May First/People Link’s (MFPL) work is the Internet. We support and work to build an Internet infrastructure for our membership. We communicate with our more than 700 members online. Even our staff, spread out across multiple states and over international borders, communicates regularly over the web. And so we relish the spaces where we can meet face to face. Last week, MFPL used the Allied Media Conference as a critical gathering space to engage with staff, members and allies. Although, truth be told, our key work in Detroit took place before the AMC even began.
We chose Detroit to launch a groundbreaking program. The People of Color Techie Training Program, is a joint project of MFPL, The Praxis Project and Progressive Technology Project. It is a landmark 12 month program that provides intense, supportive, mentored training for activists of color to become professional-level, politically progressive and movement involved technologists.
No other program of this type exists in this country, and yet it’s never been more critically important. As social justice movement work continues to shift online, we need to be strategic about how we use and build the Internet, especially in light of corporate and government policies that are attempting to contain and control the web. Technologists play a critical role in this issue because they run the technology, they build and maintain the software we all rely on. While the current community of progressive techies is politically engaged and active, it is a community of predominantly white men that doesn’t adequately reflect the diverse scope of US culture. The lack of people of color involved in the maintenance, planning and direction of the Internet is both disempowering and, ultimately, destructive to the entire social justice movement.
If technology is to be effectively used in diverse communities, people from these communities must participate in its development and implementation. Our program is designed to attack this problem head-on: by increasing the number of top-tier, front-lines techies. With the initial training session successfully implemented, we are excited to watch as the program develops.
Launching the POC Training Program in Detroit was also strategic for another project. The AMC offered MFPL a day long, mini conference space to support strategic planning within our own network the day before the full conference began. We used this opportunity to host a Peoples Movement Assembly. The goal was to bring together techies and movement organizers to discuss needs and priorities for the Internet, to evaluate the kinds of technologies and policies currently in development and to collectively decide what tools and developments we want to use and support for the future. In attendance were a powerful panel of seasoned activists and organizers, the POC Program trainees, key members of MFPL’s techie support team, staff and members, and included the participation of MFPL’s extended membership community in Mexico. It was a truly diverse group in terms of age, gender, race, geography; and the conversation was engaging and powerful.
The result was a list of needs and priorities that went way beyond a laundry list of software applications. Education and awareness building were central themes as attendees discussed the need for accessible training, the need to demystify technology and holistic approaches to sustainable infrastructure development. We will be building on these points of agreement to devise an action plan. A more formal report on the full discussion and deliberation will be forthcoming.
By the time the AMC got underway, MFPL had already accomplished somuch. We were able use the rest of the weekend to meet, network,learn and connect. We thank the AMC for offering us this criticalspace which met our tremendous need to collaborate face to face. Our gathering at the AMC confirms that the work we are able to accomplish when we come together is priceless.
Hilary Goldstein is a media educator and the Membership Coordinator of May First/People Link. MF/PL is an organization that redefines the concept of "Internet Hosting Service" in a collective, progressive and collaborative way.