Talking About Technology and Revolution

by Kyla Massey, Digital Justice Fellow

As activists working to make systemic change in 2019, we are dependent on online tools to organize actions, communicate with one another, and bring communities together. However, as we know, these very same tools — and the data shared through them — aren’t safe. How do we wrestle with what seems like this fundamental contradiction in our work?

Alfredo Lopez of May First/People Link kicks off the Tech & Revolution conversation in Oakland by providing historical context behind these types of gatherings in our communities.

This past weekend in Oakland, we came together with activists, technologists, and other local community leaders to discuss just that — and to crowdsource resources for navigating these troubled waters. This “Technology and Revolution” conversation was part of a broader Defend Our Movements Tour, which is crisscrossing the country to uplift innovative approaches and solutions to fighting for change in a digital age.

The event in Oakland, which was co-hosted by May First/People Link and Aspiration Tech, surfaced just how reliant we all are on technology which wasn’t built with our work in mind, from social media promotion to creating online petitions to even typing notes on our laptops. Last weekend’s conversation mirrored the one we had during an earlier stop in New York, where participants raised the point that while many of us may be having these sorts of discussions about security internally, we haven’t necessarily built these understandings of what security looks like together as a community.

Tech & Revolution participants in Oakland discuss what digital security looks like for us as a community.

But being in the same room, people doing a variety of work were able to highlight for one another which tools were safest and discuss strategies for protecting our movements collectively. Here are three ideas and questions raised in the“Technology and Revolution” conversations which have stood out to me thus far:

  1. “We trust community, community is the people in this room, how do we build that same kind of knowing and trusting online?”
  2. Another pointed out that, while virtual resources like DefendOurMovements.org are essential, in-person conversations are equally as important. Having more open and honest dialogue around the work we do—and the technology we use to do it—is how we further improve our understanding, access to resources, and ability to help others.
  3. Finally, there was this observation from an attendee: “Don’t forget that we’ve been organizing without social media, without Facebook and Twitter, for decades. We don’t have to believe that we are solely dependent on technology to organize and activate our communities. Yes, it helps, but there are also ways that the power and impact of person to person grassroots building can never be diminished or reproduced with tech.”
Tech & Revolution conversation participants map out what tech their respective organizations depend on.

This last point reminded me of the longer history of this kind of tension between organizing and tech. After all, the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s faced similar hurdles in using phones, radio, newspapers, and television to communicate narratives while being diminished and tracked through the very same mediums.

Communities of color have long been organizing for their rights within systems of communication designed to silence and surveil us. What has worked as resistance is the sharing of resources, the building of trusted networks, and sustaining a vision of what more is possible.

There’s no single solution for organizing in a digital age, no cure all for the increasing vulnerability that comes with, for instance, being Black and queer online. But together, we can create paths to digital sanctuary for everyone. Share your tips for staying safe with @mediajustice on Twitter using #DefendOurMovements and use our Help Desk to get your specific digital security questions answered.

Finally, join us during this tour, which may be bringing this important conversation to a city near you!