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<nettime> From free-software to street-activism & vice-versa: an introdu
darkveggy on Mon, 18 Jul 2005 10:11:57 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> From free-software to street-activism & vice-versa: an introduction


 FROM FREE SOFTWARE TO STREET ACTIVISM & VICE VERSA: AN INTRODUCTION
	      by Verdura Obscura (darkveggy) - May 2005

Contemporary societies have now endorsed computer technology, to the point of
turning its use into an attractive social duty. But while some computers power
market-economy, other machines remain busy with myriads of software alternatives,
counter-initiatives & community offensives. What follows is a quick walk-through
some of the cracks in the official computer picture; a surface exploration of the
convergence between digital alternatives and political subversives.

       .:. FREE SOFTWARE: THE BIRTH OF A COMPUTED RESISTANCE .:.

 analog recipes and digital bakery

Computers do not speak anything but binary language; that is, a succession of 0 and
1. Since hardly any human can communicate in such a way, intermediary languages
have been developed for programmers to use when creating programs. This
human-readable combination of words, punctuation and mathematical expressions is
called "source code".

Software and cakes have a lot in common. Both involve a list of instructions to
follow, ingredients to mix, and a transformation process to go through. Cooking is
about producing and following a recipe, just as programming is about generating and
typing a source code. Just like cakes, programs have to be baked too. The process
of turning source code into binary form that computers can eat is called
"compiling".

Just as cakes can be cooked for you, computer programs often come pre-compiled &
ready to run. Fine. But what if the cake was so good you want to bake your own?
What if the program was so impressive you want to understand how it works? What it
you want to share the cake's recipe with friends? What if the program lacked an
important feature you need and feel like adding? You need the recipe; you need the
source-code!

 the birth of a hacker revolt

Back in 70s, The Artificial Intelligence Lab from Massachusetts's Institute of
Technology gave birth to a digital counter-culture: the hackers'. Hackers [1]
enjoyed computer-programming and bypassing limitations by finding clever solutions.
Rather than using the operating system [2] that was shipped with the lab's
computer, they had crafted their own, and shared the source code with whoever was
interested. Their community was based upon the dissemination of software recipes,
mutual cooperation, and the belief that "information should be free".

Such sharing dynamics were to be seriously shaken in the early 80s. With new
hardware came new software, which one was explicitly forbidden to share. It came
without source-code, but with copyright, restrictive licenses & high expenses.
Users would be repressed for helping each other by copying; software developers
would be banned from cooperating by sharing code; without recipes nor the rights,
others wouldn't get an occasion to learn, modify, recompile! This is what
proprietary software is about: companies claiming property over knowledge,
restricting its access according to their interests; selling expensive cakes,
keeping their operation secret, while preventing others from doing them better and
sharing them with the rest. Proprietary software is now a commonly spread disease
among personal computers, as shows the number of machines running Microsoft
Windows.

In 1984, MIT hacker Richard Stallman [3] quit his job, in a refusal to abandon his
community practices and ideals. He founded the GNU project [4], aiming at
developing an alternative operating system that would be free to use, free to
understand, free to copy, free to modify. Copyleft replacing copyright; source-code
availability, instead of binary-only. To backup this emerging project, the Free
Software Foundation [5] was created, and introduced "copyleft" [6] by issuing the
GNU General Public Licence (GNU GPL), a legal trick to prevent illegitimate
appropriation of free software by third parties. One has the right to modify GPL
licenced-software and distribute his/her modifications, provided they use the same
licence, and thus grant the same freedoms to their users; using copyright... to
subvert copyright! That was the birth of the free software movement, as a political
act of resistance against proprietary software.

The GNU project was met with enthusiasm and quickly grew out of the benevolent
participation of a number of individuals across the world. In 1991, a finnish
student by the name of Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel [7]. Put together
with already existing GNU software, it resulted in the fruitful combination known
as GNU/Linux [8], that was soon to become the fully-featured & powerful operating
system which is widely used today. Then, free software was no longer a
hacker-exclusive playground, but had become a valuable alternative to proprietary
solutions; not only providing good programs, but, most importantly, putting power
in the hands of the users, instead of stealing it away from them.

This is what free software is about: a digital revolution that is social before it
is technical. Free software grants user-power and flexibility against the tyranny
of a profit-making software company: source-code provides the possibility for one
to understand and double-check a program for bugs or weak security, fix it
accordingly, adapt it to new uses, or improve its quality. Free software
demonstrates the efficiency of volunteer association & self-organisation, rather
than wage work constraints & hierarchies; it proves the benefits of solidarity and
effort mutualisation, rather than opacity and competition: it powers 70% of servers
over the Internet [9] and technically defeats closed-source equivalents in most
cases, thanks to the involvement of thousands of individuals worldwide. Free
software breaks the boundaries between developers and users, rather than having
people rely on experts. It is based upon participation, rather than sole
consumption: anyone is encouraged to contribute according to his/her skills and
wills, by writing documentation, submitting program modifications, doing
translations, spreading the word and supporting individuals willing to free their
machines from the proprietary.

 when it backfires...

Free software was initiated as both a technical alternative and a political
offensive against proprietary software and values. While Richard Stallman and other
prominent figures of the movement have maintained that dual commitment over years,
it is clear that the subversive potential of free software has consciously been
eluded by a number of parties. While large amounts of geek types tend not to show
interest in politics, thus passively discarding the militant approach, a new
tendency emerged against free software's engaged discourse. The Open Source
Initiative [10] was launched by Eric S. Raymond in 1998 to publicly stand against
the FSF's leftist tendencies, and set a new label for advertising non-proprietary
software - "open-source" -, with a particular focus on business leaders, frightened
by the "free software" emblem.

Of course, building market-compliant sex-appeal, to be directed at multinationals,
couldn't go without dropping what made free software so special [11]. The "Open
Source Definition" logically abandoned all reference to the social & ethical means
& motives of free software, not to mention the fight for freedom as a primary aim.
Preaching for a peaceful coexistence between free & closed software, "open-source"
is also about politics; but its politics are those of pacification, integration,
acceptance and promotion of the market rules, with the slight difference of a
smarter development model. Free software has often been dismissed as "communist" by
its enemies (and by Microsoft in particular) [12]. It might not be that simple.
What is very clear, though, is that "open source" pledges capitalism, while free
software can be a contribution to something else.

Looking in the opposite direction to the Open Source Initiative is another myriad
of individuals, collectives and networks, working at extending free software's
political spectrum, merging it with ongoing struggles, aiming to explore the
subversive potentials of computing, rather than extinguish them.=20

   .:. GRASS-ROOTS ACTIVISM: ANALOGICAL MOVEMENTS MEET THE BYTES .:.

 hierarchy, capitalism & property, among other nastiness

Contemporary societies all rely on hierarchies, as they have done almost
exclusively for centuries. Be they called democracies and pretend they grant
everyone the same freedoms, rights and duties, they involve a political authority,
whose power can override anybody's, provided it has been once approved by the
majority. Representative democracy involves letting a board of so-called experts -
politicians - deal with issues concerning everybody and take decisions which will
affect the whole community, while the intervention of the primarily concerned is
restricted to electing a leader every X years. Such a system disempowers everybody
but a minority, for it draws away power & responsibility over one's own life from
the individual, to be centralised by a collective entity, supposedly defending the
interest of the many. Not only does this result in the individual being
systematically crushed by the majority, but it also involves allowing a tiny group
of people to decide upon laws that will later be enforced on you and me.

Most governments have totally embraced capitalism, dismantling public services and
encouraging private companies to make their way through market economy. Defining
the maximisation of profits as the priority, capitalism relies on the dynamics of
competition and domination, feeds the law of the fittest, and implies a permanent
state of war in and outside the economy. Placing the interests of a company above
all ethical concerns, capitalism leads to huge dismissals by favouring benefits
over employees, supports exploitation by delocalising production lines and has work
done nearly for free, commits massacres and uncountable human-right violations
while stealing indigenous resources, generates mass precarity through the World
Bank & International Monetary Fund, which force developing countries to drop their
social rights for incoming money, takes the most prominent part in destroying the
environment, and tends to turn anything, being or tendency, into a good, for sale
in the global economy.

Can one believe a society to implement equality, when it relies on such mechanisms,
and distributes {social,economical,political} power in variable quantities,
depending on gender, race, age, class, sexual orientation and many other such
dividing categories? However, discrimination, oppression and domination do not just
occur inside institutions. They lie within one's social relations, forged by an
early acceptation of hierarchy, integration through abidance to social norms, a
life-time education to authority, and our very own reserves towards equality.

 being active programmers of our lives, not passive users

These critiques are nothing new. They have been explored, deepened, publicised,
debated and fought about for years, by webs of collectives, individuals, affinity
groups and organisations often referred to or self-defined as "radicals",
"anti-authoritarians" or "anarchists", whose history is far too long and complex to
render in a few words [13]. Some of them are part of international networks such as
People's Global Action [14], which actions eventually came to the broad public's
attention, throughout previous years' counter-summit demonstrations [15]. Unlike
most other political factions, these movements generally attempt to go beyond the
mere slogan, by putting their ideals into practice: by confronting the politics
they fight against through actions; by coding, compiling and experiencing
alternatives to the current social order.

In opposition to vertical-organising, anti-authoritarian movements share a
tradition of self-management and assembly: decisions are directly taken by those
who are affected by them, without the mediation of a hierarchy. This is about
emphasizing individuals' power over their lives, through collective concern and
personal responsibility; about working towards consensus, instead of some being
silenced by the majority. Despise the common & well-too-spread belief that freedom
and equality only require "spontaneity", activist networks have thought and
implemented some practical facilitation tools to allow efficient meetings & truly
democratic decision-making [16].

In opposition to capitalism, stand quantities of non-profit production and
distribution initiatives, be they about books, vegetables or bicycles! The "do it
yourself" counter-culture [17] is one of these lively examples: a world-wide and
long-lasting movement, successfully opposing the reign of money over culture, by
bringing together thousands of independent music labels, radical book publishers
and engaged bands, exchanging through fanzines, spreading through mail distribution
and peer-to-peer contact, organizing music shows and tours, settled in hundreds of
alternative venues, private garages or squatted houses across countries. Against
economic discrimination, European activist circles have made widespread use of
"prix libre" for their public events' entry fee: a donation instead of a fixed
price, for the attendant to adapt his/her contribution to her/his financial
situation; no entry prohibition upon money, if one doesn't have any. Among the
routes to escape capitalism, is attempting autonomy, by growing food, producing
alternative energy, and, possibly, code free?

In putting these alternatives into practice, one requires space, time and energy.
Squatting [18] has played a major role in the development of radical-left cultures
since the 70s: recycling abandoned buildings allows appropriation of spaces for
collective uses; not paying rent reduces the need to work for money, thus liberates
time for benevolent activity; collective project-building providing energy and
practical experiences of self-management, with its successes, failures, and
difficulties; and all in all, allows further autonomy from consumer society.
Squatting the empties is a form of direct-action against capitalism, the latter
relying on private property. Ownership is a virtual title, which grants the person
in possession an absolute and exclusive right over what s/he owns, might s/he not
make any use of it at all. Speculation is a fairly common game for owners to play.
It involves maintaining houses in an unused state, waiting for prices to higher,
while denying access to people in need. In opposition to that, squatting empty
properties is about reclaiming abandoned resources for those who can put them to
use; it is about placing legitimacy before legality; it is about inverting dominant
values, claiming that property belongs to its users, rather than to its entitled
owners.

 from hacking property to fighting the proprietary

Computer technology has long been met with skepticism and denial within grass-roots
movements, for being central in capitalist development, enforcing government
control and serving corporate interests. While this does remains true, tactical use
of technology as means of subversive communication has always been part of
political activism, as has shown free radio movements from the 80s, performing
pirate broadcasts to "reclaim the airwaves", in defense of freedom of speech and
independent information. Yippie revolutionary Abbie Hoffman provides yet another
example, for being involved in phone phreaking, explaining through underground
fanzines how to exploit bugs in phone networks to communicate for free.

In the 90s, activist computer use grew from producing flyers and posters to
disseminating content through the Internet, which cyber-utopians &
techno-anarchists believed to be a free & independent territory, back then. Not
only was early online computing largely mixed with libertarian ideals, but it also
supported the first marginal attempts at activist networking. Internet was a big
step in bringing together analogical struggles to digital mediums, thanks to its
decentralised structure and bidirectional communication. Unlike television, this
media was not limited to consuming contents, but provided an easy way to organise
and distribute one's own information. However, the encounter that is possibly to be
the most fruitful involves two movements or tendencies; one being analogical, the
other being digital; anarchism & free software.

Free software and anarchist movements indeed happen to share a number of concerns
and practices. Both have the ultimate goal of building a free society, free
software focusing on public empowerment through availability of knowledge,
anarchism on destroying power structures that prevent their accessibility. Both are
about putting back power in the hands of the user: user power over tools s/he uses,
user power over the life s/he chooses to run. Thus, both destabilise established
power roles, based upon corporate and governmental models. Both advocate
solidarity, and rely on cooperation to function: free software development depends
upon team-work and collective emulation, just as anarchism requires consensus,
mutual help and consideration. Both lead to reconsidering common perception of
property: free software flipping copyright upside down with copyleft and claiming
that "software should not have owners", anarchists questioning the legitimacy of
exclusive ownership and practicing resource sharing through squatting. Both
provides working examples of alternative social models, based upon
decentralisation, volunteer participation and self-management: free software
development is made of hundreds of autonomous clusters organising independently,
without a central authority nor any corporate agenda to carry, coordinating
willingly, while anarchist organising usually involves similar affinity groups
gathering around common concerns, without a hierarchy. Against corporate opacity
and elitism, free software functions with transparency, allows everyone to
participate, just as a libertarian open-organisation would distribute information
and responsibility to all those who would agree.

By getting involved in free software, anti-authoritarians get the opportunity to
have their relation to computing shift, from solely tactical considerations to a
more exciting option: participating in designing and building operating-systems in
a contributive and horizontal fashion, by putting self-management into practice,
and having the chance to shape egalitarian uses & applications. The Debian
GNU/Linux operaring-system [19], in addition to providing the Anarchist FAQ among
its software packages [20], includes anarchists among its developers, some of whom
have been debating the political nature of the project as a whole [21]. While free
software offers activists a number of possibilities, in terms of secure &
community-driven communication & organisational tools (thanks to web portals,
self-managed websites aka wikis, mailing-lists), grass-roots politics allow free
software enthusiasts to break the bounderies of computing and insert their
practices within a broader picture. This opens up new questions, provides new
inspiration, and allows learning from the experiences of other struggles.

Over the past few years, individuals from both communities felt they could gain
from closer interaction and mutual recognition. From geek parties taking place in
squatted communities, to free software powering street action counter-information,
a number of initiatives, collectives and movements have emerged out of these
hybridations.

    .:. MERGING LAYERS, ANALOGICAL AND DIGITAL: IMPLEMENTATIONS .:.

 plug'n'politix: opening access to squats & Internet

In October 2001, a number of groups and individuals gathered in the Egocity squat
in Z=FCrich, Switzerland [22], for three days of discussions, debates and practical
workshops. This was to be the first "Connect Congress" of the "Plug'n'Politix"
network. The experience was renewed in December 2004, hosted by Cyber*Forat [23], a
squatted cybercaf=E9 located in central Barcelona. Plug'n'Politix [24] allows
groups and collectives from all over Europe to share their experiences in running
Internet open-access spaces and hacklabs in squatted social-centres or alternative
venues. It provides a common channel for information exchange, community building
and developing a hybrid mix of anti-authoritarian politics, free software
development and activist computer use.

One of the first groups to implement this crossover was ASCII (Amsterdam Subversive
Center for Information Interchange) [25], bringing together computer-inclined
political activists and free-software hackers. They engaged in squatting actions,
filling empty basements with keyboards and wireless signals. Despise evictions,
they successfully set-up a public venue providing a computer workspace for local
activists, offering free Internet access to visitors seven days a week, as well as
using, promoting and teaching free-software. From 1997 onwards, similar initiatives
popped up in different corners of Europe: PUSCII in Utrecht [26], LOTEC in Berlin
[27], PRINT in Dijon [28], Monte Paradiso in Croatia [29], Cyberpipe in Slovenia
[30], Blouk Blouk in Lyon [31]... among others!

Such collectives have largely contributed to raising ethical and practical issues
related to technology within radical activist circles. Questioning the use of
corporate and proprietary software by groups protesting against the very same type
of multinationals producing these programs, they have been working towards
integrating computer-related issues to activists' political concerns, introducing
free software as an alternative. Considering the digital tools we use as a
meaningful political choice, campaigning was extended to bringing awareness to the
general public, by encouraging computer users to break their dependency upon
Microsoft, and start setting their system free!

While offering curious novices an occasion to give free software a try, open-access
spaces often put software's versatility into practice. Not only are they real
testing grounds and a good source for user feedback, but they also tend to inspire
creative network designs or resource sharing experiments, in efforts to improve
overall efficiency and implement ecology [32]. Friendly visitors can generally ask
for help in migrating their systems towards free software alternatives, burn a copy
of the Debian archive, which some open-access spaces provide officially, or grab a
Knoppix, a Dynebolic or an Ubuntu live-CD [33].

Commercial trends keep forcing new hardware down people's throats while dumping
yesterday's, that is now ridiculed by the gigahertz race happening everyday.
Open-access spaces attempt at breaking the capitalist chain by recycling discarded
hardware, putting together deprecated computer parts, and plugging dead boxes back
to life. Yet another demonstration of the irrelevance of productivism, when people
are told to buy, whereas the trash contains it all; it's the matter of a dumpster
to hack, and a handful of free machines to take back!

As computing becomes central, digital illiteracy grows tall. By organising free
teaching and skill-sharing workshops to disseminate computer knowledge, hacklabs
contribute in fighting the digital divide, looking towards empowering those
left-out by new technologies. While officials might also pretend to do so when
walking people around supermarket Internet, others prefer to arm people with
awareness on the possibilities for governments to use the net to spy, identify and
repress.

Open-access spaces are providing social environments for free software users and
enthusiasts to meet, exchange and support each other, by merging the tradition of
Linux User Groups [34] and squat-caf=E9s. As a result, they act as bidirectional
gateways, leading activists to make the switch, and encouraging geek types to
discover places they might not have had the opportunity to enter otherwise...

 hackmeetings beyond computing: reality-hacking

While Plug'n'Politix was acting as an inspirational hub in northern parts of
Europe, bridges were being built in Italy to allow the transport of hundreds of
keyboards behind squatted doors. It began in Firenze, in June 1998 [35], and was
restarted each year since: hackers gathering in squatted social centres, for three
day festivals of digital counter-culture, anticapitalist free-software,
anti-authoritarian skill-shares, peer-to-peer friendship and community building;
without sponsors, without entitled organisers; powered by volunteer work from
people across the country, coordinated through an open mailing-list and
contributing their skills; with a particular focus on meeting people & being
sociable; with a joyful general assembly to close the party.

Enthusiasm eventually jumped borders, and the concept quickly caught on in Spain,
where a similar movement emerged in 2000, when the first hackmeeting took place in
the Barcelona's "Les Naus" squatted social centre [36]. Like in Italy, hackmeetings
were to become a yearly event. But the most successful aspect of these meetings,
besides effectively melting hacker culture and activist practice, was the creation
of hacklabs [37] all over the two countries, providing a permanent continuation of
the hackmeeting effort, following the idea of "reality hacking". Reality hacking is
about exporting the hacker attitude out of the digital sphere it originated from.
It is an invitation to embrace life with the ingenious, critical and rebellious
spirit emphasized by hacker ethics. Iru=F1a's hackmeeting [38] slogan was "hack
your brain"; encouraging geeks to reclaim their intelligence, driving it away from
social norms and dominant culture influence, to use it as a subversive tool against
alienation & constraints.

The very social nature of southern hackmeetings and their successful mix between
technology and politics generated the will to further export the tradition and
disseminate its magic outdoors: a European-wide Transnational Hackmeeting (THK)
took place in June 2004 at the Monte Paradiso hacklab from Pula, Croatia, in an
effort to draw connexions between eastern & western computed dissent [39]. A next
encounter should happen by the end of 2006...

 Squatting the Internet & spreading the word

Internet has brought a new dimension to social activism, allowing the coordination
of large scale actions that were never seen before. Spread through the net,
international calls to decentralised protests sometimes led to hundreds of
blockades, demonstrations and miscellaneous civil disobedience actions being
carried throughout the world with a common goal, such as those which happened on
November 30th, 1998, where thousands blocked the World Trade Organisation in the
streets of Seattle. Thanks to an instant dissemination of information, it has been
possible to keep track, react, organise emergency solidarity, while the
intensification of communication between geographically distant groups has
undoubtedly generated emulation, fueled inspiration and facilitated project
creation.

Using the Internet as an activist medium requires infrastructures. Before Internet
was largely spread among the public, were already running some servers dedicated to
hosting webpages and e-mails for groups who could not cope with advertisements, who
would require security, and favour trust based upon affinity with administrators to
feeding the dot-com phenomena. Tao.ca in Canada, kyuzz.org & ecn.org in Italy,
nodo50.org in Spain or flag.blackened.net in the US were some of the first, soon to
be followed by a number of others: squat.net & nadir.org in Germany, sindominio.net
in Spain, inventati.org & autistici.org in Italy, riseup.net & mutualaid.org in the
US...

Thanks to free software, it is possible to set up and administrate an autonomous
server over the Internet, without resorting to hosting companies' commercial
offers. While system administration is traditionally carried by one person in
businesses and institutions, activist server admins have been working towards
merging their politics and computing passion, by experimenting with mechanisms of
cooperative work.  Boum.org, for instance, implements a "collective administration"
framework that's been brewed by some french hacklabs for some years, before being
put into wider practice in running the server. In an effort to facilitate the
"learning by doing" approach and limit the extent of informal hierarchies depending
on knowledge between project members, administration tasks are being divided in
small clusters. A group of two or more volunteers - one having prior knowledge on
the issue, the other willing to learn - takes care of each section for a certain
period of time, and then moves on to handle another cluster. Participants
eventually get to share a global view over a complex system, novices being
empowered by the process, whereas they're usually excluded.

Tech activists have often been prone to contribute modifications to free software
projects, some of them particularly reflecting their ethical & practical concern,
in regards to anonymity and privacy, related to content-publishing, video editing
or radio broadcasting. Riseup.net, for example, distribute their server-enhancement
developments as free software [40]. Italian hackers issued Dynebolic [41], and the
Metabolik hacklab provided X-Evian [42], both being activist-oriented GNU/Linux
systems booting off a CD, allowing one to turn his/her computing into a
communication weapon in a few clicks. And sometime in 1999, Australian group CAT
(Community Activist Technology [43]) released a software called Active [44], that
would allow the quick spread of a well-known activist information revolution:
Indymedia!

 Indymedia: information, from the bottom to the top

Indymedia [45] was created as an activist answer to corporate misinformation and
outrageously biased media coverage of radical protests. It was initiated in the
midst of Seattle's tear gas in November 1999, by a group of radical techies
offering an original contribution to the anti-WTO actions. It quickly grew into a
world-wide network for counter-information, providing an alternative to mainstream
media through a collection of decentralised websites. It is one of the most
inspiring examples of activist technology development putting Internet to use.
Similar to free-software in its open-participation scheme, it has become a major
medium, involving thousands.

Indymedia relies on open-publishing. Whereas traditional media divides people into
active journalists and passive consumers, Indymedia allows anyone to instantly
publish or comment on information. As a portal of street activism, Indymedia
attempts to counter official propaganda and mediatic formatting by offering
alternative views on the news, and covering social struggles that are generally
ignored. By taking its decisions on consensus through transparent public
mailing-lists, Indymedia contrasts with the opacity and power-games that lie within
the official press. The whole network is based upon volunteer work, and remains
independent from institutions, corporations or political parties. Being spread in a
number of cities world-wide, it is able to relay information from its source,
allowing activists to avoid mediatic filters and censorship. This decentralisation
proved to be particularly helpful in countries who seriously lack alternative media
structures, and were going through hectic political times, like Argentina or
Ecuador, whose Indymedia centers were donated hardware from the US, collected by
the Indymedia Solidarity project. Of course, Indymedia runs free software on its
servers. Like 80s MIT hackers used to say: "information has to be free!".

Open-access and hacklabs provide physical gateways to Indymedia and like-minded
alternative news sites, by re-routing people's habits away from cnn.com!

 get off the Internet, the street is a rootshell!

Internet is no longer the realm of freedom that techno-enthusiasts had advocated.
Probably it was never so, since its physical structures, though dispersed
throughout continents, never belonged to its users. Governments, who have long been
scared of the Internet's freedom potential, are now taking it back, forcing
restrictions upon its unruly tradition. In 1997, one of the biggest German Internet
Service Prodivers started blocking requests directed to a dutch website hosting
Radikal, a radical-left German newspaper banned from Germany. Dozens of mirror
sites popped up as a result, and a big pressure campaign led to the end of the
blockade [46].

As in most other European countries, France has recently suffered from a series of
new laws on the Internet, generating large waves of discontent among the
cyber-population. Outraged geeks organised virtual gatherings, looking forward to
exerting pressure, but seriously lacking campaigning experience. Standing at the
cross-roads between geek and activist cultures, this is exactly where hacklabs can
fill the gap, by sharing knowledge in organising protests with the rest! Looking
forward to letting geek anger out on the streets, the PRINT collective initiated
the first street protest for "freedom on the Internet" in France, March 2004 [47].
Gathering a few "angry people of the net", the demonstration went down the streets
of Dijon, ryhthmed by a geek-battucada, shouting slogans and eventually dropping
dead screens covered in fake-blood in front of government offices. Bigger
demonstrations followed in Paris, when Internet users' coalitions joined effort
with anarcho-syndicalists from the CNT, and organised a street-party against
anti-free-Internet repressive politics.=20

Considering the diversity of tactics deployed within anti-authoritarian struggles
over the years, and the very practical victories it could lead to - from
maintaining social spaces to shutting down detention centres -, geek struggles can
only benefit from getting offline for a while. Here there are probably issues to be
considered, in the current fight against software patents and in defense of free
software, among others [48].

 yes, computers do have genders

However, not everything is so perfect in the (alternative) computer sphere, by far.
We still live in a patriarchal society, where power and influence are mostly
males', where men are taught to dominate womyn from an early age, while gender
roles attempt to make girls accept their condition. Yesterday, womyn would be
treated as irrational beings and denied access to science. Today, technology
remains dominated by men. Just as there are few womyn drummers or female guitar
players since social pressure makes it so difficult for girls to get there, there
are ever fewer fem programmers. Womyn are almost always excluded from and so often
made invisible by computing environments; they are lead to use simplified
interfaces on Macintoshs, while men play with complicated PCs, just as girls are
offered dolls, while boys play at firemen.  Of course, geek types aren't usually
very helpful in encouraging womyn's integration, as the number of sexist jokes and
outrageously macho remarks shows. By the way, it is interesting to note that manual
pages generally use "he" for the programmer, and "she" for the user.

"What about anarchist geeks? They can't be sexist!" one could be tempted to say.
Unfortunately, there can be no guarantee, since dropping male privileges and
dominant attitudes takes a lot more than wearing an anti-sexist shirt as these
behaviours are deeply rooted in our social habits and personalities. Virility also
lies within keystrokes, through ways of speaking, through means of putting forward
one's capacities while refusing to help out others, through creating & feeding
atmospheres of competition, through gently scorning beginners, through supposing
that all computer knowledge comes from men without questioning it further.  It also
comes in more subtle ways, by taking over the keyboard to help and demonstrate,
rather than explain and let womyn do it themselves.  Breaking running sexist code
and reprogramming oneself probably takes a while, but remains necessary, as should
be the acceptation and support of male geeks towards womyn initiatives.

Fortunately, some girls reclaim the tools, some chicks hack their computers, some
womyn merge feminism and technology, some fems code and spread their creativity,
some cyber-revolted grrls go public and encourage others to come out. Among these
are the Genderchangers [49], who emerged out of the ASCII collective in Amsterdam,
organising workshops for womyn, by womyn, on hardware crashing and GNU/Linux. In
2002, they set up /etc [50] in the Balkans, as a "grassroots meeting of women
interested in technical activities", which happened every year since. In Berlin,
the LOTEC hacklab had a womyn-only opening day a week. Within hackmeetings, gender
issues are being more regularly brought up, with cyberfeminist performances or
workshops. In parallel to the sixth edition of the Libre Software Meeting [51] in
France, a womyn-powered free-software based cybercaf=E9 will be setup by grep|grrl
[52], whose IRC channel [53] provides a self-organising meeting & visibility
space for computerized girls.

 facing possible contradictions: remaining questions

While most hacklabs rely on low-tech by saving computers from the trash, recycling
remains a pure contextual hack, dependant on the current consumption chain.
Breaking free from any dependency upon capitalism would involve producing hardware,
which, given the requirements, is currently highly unlikely. Still, some projects
aim at designing open-hardware, whose internals would be transparent like free
software is.

Hacklabs might indirectly rely on our current economy, but ultimately depend on
hardware, whose production currently proves to be an ecological disaster,
considering the raw materials used, the energy consumed and the waste produced. Not
to mention the direct social consequences of the high-tech industry in terms of
human exploitation, for getting some of the precious materials contained in chips.
While switching to a non-productivist economy would definitely change parameters,
part of the issue remains, as long as we are to use current computer designs,
sustainable alternatives to which have not yet been invented or researched.
Questioning this remains crucial, for one to be conscious about the ethical cost of
technology as it is, act accordingly, and be able to envision rational models for
an alternative society.

 new tools, new struggles, new identities

>From hackmeetings to wireless networking user groups, from free software developer
rooms to squatted roofs, from Indymedia tents at demonstrations to tech workers'
unions... individuals cross-over, shape new configurations and associations, in a
"refusal to be enslaved by either a political system or a computer system", as
claims an "anar[cho]geek manifesto" [54].

It might appear as fancy, but probably is it also vital, when technology is growing
so central and determines tomorrow's weapons of social control, through face
recognition, DNA fingerprinting and sub-skin chip implants, to unite technical
knowledge and political awareness. In the 70s, when universities first installed
password systems, MIT hackers cracked them in protest, considering that measure an
unbearable division between users, while their politics involved open flows of
information. Today's issues are no longer about refusing passwords, and one should
not expect a revival. They are about making something else possible through
computers, but shouldn't they also involve technical people standing up in refusal
of computer-enforced control?

			May 2005, darkveggy <darkveggy {AT} anargeek.net>

This text is licenced under the a Creative Commons licence, as stated on
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/. Share & pass around!


                           .:. NOTES .:.

[1] For more background information on what hackers are, and what they aren't, read
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker

[2] Wikipedia defines an operating system as "the system software responsible for
the direct control and management of hardware and basic system operations.
Additionally, it provides a foundation upon which to run application software such
as word processing programs and web browsers." More on
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_system

[3] Richard Stallman's personal webpage: http://www.stallman.org/

[4] The GNU project: http://www.gnu.org/

[5] The Free Software Foundation: http://fsf.org/

[6] More on copyleft on http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copyleft.html

[7] a kernel is the core component of an operating system, interfacing hardware and
software. More on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kernel_%28computer_science%29

[8] Linux and the GNU project: http://www.gnu.org/gnu/linux-and-gnu.html

[9] The usage statistic come from Netcraft's web server survey reports. See
http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html

[10] http://opensource.org/

[11] Why "Free Software" is better than "Open Source":
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html

[12] Facing the accusation of communism, free-software geeks have often
appropriated its symbols with humour:
http://www.mozilla.org/party/2000/mozilla2.gif

[13] Anti-authoritarian movements' inspiration comes from a number of sources,
ranging from last centuries' socialist utopias and revolutionary social movements
of the 60s & 70s, to feminist, black liberation & queer struggles, among others.
For more detailed history, political perspectives and tendencies, see the Anarchist
FAQ at http://anarchistfaq.org/.

[14] People's Global Action (PGA) is an international network of
anti-authoritarian, anticapitalist and liberation activists. More information on
http://agp.org/ and http://pgaconference.org/.

[15] For more than 1O years, official summits of the G8, IMF, World Bank, European
Union or WTO have been shaken and sometimes partly canceled, due to international
anticapitalist & anti-authoritarian protests, which particularly escalated since
1999. For a partial listing and links to background information, see
http://www.infoshop.org/octo/.

[16] For an overview of direct-democracy community practice and facilitation
methods used within activist networks, visit http://www.basisdemocratie.tk/.

[17] A starting point among others to the broad DIY culture, which is mostly to be
discovered off the net: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIY_punk_ethic

[18] More squatting-related theory and news is available on http://squat.net/.

[19] Debian GNU/Linux: http://debian.org/

[20] `apt-get install anarchism`! See
http://packages.debian.org/stable/doc/anarchism and http://www.anarchistfaq.org/

[21] "Is Debian an anarchist organisation?". Discussion thread at
http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2002/10/msg02466.html

[22] Egocity was a social-centre dedicated to organising public events such as
concerts, benefit parties for political causes, debates, conferences and workshops.
It was evicted & destroyed by riot-cops in January 2004. Some traces of the
adventures it allowed can still be browsed through at http://egocity.net/.

[23] Cyber*Forat: http://cyberforat.squat.net/

[24] The Plug'n'Politix network has a website (http://squat.net/pnp/) and a wiki
(http://wiki.boum.org/Connect). French speaking readers can also visit
http://squat.net/connect-fr/.

[25] ASCII: http://a.scii.nl/

[26] PUSCII: http://squat.net/puscii/

[27] LOTEC: http://lotec.squat.net/

[28] PRINT: http://print.squat.net/ & http://print.squat.net/en/

[29] Monte Paradiso: http://monteparadiso.hr/

[30] Cyberpipe: http://kiberpipa.org/

[31] Blouk Blouk: http://bloukblouk.squat.net/

[32] Clustering allows to bind machines together, and mutualise their computing
power. Sharing & distributing it over networks allows to envision some alternative
models for computer distribution, saving unused resources and reducing hardware
requirements.

[33] A "Live-CD" is a complete operating-system that can boot off a CD, allowing
people to test and use GNU/Linux without affecting their existing installation.
Some of the most popular are Knoppix (http://knoppix.org/) and Ubuntu
(http://www.ubuntulinux.org/).

[34] Linux User Groups gather GNU/Linux enthusiasts for socialisation, chit-chat
and mutual help in numerous towns in the world. Some of them are listed on
http://lugww.counter.li.org/.

[35] See http://www.ecn.org/hackit98/ for Firenze's '98 hackmeeting related
content, and http://hackmeeting.org/ for information about Italian hackmeetings.

[36] The "Les Naus" social centre was evicted in December 2003, after 9 years of
public activities. More information on the hackmeeting on
http://www.sindominio.net/~hm/hmbcn00/. See http://sindominio.net/hackmeeting/ for
informations about Spanish hackmeetings.

[37] Visit the hacklabs' portal: http://hacklabs.org/

[38] Hackmeeting 2003 Iru=F1a: http://www.sindominio.net/~hm/iruna03/

[39] More information on the THK on http://trans.hackmeeting.org/. The introduction
leaflet provides an insight view the self-managed principles at use; see
http://twiki.fazan.org/bin/view/Transhackmeeting/ThkHowTo

[40] See http://dev.riseup.net/.

[41] Dynebolic: http://dynebolic.org/

[42] X-Evian, a "hacktivist device for disobedience", "toolbox for digital
autonomy" and an "interface with cyberspace configured for social activism":
http://www.sindominio.net/metabolik/x-evian/

[43] Community Activist Technology - "low tech grass roots net access for real
people. Pedestrians, public transport and pushbikes on the information super
hypeway": http://cat.org.au/

[44] Active, "stuff for social change": http://www.active.org.au/

[45] Visit the global Indymedia portal on http://indymedia.org/. For more about
Indymedia's internals and organising, explore http://docs.indymedia.org/.

[46] For information about Radikal and digital copies, visit
http://www.xs4all.nl/~tank/radikal/.

[47] Photos and report of the action are available at
http://print.squat.net/move.html

[48] Software patents allow private companies an exclusive property right over
concepts, knowledge and ideas. This could ultimately lead to the illegalisation of
free software, and prevent independent creation. For more information, see
http://swpat.ffii.org/.

[49] The Genderchangers: http://genderchangers.org/

[50] Eclectic Tech Carnival: http://etc.genderchangers.org/

[51] The sixth edition of the Libre Software Meeting is to happen in Dijon, in July
2005 (http://rencontresmondiales.org/). An "off" proposing nighty complementary
activities is being organised by the french plug'n'politix network in a local
squat, Espace autog=E9r=E9 des Tanneries, which programme can be seen on
http://squat.net/connect-fr/nocturnes/.

[52] See http://grepgrrl.org/.

[53] IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. It is a network protocol allowing users to
talk simultaneously within chat-rooms. It is being extensively used by a number of
hacklabs and Indymedia groups to organise. See http://irchelp.org/ and
http://irc.indymedia.org/.

[54] "An anargeek manifesto": http://anargeek.net/

--
d a r k v e g g y - gnupg key  {AT}  http://garlicviolence.org/gpg.asc



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