In 1995, People Link started as a project of the Institute for Mass Communication, hosting web sites, setting up email accounts and providing a forum for activists to communicate all across the country. Four years later, in 1999 May First Technology Collective began as a worker run collective providing technical support to nonprofits in New York City. The two came together in 2005 and from there May First/People Link was born. Since then MF/PL has redefined the concept of "Internet Hosting Service" in a collective, progressive and collaborative way. We were fortunate to hear from MF/PL Co-Director and Internet activist Alfredo Lopez. Scroll down to see what he has to say about Internet freedom, MAG-Net and collaborating across borders.
1) Please tell us about your work – mission and vision of your organization?
May First/People Link is a membership organization and part of the progressive political movement in this country and in Mexico. We see the Internet as an expression of humanity's thirst for full democracy and collaboration world-wide, transcending borders. It's a model for the world the human race needs and wants. Understanding it that way, we have created an organization that completely redefines "Internet provider", fashioning a fully democratic, membership-based organization in which members pool our dues, share resources like web hosting and email without any charge or limit and engage in activities that reflect our role in the larger movement for change in both countries.
2) How has media representation and or media policies impacted your community and/or members that you work with?
Internet work is media work for many reasons. There has been a pronounced growth in the use of Internet communications to do media in all forms (audio, visual and written). Because of the Internet's power as a communications device, much of the exploration of and advocacy about media issues is now done on-line. Finally, media coverage of technology and Internet issues affects the perspective most people have about the Internet — and this has not always been a positive influence.
Because we have so many members directly involved in media work, and because our organization considers the work of its members to be its own work, we have a huge and deep involvement in almost all media issues.
3) Following up on Question 2, what are some living, breathing and on-the ground stories from folks you work with?
Well…a couple of the most obvious. The infamous Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May, 2010 was captured on video by our member Iara Lee who manage to secret the tape and get it out and into the public via video links on her site. The video was then quickly viralled all over the place. Iara's membership is the Caipirinha Foundation.
Earlier this year, member Antonino D'Ambrosio released his critically-acclaimed full length feature "Let Fury Have the Hour" a collaboration among several of our members involved in film work (La Lutta Media, Truth2Power Films). It got reviewed all over the place. One of our members, the Media Sanctuary (of upstate New York) holds almost constant video and new media festivals and events and these tie in struggles all over the world.
4) How is promoting open source platforms and open media connected to larger movement building and social justice issues?
The Internet is, in fact, an open and collaborative activity. This is how it was built and this is how it continues to thrives. Most of the Internet's communications flow over systems and from servers that are run by Free and Open Source Software. This models how humans can collaborate to progress and it's a living model for our movements' work — both in how it can be organized and directed and what it can produce.
The freedom and open nature of the Internet is not only a major human rights issues world-wide but it's a fulcrum issue, residing at the center of so many other struggles. That's because movements' use of the Internet has become so prevalent. We actively organize around that issue. What's more, we defend FOSS because it's our way of defending and protecting the collaborative processes that produce it and those processes are the ones that will build a new world.
We encourage our members and all activists to embrace open software and open media because it is created by them as a collaboration with all users of that software and with the network of developers who work on the software collaboratively. But there's another important element. Open software and media cannot be captured by the surveillance systems in place — and recently revealed in the Snowden revelations. That's because those systems are based on getting data from propriety software. That's an important self-protection for organizations in our movements.
5) How could a national network like the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) that you are a member of continue to support your great work?
MAG-Net's work, in its entirety, represents support for ours since our members are involved in so many other issues and tasks MAG-Net focuses on. But we think MAG-Net could expand its programs to encourage people to use FOSS, work on campaigns against surveillance and privacy-abuse (the Internet's main issue right now) and fight for full access for all people in this country. We would also like to see MAG-Net set up webinars and other informational sources to talk about surveillance and access as a human right.
Finally, we would love to see some "across the border" collaboration with Mexican activists involved in media — one of whom spoke to our recent Anchors Congress.
6) What is one thing you are looking forward to in co-anchoring the NYC MAG-Net Chapter?
Its growth and formalized structuring. New York is a media capital and a city of enormous social diversity and contradiction. There is so much a strong MAG-Net chapter can do. We would like this one to develop an intentionality (actually have meetings and discussions among members here) and to develop its own local agenda of possible tasks while more effectively applying the national tasks to the local and regional situation.
We also want every organization in the entire state involved in media work to belong to MAG-Net. There is no reason they shouldn't and every reason to do it. In fact, we are going to approach our own members involved in media to explain the power of MAG-Net.