On 19 January 2022, Camille from CoLET joined Njera Keith of 400 + 1 and Liz Barry of Public Lab in conversation with Rayya El Zein of the Digital Infrastructure Incubator of Code for Science & Society in "Visions of Mutual Power", a wide-ranging and illuminating conversation about radical visions for building and holding power.
For those of us, the fortunate ones in the western world, the pandemic propelled us online in a major way in order to maintain some level of livelihood and connection.
Whether over Teams or Zoom, Jitsi or BlueJeans, our touches become imprints of bits and bytes over the wire.
For many of us in the tech workforce, the video work meetings were nothing new even when we worked in physical offices, It was the everything else beside work that was eerie — familiar but not. From church to school to therapy to educational seminars, it all started to map uncomfortably onto each other and in some ways become too much.
Though there are at this point lots of articles about videocall burnout, little of them point to what’s been gained in terms of connection and accessibility to various populations as well as where we need the technology to go next. How do we squarely and fairly think about this move to port all of our previous fleshspace contacts to digital space? And how do those of us who are radicals connect it to a longer radical history of meeting spaces, meeting practice, and our evolving political and social praxis?
What follows are a few questions to chew on with your people.
- What are the origins and meanings of the fleshspace spaces we already inhabited? What are we/ have we been saying intentionally and unintentionally with the spaces we create?
- What were the flaws and benefits of the fleshspace spaces we already inhabited?
3. What positives did we carry over from those spaces into digital space?
4. What flaws did we simply port over into digital space?
5. What does digital space offer beyond fleshspace?
6. What are the narratives, guidelines, and ceremony — both conscious and unconscious— of our current spaces?
Things To Read
Anarchism, Geography, and Queer Space-Making: Building Bridges Over Chasms We Create by Farhang Rouhani
Haudenosaunee narrative, constitution, and ceremony
What Is Candomblé? Beliefs and History
Worship takes place in temples which have indoor and outdoor spaces as well as special spaces for the gods. Prior to entering, worshippers must wear clean clothes and ritually wash. While worshippers may come to the temple to have their fortunes told, to share a meal, or for other reasons, they typically go for ritual worship services.
The worship service starts with a period during which priests and initiates prepare for the event. Preparation includes washing costumes, decorating the temple in the colors of the Orixa to be honored, preparing food, conducting divinations, and (in some cases) making animal sacrifices to the Orixas.
OK, so we know it is cliche to talk about growth and blossoming in the springtime but that is sorta what is on our minds so that is what we’ll talk about.
Across the world most of us have indeed all spent more than enough time thinking about what we are missing, yearning for, lacking in this loooooong stretch of lockdowns and nervousness. What we maybe haven’t done enough of is inventory what we currently have in abundance. So we are taking the time to catalogue that now in no particular order
Before the lockdown, those of us who are parents were thinking about how we could supplement or shift our kids’ education and exposure to cultivate their taste for liberation. Now we are thinking not just about them and their continued growth, but also about how this can be an opportunity to change ourselves.
Rather than simply yowling for a return to normalcy like so many of the voices coming out of popular media, we wonder about how can we use this time to experiment with the ways and locations in which we do and don’t parent. We think about what we mean by “good education” or “great teacher”, and continue to explore and get creative about how we make time and space for our full selves. Here are some cool and helpful things we’ve stumbled across along the way:
Parenting for Liberation for podcast – episode 31 (with adrienne maree brown and dani mcclain) is particularly dope!
Parenting is Political – blog for progressive and radical parents
Unconditional Parenting – this classic by Alfie Kohn is all the more critical as we find ourselves in this moment where people seem more ready than ever to talk about ways to extract police and policing out of our communities and reimagine how we hold each other accountable without turning people out into the cold.
The Conscious Kid – website link to more good resources for
Rooted Kids – a very cool website by radical NYC kindergarten teacher, Laleña Garcia
Crisis Nursery – this is an amazing project I heard about that provides 24-hour emergency care for children and support to strengthen families in crisis. It is open 24 hours, 365 days a year for the entire community to access with no fees or income eligibility. I would love to be part of helping to start this sort of thing in NYC if it doesn’t already exist.
about the image: Here, at a village on Rarotonga, principal island of the group, a district nurse speaks to mothers and children on the importance of a balanced diet for the health. (1965) By Photographer: Unknown – https://ndhadeliver.natlib.govt.nz/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE25799650, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89425520
Sheltering in place is not a gift any of us would have asked for, but we are making use of it. CoLET was started in a moment of political crisis so we know that while there is pain and suffering (far more now than that time) in crisis, these inflection points can be times of great creativity and fertility. When we are fortunate/privileged enough to be secure and safe during a crisis such as this, we can use the time to evaluate our lives. We can renew our commitment to nurturing those efforts and relationships that are working....or muster the strength to sever ties with all that weighs us down.
We can cultivate comfort and courage in uncertainty.
We can care for ourselves and each other. Checking in on neighbors and old friends.
We can discover our needs and let them be known.
We can study and dream.
And we can ready ourselves for the world that will be.
Because there is no more "going back to normal". We can only take brave and shaky steps forward.
Here are some things we have been doing and reading in this time of relative hibernation:
DOING: gardening, fermenting, canning, cooking and cooking and cooking, learning Portuguese, taking singing lessons, working, caring for our kids, exercising -- alone and across screens, checking in on our neighbors, budgeting, looking at more open and secure alternatives to Zoom (Jami, Jitsi, Nextcloud Talk), resilience mapping, washing our hands....over and over and over again.
- Local Is Our Future
- Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief
- The Undercommons
- Wages for Housework
- From Mutual Aid to Dual Power in the State of Emergency (ROAR Magazine)
- Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family
- The risks of relying on Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey in the coronavirus crisis - Vox
- Coronavirus May Prove A Boost for UK's Bees and Rare Wildflowers (The Guardian)
- All We Have Is Each Other: A Guide to Creating Fabric Masks (Mutual Aid Disaster Relief zine)
We're into our second year of being/doing CoLET and we've been using these cold, slow, winter days to take stock (aaaand also make stock! Because food is one of our thangs, y'know.). We're still simmering on a lot of what we're sharing here, but wanted to share a little about where we are and what we've done so far. In part to stay accountable and also to just chronicle this journey for ourselves and those that come after us.
The Good Stuff
CoLET is not the main source of income for any of us, so we couldn't devote a lot of time to it week in and week out, but we still were able to maintain momentum despite only seeing each other every other week or so. We still manage to talk nearly every day either over Signal, email (we are enthusiastic users of NextCloud!), and (more recently) via Issues in our Gitea instance.
We have a good line of communication and can easily move from business concerns to talking about our personal lives to sharing recipes and back again. We have inside jokes and a good sense of each other's quirks. We laugh a lot, we stress very little, and have a lot of genuine love and respect for each other.
After much chewing on the issue, we decided to incorporate as an LLC. It took longer than some of us expected, but we are grateful to the wonderful young women and Dr. Michael Haber of the Community and Economic Development Clinic at Hofstra University for skillfully (and cheaply!) getting us over the finish line. We hope to share our operating guidelines with you soon as we think they could be of service to the greater community.
Building Our Network
Continued study on the intersection of socieconomic justice and climate justice is a priority for us, and in our first year we were able to organize many lively reading groups and dinners. We have archived much of what we read and discussed here on the blog. Over the past year or so, Camille (our unofficial spokesperson!) also made the effort to reach out to and start growing our network by connecting to many likeminded groups. We've made friends with folks via:
- Institute of Social Ecology
- Collective for Community, Culture, and Environment (a collective of expert women advocating for community self-determination in planning)
- Minka Brooklyn (a WOC-run, community-focused wellness space)
- Brooklyn Movement Center
- Agaric (a tech worker coop);
- and more!
Dana maintained close ties to the NYC coop and solidarity economy community, participating in a group for women and non-binary folks confronting patriarchy within that movement. There is a brilliant write-up of their efforts here. From this community, we were also able to get our feet wet, doing small projects for Hopewell Care Cooperative and Dollars &Sense. Laura, who came into this with little WordPress experience, was a quick study on these projects and started styling themes like a pro in no time.
The Tough Stuff
While we had a lot of success making new friends, we sometimes over-reached and tried to participate in events and groups that had a more global scope than we could handle. For example, Camille pitched a workshop to RightsCon and the Black Farmers and Urban Growers Conference and while it was accepted at both, without any funding and a clear sense of what we were trying to accomplish there, it didn't quite make sense for us to participate. As the saying goes, "You have to crawl before you walk."
Another mistake we made last year was starting to work on a project before we fully understood the scope or the budget. By the time we realized that the group we were working with had little money and a LOT of requirements, we were in too deep. This was a big learning experience, and something we have now taken steps to rectify. We know that the groups we want to work with are often going to be cash-strapped, but we think the solution to this is finding the cash to pay for the work rather than trying to get people to work for free. As we implement new systems, we want to also try to root out the exploitative dynamics that have characterized the old ways (e.g. expecting women and people of color to do thankless unpaid labor).
Equity and Expenses
Though we intentionally decided not to be a cooperative, we do want to have an equitable (though not necessarily equal) split. Right now, members get paid based on the work hours they put into a given project. Since nearly all the work hours we've been paid for so far have been for WordPress development, any work that isn't paid client development/training work currently goes unpaid -- no matter how much time gets put into other aspects of the collective. As a new formation, we are still thinking through how to compensate everyone for the time they put into keeping this ship on course.
Of course, as a fledgling organization, we are squarely focused on covering our monthly overhead. Right now that's been a challenge. Once we have more income coming in and all our costs are covered, we will be better able to spread the income around.
We genuinely wanted to host more dinners, but finding cheap/free space in Brooklyn has proven tough. We also sometimes struggle to figure out where to meet with just the three of us, but our apartments work OK and we sometimes like to go grab a slice of pie at Pel's.
We did have consistent good luck hosting the reading group in the private rooms in the library and moving from the Crown Heights library to the main library was an upgrade (though they don't allow food in the meeting room in the main library's Infocommons 🙁 ) . A lot of people swore they wanted to come to the reading group's but people consistently failed to show up for the last few so we've put them on hold for the foreseeable future. We still want to do dinners though. Let us know if you happen to have (or know of) a cozy space in or around the Crown Heights/PLG/Flatbush area!
(The featured image on this post is from Larry Luckham's image set from his time at Bell Labs. He worked in their Oakland, California data center in the late 60s and early 70s. Click above to see them all. They are great!)
Something that has guided our thinking since the very inception of CoLET is the idea that just as the last 10 years or so have brought people greater awareness about the provenance of their food, we believe this is the moment to move people towards a greater understanding of their technology.
The past decade or two has been marked by a rise in farmer’s markets, organic offerings in the supermarket, and CSAs (community supported agriculture schemes that find farmers bringing down large shares of fruits, vegetables, and meat for members of the CSA to divvy up). In addition, CSA and cooperative farmers welcome members up for visits; while WWOOFs have long enabled people to do longer stints working on farms, getting their hands dirty and learning how to cultivate produce. While there is undoubtedly lots more to be done, people are more aware than they have been in over a half-century about what they consume and have been more demanding of the market as a result.
Here in CoLET, we’ve been thinking about what would be the tech equivalent of going to an organic farm or picking up one’s CSA share? A tour of a server farm or an internship at Google? Likely not. That’d be more the equivalent of touring a slaughterhouse or some sort of Big Ag facility.
In some ways, the distance and mystique surrounding the provenance of our hardware and software applications is part of the service. We don’t want to know how the sausage is made, but we do so love that sausage. More please. Perhaps studying something like the rise of McDonald’s or the TV dinner might be instructive in helping us understand how we got to now. Both proprietary tech and fast food play on the same themes of speed and convenience. In an interview on The Splendid Table, Michael Pollan shared the following:
We were at this very interesting post-Betty Friedan moment where there was a very uncomfortable conversation unfolding: Women were going back to work; women’s liberation was very much in the air and there was tension over who would do the housework. It had to be renegotiated. Before that conversation could be completely played out and resolved, the food industry very self-consciously stepped in and said, “We’ll take care of it; we’ve got you covered.” They came forward with fast food and processed food, and it was a very deliberate effort on their part to hitch their agenda to that of feminism. There’s a wonderful billboard that I can remember from the ’70s. Kentucky Fried Chicken had this billboard all over the country — a giant bucket of fried chicken with just two words above it: “Women’s Liberation.”
As Anand Giridharadas so eloquently describes in his new book Winners Take All, capitalism keeps offering us “solutions” to the problems that it caused in the first place. However, just as the #MeToo has helped to surface the unfinished business of the women’s liberation movement, a day of reckoning is coming around the myriad ways that social media — intoxicating convenience capitalism that took hold during an “uncomfortable conversation” moment in neoliberalism — exploits people and their data for ever greater profit. We’d like to believe that when the moment of crisis comes, a movement agitating for tech justice by way of open source, decentralization, inclusive communities of producers, and expanded access to tools will be at the ready.
Unfortunately, hope alone cannot build such a movement. So what can we tangibly do now to help people adopt practices and build greater intimacy with technology that, in some ways, is closer to them than even the food they put in their mouths? Our phones are often the first things we pick up in the morning and the last things we put down at night. We can’t just scare people into what we paternally deem “healthier” practices. There has to be a sea-change from both the production and distribution side. Alternatives need to be available and they need to be good.
With CoLET and our burgeoning Merkalie project, we are experimenting with solidarity economy principles by nudging folks in our community to host their sites with us rather than one of the big, faceless corporations. But at the same time, we want them to know that when they host with us, things will work differently — sometimes good and fast, but sometimes buggy and slow.
On a recent episode of Recode, Nicole Wang (formerly of Twitter, Google, and the office of the CTO of the USA) suggests that it may be time for a “slow food movement for the internet”.
“When I first started at Google, the pillars of design were: we want comprehensiveness, relevance, and speed? Those were the three pillars of search. When social came into play, there was a change in the principles and we weren’t focused on search anymore, and the dynamics were around personalization, engagement, and speed. What if we say, ‘That’s not the internet we want to live with?’ What if the pillars were accuracy, authenticity and context? Maybe that slows it down, but maybe that is the different world we ought to be trying to build.”
Something else we recently saw that also clicked for us and actually happens to be at the intersection of slow food and slow tech is this article from Low Tech magazine on the beauty of fermented food.
Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. What’s more, it has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste.
Low Tech magazine itself runs on a solar powered server located in Barcelona that can (and does!) go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather. Low Tech and its sister publication NoTech question whether every problem has a tech solution, and Low Tech intentionally publishes no more than 12 articles a year. While this may be on the extreme end, it is a worthwhile provocation. Even Amazon servers aren’t up all day every day; despite all best efforts, outages happen. How can we begin to cultivate patience with digital technology and how do we deliver a payoff for that patience? Do we even need to?
Understanding the deleterious effects of big tech, we need to cultivate new ways of producing and consuming technology that are better for our society and our planet. Where are the projects that are already doing (or attempting to do) this and how can we promote them? Most importantly, how do we do this in a way that — unlike much of the “foodie movement” — is about a radical restructuring of relations between producer and consumer? Because in the end, we don’t just want capitalism that is “bursting with flavor”; we want fresh, juicy, and local…….liberation.
*Header image is of earthenware pots for fermenting kimchi
Our Meet resumed after a long summer off. We met at the decidedly superior central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to watch Mimi Onuoha’s fantastic talk and then discuss it along with the excellent piece by Christina Sharpe.
What We Read/ Watched:
[vimeo 233011125 w=640 h=360]
What Was Discussed/ Came Up For Us:
The Middletown Studies / “Middletown represents everyone as long as everyone is not represented.”
The Politics of Memory (podcast episode on radical archives from the 60s to the present)
“Sometimes there is a difference between the work you want to do and the work people will pay you for.” – Mimi Onuoha (PREACH!!)
Whose Knowledge? is a global campaign to center the knowledge of marginalized communities (the majority of the world) on the internet.
What is opportunity in the wake of something? What does it mean to defend the dead?
What is the debt that is owed to black people? (How) can any black person “owe a debt” to society?
What does it mean to “get over” slavery when slavery itself is not over?
Slavery and Social Death by Orlando Patterson
What is the relationship between care and indebtedness? Does a child owe a mother?
Scenes of Subjection by Saidiya Hartman
“The loss of indigenous name/land provides a metaphor of displacement for other human and cultural features and relation….Kinship loses meaning since it can be invaded at any given moment by the property relations.” – “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” by Hortense Spillers
Here's what we'll be discussing and watching over the next few months. As usual, it's a work in progress and subject to change. The best way to keep up with changes is to check the Events page or subscribe to our iCal feed.