The Open Source Revolution



Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, an OWS offshoot called Occupy Sandy quickly made headlines through its rapid response relief efforts, often beating out official relief agencies, like FEMA. Organizers Leah Feder and Devin Balkind discuss how open-source technology can help organize communities, solve problems collectively, and build democratic movements.

This post originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.

There have been a lot of exhausting debates in recent years about the role of online social media in resistance movements, about whether these technologies really help or hurt, and how. Some commentators have even gone so far as to hand credit for home-grown uprisings around the world to the wonder-kids of Silicon Valley, and it can be tempting to believe them. Once there was Gandhi and King; now there is Facebook and Twitter. 

These just-so stories, of course, leave out the in-person, on-the-ground organizing that is still at the heart and center of movements everywhere. But they also cause us to miss what may be the most important questions to ask about movements and new technology: Who made the technology, who controls it, and how? 

Facebook and Twitter are only the most visible ways that technology is transforming how ordinary people build power — a visibility aided by a media culture eager to promote all things corporate. But perhaps even more important in the long run is how free and open-source software can help create transformative institutions. Such software — which much of the back-end of the Internet already relies on, including Waging Nonviolence — is produced through self-organized communities of developers working in collaboration, rather than competition. These communities rely on values like transparency, consensus-seeking, decentralization and broad participation. Yet they’re hardly utopian; they do this because it works. 

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