Building Resilient Communities

By Ariana Freitag, Managing Director of Distribute: Distributed Utility Protocol

Coming back to Consensys for my second summer internship was an easy choice to make. My first go around, I met amazing people and worked on an amazing team and I wanted nothing more than to be back. During summer of 2017, I worked on the very initial parts of what became Distribute, but I didn’t get to see it grow to what it is now. By the time I rejoined the Distribute team this summer, the project had turned into a concrete protocol that leaves me feeling hopeful about what the future can look like. Distribute is a co-op platform that provides a funding and governance mechanism for communities to build their own decentralized infrastructure. We are currently focusing on things like mesh-networks (distributed internet) but Distribute can be used for any community looking to build a shared goal.

Throughout my time at Cooper Union thus far, I have started to develop an interest in building communities that can provide mutual aide and support each other without purely transactional relationships being the foundation of interaction. I have spent time building sustainable urban food systems and have ultimately realized that the technology is not enough unless we build communities that can share and support each other alongside the tech. Things like urban farming and agroecology farms are necessary to provide sustainable sources of food when our environment is becoming more and more unpredictable and destructive, but we cannot build infrastructure individually nor can we rely on the government to protect us (see Puerto Rico before and after Maria, the US government never protected the people they had imperial rule over). Distribute has allowed for me to learn about how blockchain can facilitate healthy communities growth and truly build something that can uplift community organizers and make it an enjoyable experience to develop infrastructure.

In mid-June the Distribute team went to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan. This conference was on a completely opposite spectrum than the typical blockchain/fintech/tech-bro conference. The people attending were not only technologists, but activists, spiritual leaders, movement organizers, media-makers, artists, chefs, musicians, and people from many different cultural backgrounds. There were different tracks the conference attendees could follow, but we weren’t limited to these tracks. To me, I was able to learn so much about infrastructure and technology, share how Distribute is using blockchain to build communities, and also continue my expand my passion for food justice and sustainable agriculture. Being around people who not just looked like me (surprise, being a black woman in tech can be a solitary experience) but also listened attentively when I shared the work I was doing and offered support in a non-transactional way was something that felt foreign to me. It took me aback when I went to all day networking event with this amazing organization called FemTechNet and I felt so welcomed. FemTechNet consists of technologists, media-makers, artists, and anyone who is working on cool projects from all around the world. There me and the two other femme-aligned team members on Distribute met people that were so close to us in terms of their interests and were so excited to learn about Distribute and mesh-networks. Many of the people we met that day we are still in contact with because the relationships formed during that gathering were so powerful; I have never been in a setting where I felt comfortable to talk about tech and be confident in what I am saying as a black woman. When I was with FemTechNet I was proud to say that I was a software engineer, no one in that room looked at me and thought I wasn’t, unlike the lack I respect I feel while at school or even in the workplace sometimes. That afternoon I felt giddy because there was a fire lit underneath me that gave me confidence to continue working on blockchain tech and use it to build the future I want to live in.

I left the Allied Media Conference feeling kind of sad about the environment I had to go back to; I wanted to be in this magical place where I always felt safe and I could talk about farming and then talk about blockchain in the same sentence and not get weird looks. I wanted to continue to build relationships with people who are out there starting movements and helping their communities be resilient. I wanted to work with the Equitable Internet Initiative in Detroit to provide internet access to communities normally forgotten by corporations and their government and I wanted to move out to an agroecology farm in Puerto Rico and work with El Departamento De La Comida to rebuild Puerto Rico and bring local fresh food to people that have only had military rations to survive on. This longing to join these communities made me realize that I am creating that opportunity for myself with Distribute; I do not need to join others that I have no cultural or geographical relationship to. I can work with others who are not yet apart of communities to build something that can empower people to break away from exploitative corporations and create infrastructure to support their people to become resilient.

Consensys has allowed for me to find a team that I feel safe in and that I am able to grow and a software developer and as a human at the same time. The people I am working with in Distribute have truly changed my outlook on myself as a developer and as a woman in tech; I have to confidence now to take on what I want to build and not let anyone stifle me. This summer has set me on a path that I am excited to see where it ends up.

Ariana Freitag grew up in Austin, Texas and is now a 3rd year electrical engineer at Cooper Union in New York City. Ariana came back to Consensys for her second summer internship in 2018. Besides her love of software engineering and tech she has a passion for farming and agricultural studies and has been working on developing sustainable urban food systems. Ariana loves to cook, bake bread, and explore new types of food in her free time.