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In 2020, APC celebrated its 30-year anniversary, and this special milestone aligned with our triennial member convening. Whereas in previous years, these meetings took place face-to-face (as with the gathering in Ithala, South Africa, in 2017), the challenging circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we had to innovate about how we would come together. Throughout the week of 5-9 October, the APC staff and members embraced this challenge with creativity, energy and dedication during our first-ever online member convening, with almost 300 registered participants from around the world connecting through various platforms to a diverse schedule of sessions, workshops and celebrations. In this way, we came together “via the cables and devices of the very same internet and digital technologies that we advocate to be affordable, accessible, open, safe, feminist and fun.”

In preparing from the member convening, we built our agenda around the concepts outlined in the Closer Than Ever guide, an extensive collection of resources and tips for civil society and human rights organisations who are working remotely. The principles of that guide – solidarity, connection and strength in diversity – were explored through a number of different themes organised daily as follows:

  • Day 1: Closer than ever: When the physical is digital

  • Day 2: Our changing contexts and challenges

  • Day 3: Resilience and resistance

  • Day 4: Planet Earth (un)wired

  • Day 5: Our commitment for the near and remote futures.

Closer than ever: When the physical is digital

To get everybody warmed up, the first day of the convening, on the theme of “Closer than ever: When the physical is digital”, contemplated the following: How do we communicate, engage, see and recognise one another in a virtual environment through screens of text, voice or video? How do we walk the miles and depths of these last months, and share the practices that have helped us in our personal and activist lives?

The first plenary of the convening had us discussing how our personal and professional lives have changed since the onset of the the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges we face in our human rights work, the platforms we choose (and reject) for communication, and the strategies and techniques we have been using to cope with quickly changing circumstances. It also resulted in the first of many beautiful and powerful graphic illustrations that were produced throughout the week, capturing the discussions in full colour.

What are the most profound changes in our contexts?

On the second day, we explored “Our changing contexts and challenges” by asking: What are the most profound changes in our contexts? What challenges are we now facing in our organisations? What is the same, different or new?

For this day’s theme, we wanted to look into some of the struggles we have been facing, without diving into pessimism but rather seeking to find balance through deeper understanding of our shared experiences. With increased physical, social and economic vulnerability, we felt it was vital to understand the risks faced by our network and offer support, solidarity and, where possible, solutions. As part of the collective care series of sessions, we had many participants attend a particularly moving poetry reading that helped us creatively connect with each other. This graphic documentation from the second plenary of the day highlights some of the day’s discussions.

What do resilience and resistance mean in our different contexts?

As Day 3 arrived on the theme of “Resilience and resistance”, we found ourselves really finding our footing and deepening our level of engagement on the following questions: How have our organisations and movements adapted during this pandemic? How are we reframing our priorities, strategies and actions? How do we stay relevant, continue to resist and thrive?

With a greater level of understanding of the various issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the day saw many exciting exchanges taking place on how we are maintaining our energy and momentum in our social justice work, the ways in which we are adapting and innovating, and how we are strategising to ensure the strength and relevance of our work. The concept of meaningful participation was at the forefront, and captured powerfully in this illustration from the first plenary of the day.

Imagining a relationship between digital technologies and the environment

On the Day 4 theme of “Planet Earth (unwired)”, we wanted to create collective spaces for discussing issues of environmental sustainability. As APC has committed to addressing these issues as part of the Strategic Plan 2020-2023, this day’s sessions considered: How are we imagining a nurturing relationship between digital technologies and our environment, and what should our politics and practices be for this changed world? How can we cross-pollinate work in solidarity with the broader environmental movement?

From sessions on circular economy, hate speech and the decolonisation of technology, to digital rights and reclaiming Indigenous ways of life, we let ourselves dream and strategise more sustainable models and practices for our work and our lives. A particular highlight noted by many participants was the presentation by Vandria Borari, a Brazilian indigenous rights activist who spoke movingly about communications as well as land rights and indigenous rights.

In addition, the fourth day of the Member Convening was also special as APC hosted two parties online, creating bright spaces of music, dance, laughter and celebration. With all the hard work and commitment of APC staff and members in putting together this special week, we wanted to take some time for joyful and creative expression, and the lovely and lively gatherings certainly fulfilled that wish!

The discussions from the second plenary were beautifully documented in this illustration.

What is our commitment for the near and remote futures?

As Day 5 arrived, we turned our eyes to what lies ahead and set out to explore “Our commitment for the near and remote futures”. For this final day, we proposed some challenges: Let’s create our own roadmap, highlight and name the actions, behaviours, platforms and language that are critical/strategic to remaining connected. Let’s re-imagine what acting together looks like in our local/global contexts.

It was a day to give thanks to all who made both the convening and indeed our work as a network possible, purposeful and vibrant. It was also a time to affirm our commitment to the six key areas of our 2020-2023 Strategic Plan:

  • Harness the collective power of communities

  • Enable digital inclusion for the most vulnerable

  • Advocate for human rights online and offline

  • Co-create a feminist internet

  • Promote governance of the internet as a global public good

  • Mobilise collective action for environmental justice and sustainability.

Across three plenaries on the last day, there was a strong sense of solidarity and renewed strength. Many of these reflections were captured in the following illustration from the second plenary of the day.

Alongside the plenaries and member- and staff-organised sessions, we wanted to ensure that we also had spaces to connect on our care practices, check in with each other, and also devote time to play in the middle of this busy week. From music, movement and breathing techniques to poetry, photography and art, we found that many of our most meaningful connections took place in the self and collective care sessions. This special illustration shows some of the creative ways we came together in the “Campus of Care” and the sharings that came out of it.

People from very different backgrounds speaking up and sharing their views

Pulling together all of these activities and ensuring events unrolled as seamlessly as possible involved the dedication of many people who brought together numerous resources to ensure participants could make the most of their time together. Registered participants had access to an information wiki containing detailed information about the convening, as well as the APC Member Convening website, from which they could check the schedule and connect to various platforms. At the end of each day, the “Dish of the Day” was prepared, highlighting the events that took place throughout the day. In addition, a newsletter was sent daily to registrants, recapping the day and letting people know what they could look forward to in the coming day. We even had a virtual Goody Bag of fun and colourful downloads for participants to enjoy.

In an effort to stimulate real-time exchange among participants, APC set up several channels on our self-hosted Mattermost team space, where staff and members received reminders of upcoming events, chatted and exchanged impressions, and could quickly reach out to the APC tech team, who worked tirelessly to provide guidance and technical support across platforms.

In planning the convening, APC made it a priority to take into account the different geographic regions of our network to ensure as much accessibility to various sessions across multiple time zones. To that end, we rotated the times of the plenaries and sessions so that people across the globe could participate and engage no matter their location, particularly on issues that are of importance in their regions.

So from where did participants sign in? With nearly 300 registered participants from across the network, we noted a good variety of regional representation, with Asia-Pacific, America South, Central and Caribbean, and Africa West, East, Central and Southern accounting for the majority of participants, with the rest dispersed in Europe and Central Asia, North America, and the Middle East and North Africa (see chart below on member participation by region).

Overall, the convening brought together a relatively large number of people, including some who had not yet engaged in APC activities to a great extent in the past. In many ways, it felt like a continuation of conversations that have been brewing in the network for a long time, thereby helping to give a sense of continuity and renewal. Some members have been with the network for many years, while others were quite new. The sessions called “APC 30-year anniversary and beyond: Our-story timeline”, which took place each day of the convening, created warm spaces for members new and old to come together, share memories and stories, and get to know each other better.

In terms of technical access to the various events, APC consciously chose to use open source platforms as much as possible, in line with our free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) policy. We wanted to make these choices explicit and advised participants that “informed by our policies, practices and feminist approach to technology, most of the platforms and tools we are using during the Member Convening are FLOSS tools and tech platforms such as CiviCRM, Mattermost, wikis, a dedicated etherpad, Nextcloud and OnlyOffice software for collaborative engagement.”

To that end, APC also used a self-hosted BigBlueButton (BBB) installation for video-conferencing for all sessions. For plenaries, despite extensive testing, we had to make the choice to use Zoom, a proprietary platform. Although this was a difficult decision for us, it was the one that ensured the most stability for participants, and included translation and captioning functions. Indeed, for plenary sessions, real-time translation was available in Spanish and French, as well as Portuguese in some instances, with captioning in English. By committing to diversifying language options, we wanted to make the plenaries more inclusive, with the intention of improving barriers to participation and accessibility.

This very special convening was the culmination of many hours of work put in by APC staff to ensure smooth organisation, technical support and communications. It was a space for learning, support, mutual care, and even sharing sadness or laughing together. In the words of some of our hard-working organisers, “APC made it possible that people from very different backgrounds (worlds) speak up and share their views and what is crucial for them, so in this respect it was really a global and respectful conversation” (Karel Novotný, APC membership and network building coordinator).

Indeed, this level of exchange is quite unprecedented and has been harder to see in other forums, and speaks to “the richness of feminist approaches, the intergenerational dialogue and the attention given to each other” (hvale vale, APC sexuality and the internet project coordinator).

The week following the member convening saw the election of APC’s new board of directors, who we welcome and congratulate. We are taking our learnings from the member convening and allowing them to shape our long-term visions (some of which have been shared by APC members in video statements), as we celebrate the work of the past 30 years and amplify our commitment to our collective advocacy, solidarity, resistance and transformation.

To find our more about our network, visit our members page.