How are APC members improving their communities’ lives? In this column we’re highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. May First Movement Technology sees cross-border collective cooperation as integral to direct activism and democratisation of technology.
Based in the United States and Mexico, May First Movement Technology “engages in building movements by advancing the strategic use and collective control of technology for local struggles, global transformation and emancipation without borders.” Founded in 2005 and with 850 current members, May First offers an inspiring operating model as a “democratically run, not-for-profit cooperative of movement organisations and activists”.
Along with hosting thousands of email addresses and websites, May First also “participates in networks, coalitions and campaigns organising around many technology-related issues and has distinguished itself in confronting many legal threats and standing up to subpoenas.” It puts the use, protection and democratisation of technology at the heart of its work, and sees them as priorities for movements advocating for fundamental change.
Converging around “technology and revolution”
In 2017, May First organised a series of convergences called “Technology and Revolution”, aimed at bringing together leftist activists from the US and Mexico “with the prospect of talking about the intersection of technology and social change,” said Alfredo Lopez, a co-founder of the organisation who is now a board member and outreach coordinator. This process of collective brainstorming was supported by funding from APC as well as MediaJustice, a long-time partner of May First.
Participants were invited to come together and brainstorm collectively about the kind of world they wish to see, summing up their inputs in brief statements. Notably, powerful words like “freedom” stood out among the feedback.
Upon reflecting on these statements, what became clear to participants is that “this is actually possible, you can have this society that you envision here. We have the technology that makes it possible, all we need to do is get control of this technology and democratise it,” explained Lopez. Bringing people together to discuss collectively how to manifest these visions was seen as the key to achieving these goals.
The insights from these important workshops were further elaborated in discussions with activists across five cities. A number of themes were consistently identified regarding the perceived role of their movement and its common work around technology:
To assure a neutral internet.
To oppose, restrain and ultimately eliminate intrusive government internet surveillance.
To finally provide everyone full access to high-speed internet.
To develop an internet that can be democratic, open and free of corporate pressure.
To improve and deepen the collaboration between movement technologists and other movement activists and organisations.
The reflections inspired the creation of a “left platform on technology” named Technology and Revolution, after the series of convergences that sparked the project. It has as its goals the following:
Contribute to building a broad left movement strategy.
Build tighter relationships between experienced movement organisers with limited understanding of technology and techie activists with limited movement experience.
Practice developing intergenerational, mixed race and gender environments that build respect and power.
Support through solidarity
May First was able to receive financial support for these important convergences via a small solidarity fund created by APC that is generated from membership fees. The fund acknowledges organisations like May First that are engaged in meaningful work that creates change across communities.
A lack of access to funding among organisations in the global North has the potential to seriously impede their work. Lopez made the observation that the impression of US organisations being well funded is often inaccurate, noting that in particular, leftist organisations are nowadays increasingly led by people whose backgrounds differ greatly to the privileged communities who were establishing organisations 20 years ago. As Lopez noted, “May First is one of the few organisations focused on technology run primarily by people of colour and women. We are oppressed by the system in the country.”
Advocacy as activism
Working toward bridging digital divides, May First stands with a number of other organisations in encouraging collaboration between members. By taking a collective approach, it sees a greater potential for advocacy among the network.
Subgranting is one way that organisations can engage meaningfully with grassroots advocacy, or what May First calls “direct activism”. Alongside APC’s policy work, it sees opportunities presented by subgranting for on-the-ground engagement among members. As Lopez explained, “APC is in a position where it can facilitate and coordinate between organisations and continents on major campaigns. If you can do a cross-border campaign on any one issue it will be powerful, but you have to have a coordinating authority.”
It sees subgranting as a potential means to catalyse cross-country campaigns between members, thereby amplifying change through direct activism. This global inclusion is critical, according to Jamie McClelland, who started May First with Lopez and is now a board member and director of technology. He elaborated, “It is important that the people from the majority of the world, the global majority, be able to make the kinds of policy decisions that bring about change.”
This piece is a version of a story highlighted in Continuing the conversation: Lessons from APC subgranting, a report that presents the findings of interviews and surveys of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through its core subgranting programme, supported by Sida, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects and staff working on subgranting in the organisation.
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