We work with information technology. Some of us are movement technologists -- people who bring their political commmitment to developing technology and tech capacity for social justice organizations and communities. Others are movement activists who use technology in our work.
We were among over 50 technologists and organizations of diverse types that gathered at the Highlander Center in Tennessee in May 2017 to discuss the concerns we have arising from and affecting our work, express our various views on the reasons for and impact of those concerns and build consensus among us about how to address those concerns given the political moment in which we find ourselves.
About 90 percent of those gathered were people of color. More than half were women. A large percentage of us were gender non-conforming and LGBTQ. The gathering reflected the demographics of most people who do movement technology and, because of that, we feel both empowered by and responsible for the growth and direction of this field.
So the people making and signing this statement do so in honor of the Highlander gathering and seek to draw some lessons from it. We aren't representing everyone who was there but we believe the following statement reflects the spirit of the conversations and thinking that took place at the gathering.
Our experience tells us that, to make the fundamental social changes necessary to human survival, our movements need to change some of the ways we approach technology, technologists and the role of both.
Technology has brought us to the place where we are.
In the hands of the world's ruling class, technology has helped ravage societies, pervert the use of science, accelerate climate crisis and displace much of the working people from their jobs. It has permitted the most massive intrusion into privacy and disruption of fundamental civil rights in history. It has allowed our government to create a police state in waiting.
At the same time, technology has developed a world-wide collaborative community, modeling the culture of a new society through the way software is developed, tested and perfected. It has provided the human race with its most effective and fastest communications in history, nurturing communities, networks and mass movements and making possible almost immediate response to oppression and repression. It has made counter-speech more powerful and information completely accessible.
In the hands of the world's people, technology can now help us get to where we want to go.
In the right hands, technology brings people-powered solutions of many of the major human problems. From housing, to hunger, to climate catastrophe, to disease, to education oppression, to the very core of democratic culture...using technology we can solve these problems and make possible the world we seek to build.
Technology also makes it possible for us to struggle for and build that world.
Historically, technologists and the role of technology have been excluded from wider political discussions in our movements. There is one thing needed to start developing a deeper relationship between technologists and technology and the broader movement: movement technologists and movement activists must develop a deeper collaboration emanating from an understanding that we are both essential parts of building powerful movements.
Effectively, our movement should consider its technologists as the primary sources of information about technology, moving away from the toxic dependence much of our movement has on corporate technologists and tech companies. At the same time, movement technologists and tech organizers should be invited to lead the way on new tech practices and platforms for our movements, moving away from the all too prevalent tendency of developing software and other tech solutions without direct input from non-techie movement activists and organizers.
Super-funded technology organizations run by white men must no longer dominate training, movement organizing, conferences and projects -- including software development.
The days of technologists trained at and working for large organizations and foundations parachuting into local communities and community organizations to provide quick "solutions" without explanation, orientation or consultation, all while ignoring the talent and capability within those communities and organizations must come to an end.
To be clear, many of the people who "parachute" into frontline communities to provide tech solutions may be well-intentioned and truly helpful and productive. But the model does nothing to engage in deep partnership, build real power or develop the capabilities and capacities of our movements and communities. Parachuting is a service strategy; not a movement-building strategy. In the 21st century, a new approach is needed.
Currently technology is being developed, controlled, and owned by the ruling class and used in their interests to maintain a brutal system of superexploitation and oppression. We want a shift in the underlying logic of how technology is created and used. Instead of being used as a tool to divide and conquer, we believe technology must be taken back by the people and used as a tool of liberation. That communities on the ground should have access to the power to develop, control, and own technology.
The implementation of that vision will require the kind of movement relationship we've been speaking about. While the development of that relationship is progressive and will require continuous work, there are some steps needed right now. We agree that anyone who believes in the right of communities to self-determine their conditions should agree to these steps:
- Our role and experience as Movement technologists, especially people of color, women, and LGBTQ people, in the movement should be respected and expected, that our opinions and knowledge be listened to and sought out. This means we should be included in conferences and convergences, networks, software and technology development initiatives and all other major movement tech initiatives through a principle of radical inclusivity.
- That our leadership be accepted and encouraged. We should be included in networks and places of decision making and power within our movement from the start. Building a truly progressive movement requires the leadership of technologists grounded within movement networks and guided by this framework.
- That our movements expect us to prioritize their needs and insist that we comply with that responsibility. Software Technology development, training, and its strategic use in movement building is not merely a hobby, pastime or job. It is a political responsibility and, to comply with that, we need to listen carefully to what our movements are telling us about their needs, discuss these with them seriously, implement what is needed and engage our movements in full testing and beta-changing procedures.
- That our change movement and the philanthropic institutions that support it, seriously support the development of technology from inside our movements expanded, unrestricted, and movement-directed funds. Techies coming out of movement organizations know their communities, organizations and the needs of their movement; they are the best candidate for technologist development. They will also stay in their communities and organizations building those movements rather than being lured away by industry jobs and salaries.
At this point, there is literally no support for development of this type of program. It should be an absolute priority.
We believe these steps are essential to the future independence and usefulness of information technology and for the success of our connected struggles. This is a radical invitation into new ways to practice and resource the technological leadership to face the struggles ahead with stronger, more strategic, and more successful movements.
(in alphabetical order)
18MR.org (18 Million Rising)
Bex Hong Hurwitz
Center for Media Justice
Dalit American Coalition
Data for Black Lives
Detroit Community Technology Project
Film, Inquiry, Research, and Medium Education (FIRME)
Highlander Research and Education Center
May First/People Link
New Afrikan Spiritual Mindset Awareness Institute
Palante Technology Cooperative
Progressive Technology Project
Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Sustainable & Equitable Agricultural Development
War Resisters League