camille

“Machine Learning, Black Labour and Bio-epistemic Resistance”

“We misconstrue machine learning as being powered by data, when in fact machine learning makes use of data to produce within techno-social system…we can’t understand machine learning in isolation of the black female form. In other words, in order to understand automation and capital we must return to the racialized and gendered conception of what it means to be a body itself.”

A short talk by Ramon Amaro presented as part of After Work: Life, Labour and Automation, a symposium exploring work and resistance through and against technology.

The event took place at University of West London, on 27 January 2018. It was organised by the Gender, Technology and Work research cluster at UWL, in collaboration with Autonomy, a thinktank focused on issues around the crisis of work, and wrkwrkwrk, an interdisciplinary feminist study group.

Ramon Amaro (@SambaRhino) is a Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London; visiting tutor in Media Theory at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK); and former Research Fellow in Digital Culture at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. His research interests include machine learning, engineering, black ontology, and philosophies of being. Ramon has completed his PhD in Philosophy at Goldsmiths, while holding a Masters degree in Sociological Research from the University of Essex and a BSe in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has worked as Assistant Editor for the SAGE open access journal Big Data & Society; quality design engineer for General Motors; and programmes manager for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

 

artwork from Brooklyn-artist Nona Faustine’s White Shoe series

February 2018: On Race, Gender, Capitalism, and “Biopower”

What We Read:

What came up for us:

[vimeo 36579366 w=640 h=360]

Bret Victor – Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

Dynamic Land in Oakland is a building that is a computer. A more immersive and tactile experience https://dynamicland.org/

How can we prioritize the social and cultural when capitalism is economics first?

Proprietary software defines the scope of what is possible in tech so often.

What Can A Technologist Do About Climate Change? (forthcoming article)

Night-Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain discussion of class and racial dynamic in Occupy

How can you do education in a protest movement?

Does the term “radical” mean anything anymore?

January 2018 – Sending Up Signals, Sowing Seeds: A community Dinner Discussion on Ecology, Technology, and The Solidarity Economy

On January 18, 2018, CoLET gathered at the beautiful Brooklyn Community Foundation office with ecologist and technologist friends — old and new — to drink, eat, and talk as about the roles we do and can play in struggles for liberation.
Opening Remarks: 
CoLET was created less than a year ago after Camille Acey was introduced to Dana Skallman at an event organized by the Cooperative Economics Association of New York City (CEANYC) event. Dana and Camille were interested in carving out a greater space for technology in the mutually supportive economic institutions practices that are globally being referred to as the solidarity economy. They were both already talking to people in these spaces about the ways the devices we may hold in one hand are reproducing the very systems  of oppression we are fighting with the other, and they were eager to move beyond that frustration.
Over time, CoLET expanded to start a monthly community of study with other technologists as well as artists, media makers, and activists where we have been exploring different perspectives on technology and the ways it can be/has been a help or hindrance  to radical struggles for liberation and earth justice. We don’t view tech as a solution in and of itself but one potential tool in the toolbox. Camille informally refers to us as “the Radical IT department”.
(L to R) Laura Laqui and Dana Skallman of CoLET
 Our work has three components at this moment:
1) practice- we are actively providing technical support to organizations that want to maintain their websites and tech infrastructure on our open source platform
2)study – a monthly reading/ discussion group held here in Crown Heights and open to all; and
3)service – trying to be more of a resource here between the neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy and Flatbush, operating at human scale in the neighborhoods and helping our friends and neighbors better understand, leverage, and enjoy technology.
The title of the event is inspired by this political moment when people are waking up to the often overlapping realities of race/class/gender, politics and power, ecological destruction, as well as surveillance and the potential dangers of technology, especially social media.
We at CoLET see this moment as ripe with possibility to begin forging new alliances as well as deepening and more clearly defining our bonds of solidarity, and we are excited to have you at the table to explore this with us.
Prompts: 
  1. What role does tech play in your work?
  2. What challenges did you face last year?
  3. What opportunities are you exploring this year and what help do you need?

What Came Up:

Camille Acey of CoLET
  • How do we share information between organizations and generations? There are many current and historical “wins”; where do we put them so everyone has a chance to see them?
  • People struggle with the idea of alternatives to mainstream commercial software. It seems neutral, almost like a public utility. How do we start planting seeds so people can think about making the transition?
  • Someone made the point that we are killing the planet, but in honesty we are killing ourselves (and taking out several species with us). The planet will go on. How do we think about that? How do we process not just growth but also death?
  • “If you’re gonna fight the good fight, you gotta know who you’re fighting.” – It’s important to know your enemies!
  • How concerned should we be about mass surveillance? Are our solutions particularly freeing? Even Signal’s servers are hosted by Amazon.
  • How are people and groups dealing with/combatting doxxing
  • How do we work at a human scale?
  • Many of us want to talk about black liberation, queer liberation, women’s liberation. How can we create spaces where people can come as their whole selves, representing all of their concerns?
  • Examples of how groups creating a nurturing space include: cooking together, group exercise, going dancing together, providing food and childcare at gatherings, providing translation services
  • People seemed to be divided along lines of “techie ” and “non-techie”; how do we bring down the barriers to tech literacy?
  • Some people rely on Facebook or Slack for vital resources like work or housing info, how do we begin to move these privileged networks off of proprietary platforms?
  • Camille mentioned that MACC has started a mutual aid network – link here
  • Does everything we share need to be permanently shared or can we embrace the temporary?
  • How do we regain our attention from these apps and devices?

December 2017: Reimagining Economics

CoLET (The Collective for Liberation, Ecology, and Technology) is a small, Brooklyn-based, community-centered, radical feminist and anti-capitalist community of study and practice. We work to maintain, develop, extend, and promote open tools and documentation for political communication and organization.

We view our technological work not as liberatory work in an of itself, but rather support work for radical political and ecological interventions. To that end, we believe we can be most useful to the movements when we have a deep understanding of the challenges and goals; we meet monthly to carry this out.

Through continued reading, discussion, and debate we hope that we might not only increase camaraderie within our group but, more importantly, deepen our analysis of the roots of oppression and broaden our vision of liberation.

What We Read:

What Came Up For Us:

 

 

ada colau feminising politics

Women at the Cores: Thoughts On Feminizing Technology

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona discusses feminizing politics

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As we’ve continued to think more critically about what we want to work on, it has become abundantly clear that our focus does not need to be on just writing more software. Much of the software that radical and progressive groups need for communication and collaboration is already available; the problem is that it is either ugly, too hard to learn, or difficult to use. We think that as a female-led and radical feminist tech collective, we think our aim should be to redefine women’s work as we actively seek to feminize tech.

What feminizing tech means concretely for us is that we want to build and promote the communication and connections and care that will enable more people to understand and adopt open technology. The open technology that we promote is free to use, modify, share, and the groups that work on it attempt to be aligned with a transformative vision for our communities and our planet. Not everyone will or has the time to “Read The Manual“, so we want to explore what we can we do to soften/demystify the software and support more of those working on global transformation.

“The most permanent and comprehensive component of democratisation is woman’s freedom.” Abdullah Öcalan

Feminizing tech also means centering women’s leadership and embracing fallibility, humility, and experimentation. We want to put people at ease with their devices and software tools by educating people about how their phones and computers work and what happens when they put their data online. We want to create brave spaces to train people and allow them to try things without fear of breaking anything.  We are doing risky things and all our gambles may not pay off, but we will admit when we fuck up.

“You’re born naked. The rest is drag.”RuPaul

Feminizing tech is not just about blindly embracing cliche’ performances of femininity, it is about wielding that care work, sensitivity, and attention to detail which has been trained into us against capital. We find inspiration in queer explorations of gender and performance, and continue to interrogate what role femme gender performance has played/can play in the ways that we appear in primarily white, male dominated radical tech spaces.

Feminizing tech is not about doing care work or emotional labor for these men. In these spaces, we will often take a harder, more critical stance, but this is as much a part of our feminizing effort. We critique because we know the importance of the work that is being done; we are in the room for the people who cannot be. We ready the space and prop the doors open for them. Our critique is care. Our presence is care.

November 2017: On the Ecological and Digital Commons

Readings:

What Came Up For Us?

Readings for the December 16, 2017 Meetup

Our Emerging Values OR How We Work Right Now

“Children do not begin by learning the rules of grammar and then using these rules to construct a successful sentence. They learn to speak the way they learn to walk: by imitation, trial, error, and endless practice. The rules of grammar are the regularities that can be observed in successful speaking, they are not the cause of successful speech.”  – James  C. Scott in Vernacular Order, Official Order  (Chapter 2 in Two Cheers for Anarchy: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play)

A few ideas are slowly beginning to emerge as values to the core group of us here at CoLET and inspired by Scott’s discussion of the vernacular in the piece linked above (which is  brief and well worth a read),we thought we’d outline them here rather than relying solely on our mission statement, which is already as we speak growing kinda stiff and stale.

Work Days Rather Than Business Meetings

After a few attempts at holding more formal, structured meetings, we drifted into open work days at Camille’s or Dana’s place. This was something Dana was already doing, and Laura and Camille have been able to move their schedules around to meet every few weeks.

On these work days, we:

  • cook a good, healthy lunch together (recent dishes include a stuffed eggplant dish, garlicky braised kale, slow-cooker brisket);
  • chat as we cook and eat;
  • knock out work items;
  • talk through any confusion; and
  • help each other with any blockers (usually technical).

We still don’t have an agreed-upon way to collectively track our backlog of TODOs (CiviCRM Cases is currently being tested for client-related work) but knowing that the work day is coming we can usually just jot down notes and then run through them during the course of the day.

Dogfooding

We are trying to use the platform as much as possible. The WordPress community apparently uses blogposts and comments to communicate. We’ve set up a /meet path so that if other people want to spin up other CoLET meetups they could still use the top-level domain. (more on structure here )

Setting up NextCloud (which offers document sharing, calendars, collaborative text editing) will unlock a lot of functionality for us although it will undoubtedly also add complexity.

Less Email, More Chat 

Our colet.space emails seem to mostly be used for community and client contacts. To communicate between the three of us, right now we are just primarily using Signal. The discussions are usually brief, where to meet, checking if something is wrong with the site, little things.

Scaling Up At A Human Scale

We are focused on growing in a manageable way. We will add customers who are working on projects we want to support and that are allied with our values. We are building out features (which are really more templates, skins, and connectors between already existing open source products) as real people actually need them and can pay for them.Growth is based on needs and if those needs are met or changed, then our lifecycle with collaborators or CoLET itself ends. We’re not in the business of adapting to stay relevant or marketable. We want to be of service, if we’re not, we should move on.

Centering Women and People of Color’s Leadership

Right now, it’s been super empowering to be a group of international female technologists. We are going to likely continue to be selective about who we bring into the core group. Childcare will always be worked around and provided as needed. No childcare, no meeting.

Transparency and Documentation

We are trying to create a culture of writing up as much as we can and sharing it with each other and anyone else who is interested. Sitting down and getting things out of our heads and into a document can be tough and it’s easy to see how organizations end up with so much institutional knowledge trapped in the heads of a few key individuals. We’re hoping we can continue to prod each other to just write stuff down. Transparency is more valuable than organization or elegant prose.

October 2017 Meetup: On Conflict and Accountability

Readings:

What came up for us:

    • Greater Than Code episode 50: Open Source Anarchy – good discussion here about BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life model that’s found in many open source projects)
    • Bus factor: We have this concept in tech already. How do we create awareness around it in our organizations? For example, we don’t want to have to keep a toxic person around because he is the only one who has the credentials to the server. Sometimes nothing can immediately be done, but it helps to have awareness around that imbalance of power.
    • In the case of an incident, we should also use it as an opportunity to examine ourselves as an organization. We could do our version of a retrospective with actionables.
    • Graph analysis might be a way to easily tease out people or groups that have too much power. See here – https://graphcommons.com/hubs/inquiry
    • Malcolm London Dedicated Life to Activism: Now, He’s Accused of Sex Assault (related to BYP100 reading)
    • Is technology needlessly complex? Mass literacy transformed the world. Could mass tech literacy have similar power?
    • Is low tech literacy part of general neoliberal capitalist alienation? We don’t know where our food or our phone comes from either.
    • “Degrowth? How About Some Dealienation?” – Terisa Turner, Leigh Brownhill, and Wahu Kaara (article)
    • Interview with Peter Hudis author of Frantz Fanon: Philosopher at the Barricades (discussion of race, Marxism, and alienation)
    • The Peer Production License (forcing functions on commercial use to remunerate the open commons)
    • Freeman offers good suggestions. Dr. Elinor Ostrom also has good guidance about managing commons. Governing the Commons would be a good read, but her Nobel Prize lecture is a good place to start.
    • Anton Pannekoek’s writing on Workers’ Councils might also be informative.
      “Common ownership must not be confounded with public ownership. In public ownership, often advocated by notable social reformers, the State or another political body is master of the production. The workers are not masters of their work, they are commanded by the State officials, who are leading and directing the production. Whatever may be the conditions of labor, however human and considerate the treatment, the fundamental fact is that not the workers themselves, but the officials dispose of the means of production, dispose of the product, manage the entire process, decide what part of the produce shall be reserved for innovations, for wear, for improvements, for social expenses, what part has to fall to the workers what part to themselves. In short, the workers still receive wages, a share of the product determined by the masters. Under public ownership of the means of production, the workers are still subjected to and exploited by a ruling class. Public ownership is a middle-class program of a modernized and disguised form of capitalism. Common ownership by the producers can be the only goal of the working class.”

Open Questions:

  • What is fair punishment for assault? Who decides? How do we determine what is true?
  • How do you deter assault in spaces?
  • Should we/can we offer mediation?
  • How do we build and maintain trust in a group?

Readings for Next Time:

TODOs

  • Pull together a draft code of conduct and incident handling procedure
  • Plan to do a projectinventory process. No actionables necessary; just identify current projects, challenges, and opportunities.

Incorporating Notes: On Cooperatives, Nonprofits, and Better Accountability

When we first sat down and began thinking about how we wanted to organize CoLET, we were all fairly adamant that we didn’t want to incorporate as a non-profit, and we were also hesitant about becoming a cooperative.

We’d all had experience in the coop world as well as with nonprofits, and we felt that we wanted to hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard. We’d seen cooperatives turn into the same sorts of capitalist engines that they’d supposedly been founded to challenge, and we’d also been through experiences of nonprofits drowning in grant paperwork and practically turning themselves into pretzels to fit their work into a mission outlined by foundations large and small — foundations who were ultimately backed by and pushing capitalist interests.

In dreaming and scheming about this new formation, we knew that we wanted to focus on keeping our efforts small and independent, and exploring ways to embrace impermanence. Even as we tried to build, promote, extend, and maintain systems –both technological and infrastructural — that might outlast our organization. We wanted to grow/develop  and perhaps even dissolve mindfully, while still resisting the built-in obsolescence so common in modern capitalist production.

We aren’t perfect, we don’t have all the answers, but we know that we don’t want our primary work to be preserving CoLET by any means necessary. Our aim is to try and make a radical intervention in tech spaces and a techie intervention in radical spaces all while trying to be of service to our immediate community.  The intervention is what we are interested in. If we are not effective in it, we need to know so that we can move on and try something else. If we are effective, we must still continue to iterate and make a space for people to intervene on our interventions. The term “collective” seemed to best capture what we were going for. It’s a loose gathering of likeminded people, and it brings to mind other feminist formations like the Combahee River Collective.

Why Not A Coop?

Despite their poor record as a force for social change, cooperatives still hold an appeal for many well intentioned people, who continue to look to them as a viable alternative to capitalism. Although cooperation is unquestionably a necessary part of the solution, cooperatives by themselves are insufficient to challenge the capitalist system.”  – Murray Bookchin

Most of us here at CoLET are members of one or more cooperatives, and we enjoy the camraderie and feel-goods they can provide. However, it seems that without substantial and clearly codified accountability to their communities, the best that cooperatives can provide is a nice community space or  a slightly less soul-sucking place to work, and when they are at their worst (and the worst seems to often manifest with success) they are forces for gentrification and regular vanilla capitalism.

Hmm, what is the cooperative version of “greenwashing”? Maybe “twin pines washing”?

The excerpt below is another that jumped out at us.

“Like many coops, Black Warrior requires that 5 percent of its members be present at its meetings in order to hold them. Since its member-owners are spread out over eleven counties in rural West Alabama, there hasn’t been a proper meeting—by Zippert’s estimation—in fifty years. To correct this, FSC (The Federation of Southern Cooperatives) has worked with Black Warrior members in Sumter and Greene counties to file a lawsuit against the company, alleging that the REC’s lack of democratic process defies state and federal regulations that define what constitutes a cooperative.”Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism (Dissent magazine)

The article above is worth a read because it also points to some of the crucial work and greater potential of cooperatives. We definitely don’t want to throw cooperatives out as institutions that can do be put into service towards liberation, but for us, for now, the hurdles associated with the unique challenges of forming a worker cooperative in New York state along with our personal reservations make us want to avoid that format.

Why Not a Non-Profit?

Central to our work is an explicitly anticapitalist stance. No one is perfect or pure, and we all have bills to pay, but taking money and ceding control to foundations funded by robber barons is against our mission and we will need to do work to further codify that. While we have and will continue to work for organizations that are funded in a myriad of ways, we will likely only do so in a service provider capacity.  INCITE! has an excellent critical rundown of the non-profit industrial complex as well as many more resources to educate yourself on its nefarious deeds and effects. I highly recommend checking it out, along with their anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.

So How to Incorporate? 

We feel the two above-mentioned models fail us either because they lack substantial accountability or that they are ultimately accountable to the wrong parties. That leaves the question of how we will incorporate and who will hold CoLET accountable. And I will be honest and say that this is something we still need to figure out. Right now it looks like we’ll be a regular-schmegular Delaware LLC. We want to do work for money so we can pay ourselves and other collaborators and have money to host nice community gatherings with good food and maybe something nice to drink. We also have bigger dreams of things that cost a lot more money, but we want to work towards it slowly, deliberately, and independently.

As for accountability, we are doing regular open meetings/reading groups in order to try and build a larger community of radical technologists. We do this with the full expectation that not all of them  can give themselves over to the day-to-day workings of the group. Can we count on that group to hold us to our word? What do they get or are they owed in return? These are questions we will continue to explore as we move forward.

I am encouraged by the municipal assembly models laid out by Murray Bookchin and others.I also want to check out Joshua Clark Davis’s newly published book, From Head Shops to Whole Foods:The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs for tales of What Went Wrong (or how liberalism and capitalism couldn’t be beaten back).  As a group that wants to be community-centered, we still need to formally decide what that means. Right now, we are all based in Crown Heights, so we are thinking about our neighborhood and the adjacent neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Flatbush.  There are lots of questions to pose and discuss, and while we might not have solutions to them all, we will share our progress as we earnestly ask and attempt to address them.

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