By APCNews CALGARY, 28 May 2009
APC’s newest member, an alliance between two non-profit-serving tech organisations, May First and People Link, is a membership organisation of people who see the internet as vital in the movement for social change. Together, they have pooled their resources to provide quality web hosting, email and other internet tools to help “preserve the open quality of the internet, expand its usefulness and use by the progressive moments internationally” and help build new tools that will make it even more user-friendly and accessible to all.
People Link began as a project for the Institute for Mass Communication, hosting web sites, setting up email accounts and providing email discussion lists for activists all over the USA. The May First Technology Collective began in 1999 under a different name, (Media Jumpstart), and provided technology support to New York City non-profits; their work varied from designing web sites to fixing networks. The May First/People Link partnership began in 2005, when May First and People Link officially joined forces – May First and People Link had already been collaborating on many projects; in fact, many members of each of the groups were also members of the other’s Board of Directors.
Self-sustaining providers and activists
May First/People Link focus primarily on resource sharing and activism. As one of the oldest politically progressive providers in the world, they have been providing internet service for over fourteen years as an alternative to commercial service providers. But MF/PL go far beyond being a simple “provider” – they are more like a collective, where all processes are done in a respectful, transparent and participative way. Now with over 400 websites and over 3000 functional email addresses, they have doubled in size since 2005 to about 250 members – all of this without government or foundation funding – sustaining themselves solely on membership dues.
MF/PL are also active in many coalitions and campaigns by sponsoring, organising and participating in several events. During the US Social Forum 2007 for example, they organised and led the technology work group, providing all the technology for the event. They are currently working on the initial plans for the next US Social Forum, where they will lead the technical team once again. They also put free software issues on the map during the 2007 event, and have developed an innovative workshop on internet rights that demonstrates the internet’s potential as a democratic tool. These ideas are also expressed in a book they recently authored in 2007, which explores the internet, what it is and the role it plays in the movement for social change. The Organic Internet: Organizing History’s Largest Social Movements is available for free online and can also be ordered in print.
A unique approach to the internet
Through their activism, they hope to create awareness within the left about political struggles related to the internet. “Our goal is for activists to think through the decisions they make around their use of the internet as carefully as they think through their work in other areas.”
Their vision of the internet is also unique and innovative: “We believe that the Internet is actually a movement, possibly the largest in human history. We believe it arises from the fundamental need of humanity to collaborate and empower itself democratically to assure its own survival by availing itself of the resources now available to us on this planet.”
And others agree:
“MF/PL is redefining how the social justice movement relates to technology, and internet work”, Josue Guillen, former Technology manager at the Praxis Project.
“They are actively, creatively and in a principled way offering support,
solutions and interconnectedness to grassroots groups working for peace, justice and sustainability,” Liz Roberts, Development & Membership Coordinator, War Resisters League.
Photo by May First/People Link. See “more photos of the workshops during the event”:http://fsm2009.mayfirst.org/photos/