and social dysfunction that looms large. This crisis presents an opportunity to movement formations and we at May First Movement Technology feel we have a particular responsibility to respond. Or movement needs to do something about this situation.
Let’s be clear: the Corona Virus is very real and it spreads with unprecedented speed and ease. That the World Health Organization has declared it a “pandemic” should be sufficient evidence of its seriousness. People should take care of themselves and do what they can to avoid spreading this disease. In some cases, that will involve canceling convergences or smaller meetings.
As a movement, however, we have to do a lot more than cancel things.
For example, we need to explore more actively and expansively using currently available forms of communication. At May First, our members use mumble (an audio meeting program with the capability of multiple rooms and unlimited users) and Jitsi meet (an audio/video program with more limited users). We offer these resources, which enable any organization to hold on-line meetings, to all movement people and organizations. All you have to do is contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you get set up.
But we also feel we have to do more such as to develop new meeting software that is so critical for our movement. We also know that foundations are already thinking about ways to funnel money to for-profit and corporate- connected development groups and companies to look for solutions. Those solutions aren’t going to be movement solutions and, at some point, they won’t be free. They don’t seek to keep us or our data safe, rather, they will ultimately exploit our communities. We have to pressure foundations to start investing in the development of free and open software by funding the people who are working on its development.
Finally, we have to change movement culture. Whether or not you feel you can hold large convergences right now, you are going to be challenged in holding them in the future. In-person gatherings have always excluded people who cannot afford to come or who have disabilities excluding them from certain venues, travel or accommodations. As our movement grows and becomes more economically and socially diverse, these challenges will also grow, excluding more and more people. Additionally, as the impact of climate change becomes more central in our struggle, the use of air travel to attend gatherings is an increasingly important factor in our planning. In the new more just world we seek, accessibility across all identities matters. Lastly, large gatherings increase our dependence on foundations for money and the government for protection and that makes us extremely vulnerable to disruption.
If we’re to be successful as a movement, we must solve these problems. What are we going to do?
May First thinks that the answer is, in part, to use tried and tested technology we have developed thus far and will continue to develop in the future.
We also need to continue to fight for a free and liberatory internet. Our movement needs to talk about this and how to make our meeting and discussion culture more accessible and resistant to these types of disruptions. If we are always dependent on someone else’s infrastructure for liberation, how complete will that liberation be?
We think our movement should start planned conversations about these issues now and May First Movement Technology is willing to be involved in helping make that happen.