“Full Surrogacy Now!” – an interview about surrogacy and radical approaches to reproduction, family, and community with scholar Sophie Lewis on the debut podcast episode from the great folks at Autonomy Institute
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 Communication 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.
Structure 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:
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 Scope creep 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.
CoLET’s Space 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!
After an earthquake in late 2017 destroyed their outdoor kitchens, Tehuantepec locals in Mexico opted to rebuild themselves rather than relying on state support. Sometimes embracing technology means going and back and doing it the old way!
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.
“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
“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.”
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).
He tells her that the earth is flat —
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground.
In the past few years, there has been an discussion in various communities about the value of offering/having a community or cooperative platform and how we can own it. The idea of such a platform is central to what we are trying to accomplish here at CoLET and as such we have discussed it extensively. However, we have more questions than answers.
These questions include:
What is meant when the word “platform” is used?
Will/should one platform suffice for all the needs that we have?
How many applications do we each use on a daily basis for our personal and organizational needs?
If multiple applications, does that mean we need multiple platforms?
How are these platforms sustainable? Meaning, are the people working on them able to meet their basic needs?
The questions could go on an on. But instead we want to outline in a bit more detail the hosted services and various applications we support and continue improving integration points between them, so as to provide a platform to support the needs you have with technical tools.
Our hosted services are built using open source software that has strong software community support. The software applications extend the features available, providing a series of tools to help you or your organization work in “the cloud” in the solidarity economy.
As of now the applications we are using to provide an online tools for your organization include:
WordPress: web software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.
CiviCRM: a contact/constituent relationship management (CRM) software for non-profit and other civic-sector organizations.
Piwik: web analytics platform, that gives every user full control of their data.
NextCloud: file sharing, shared calendars, contact management, communication & more
As we evolve more could be added, but for now this is a healthy starting point.
Building the Ecosystem
Each of these applications provide a set of tools for you to connect on the cloud. However, integration between these applications is still very young and by providing a hosted service that works very specifically to support these tools we can focus on building integration points between applications so that the experience of using them is much more fluid.
Providing a hosted service requires many different areas of expertise and knowledge. The focus of these services, is to provide a suite of tools completely managed through the solidarity economy. In turn providing an alternative to the commercial applications we commonly use.
We are still working out the kinks and getting things setup. We hope you join us and in doing so provide us with the resources needed to continue working on enhancements while supporting your organizations needs in “the cloud”.