Main Report

This past year has been a truly remarkable year for both MF/PL and the entire progressive Internet movement in this country and in this Hemisphere. So many events and developments have taken place that it almost feels like several years packed into one.

It might be useful to view these events swirling around two fordimable political "magnets": the election of Barack Obama and the full revealing and comprehension (in this country at least) of the world-wide economic crisis.

Both events have deeply affected our work.

Each offers the possibility of greater clarity and protest and resistance. Since President Obama's election, the country's right has reared its head in one of the ugliest, most racist and most openly threatening offensive in recent history. The spectre of people wearing guns and holding signs comparing the President of Hitler or some animal is searing in its real significance.

At the same time, the election of President Obama (while hugely significant historically, socially and politically) also lured some sections of the progressive movement into a stupor based on the false expectation that this one person can cure the country's ills somehow or that such social cures are his job.

In fact, President Obama is different from previous Presidents. For one thing, he's not white. He is also a highly charismatic politician and one of Presidential history's greatest orators. He is extremely intelligent and open-minded unlike most U.S. Presidents. And he is able to convey to the American people a sense that he really does care what happens to them. These powerful assets allowed him to use the tool that came into full bloom during the Bush years: the Internet. And that allowed him to connect with many millions of younger Americans who, because of the repressively boring and mindless Bush years, hadn't had much connection with politics.

All that means that, as he clearly fails to solve all the problems, people are going to be disaffected. But, in the meantime, some segments of our movement and its potential constituency are simply disorganized and demobilized.

A rising extreme right-wing movement and a demobilized left are a very bad combination.

Part of the Obama challenge is the depression.

The stated Obama strategy, if there is one, appears to be to prop up the structure of capitalism to prevent full collapse and then chop up the American working class by allowing about a sixth part of it to return to employment in what are called "green jobs". Even the most optimistic assessment of the "green economy" indicates that it may create about 850,000 new jobs. We have, however, lost well over 6 million jobs in the last decade (probably an under-estimation) and any attempt to recreate those within the structure and strictures of traditional capitalism is folly. In fact, it's not even part of the Administration's published policies.

Those jobs disappear because that production is being done now in other countries of this Hemisphere and the world or simply is no longer being done. Those job aren't coming back.

The prospect of a country considering itself "economically stable" with so much of its population out of work is gruesome. But that, in fact, is the prospect.

May First/People Link, as part of the progressive movement in the United States, is affected by all of this and all that emanates from it.

The Positives

Organization Status

MF/PL is today among the largest progressive activist organizations in this country and one of largest Internet organizations in the world.

As the accompanying material indicates, we now have nearly 400 members about 65 percent of whom are organizations. Based on email accounts we provide, we estimate the MF/PL resources are now used by over 3,000 progressive activists.

Through the excellent work of LC member Mallory Knodel, we maintain monthly communications with this entire membership through our monthly emailed Newsletter "Low Down".

Our primary work continues to be the sharing of Internet resources and we do this now through over 70 server units spread out over five locations in the country. Our members host a little under 700 websites and well over 3,000 email accounts and it is now clear that members are much more trusting of the infra-structure (based on the fairly common practice of opening new sites with us) and somewhat more conscious of our political stances and perspectives than was the case a year ago.

"Outside" Work

At the same time, MF/PL has continued to be very active in specific efforts and events. We are the leadership of the Internet Technology and Communications Work Group for the upcoming 2010 Social Forum: a centrally important and very critical task. There we are not only working to organize techies nationwide to provide the Forum with technology capability but we're working hard, every day, to raise consciousness about technology and the politically progressive visions of it our movements should have.

Using our Collaborative Democracy workshop, MF/PL has done international workshops at last year's Social Forum of the Americas and the World Social Forum in Brazil. Both involved "trans-national" groups and at the World Forum we did a workshop involving four cities including a 30 person workshop at the Urban Academy in New York.

We have also done the workshop in over a dozen events and conferences this year.

On top of this, MF/PL continues to participate in all kinds of meetings, conferences, etc. addressing movement concerns and political issues: often FOSS and collaborative issues.

In general, as we do all this, we can safely say that our organization continues to have an excellent reputation within the left in this country and its becoming better known among progressives and our movement. The trend among members of launching more than one site using their membership demonstrates the confidence people have in our systems.

Under Co-Director Jamie McClelland's leadership the organization has made several major technological advances. While some of these advances are "under the hood" (upgrading of systems, etc.) and aren't visible to most members, they represent a major step forward in making MF/PL's systems among the most secure and reliable on the Internet. These are explained somewhat more in Jamie's report.

The improvements that are visible are the remarkable Control Panel interface which now gives members powers to actually create hosting orders and websites (among other capabilities) and the popularization and generalized use of our ticketing system which is now rapidly closing in on 3,000 tickets and appears to have won the confidence of most of our members.

The Negatives

No picture is completely rosey and, in this challenging historical and social situation, none should ever be if you're doing your job. We have some negatives and they are significant.

While there are about 100 more members this year than last, there was much greater increase during the first half of 2009. In the recent four months, recruitment has greatly decreased almost to nothing and even when there have been "joins" they have been of individuals with the only major exception of the new Sanctuary movement.

There may be many reasons for this but one which glares is that our recruitment, such as it is, has been done through "techie referrals": a techie is working on a website and he/she hosts it with this organization. These continue with three techies -- Ana Willem, Jack Aponte, and E. Fureigh -- but we haven't had much growth in our "techie circles" and we have failed to broaden our recruitment wider than this referral strategy.

It's also true that the Social Justice movement, our main recruitment target, is in crisis. Much of this movement relies on funding and, as we predicted last year, that funding is becoming harder to find. There is huge instability in both staffing and available funds and all of that is an obstacle to organizations looking for "new hosting". While we have made political in-roads as mentioned above, we have yet to really popularize for this movement the importance of the Internet and the importance of who you choose as a provider. So, in the crisis, these organizations don't prioritize their Internet hosting.

What is particularly frustrating is that we are really deepening relationships with all kinds of organizations involved in movement work and even some involved directly in Internet work...without any real recruitment. There are many examples of this, one prominent one being our Radical techies list. It's one of the larger lists of its type and one of the most active and it has yet to yeild even one membership after years of existence. In fact, in a remarkable spams of insensitivy and unsupportiveness, members of this list actually post recommendations for other providers without even mentioning us.

Besides deeply affecting recruitment and our ability to efficiently function inside the movement, this also presents a security problem. Our recent encounters with companies around the DMCA dramatize the threat this horrible law is to us. Among our proposals is an effort to actually take this law one frontally. But court cases aren't won in court; they require considerable movement support to be successful. At this stage, we can't be confident that we have that.

Semi-implemented Past Decisions

Decisions made by the Leadership Committee in 2008 involved several areas including the Social Forum, Outreach/Inreach and the Hemispheric Initiative.

The implementation of these decisions has been mixed.

Social Forum Work, which has been briefly described above, has been fully implemented and proceeds.

Hemispheric Work, while not an overwhelming force in our year's work, has been present in our thinking, planning and, in some major cases, our practical work. Our participation in the 2008 Foro de las Americas was a major event and a step forward for the use of the Collaborative Democracy software.

In addition, our work inside the Association for Progressive Communications (one of whose concentrations is Latin America) has been a very useful seeding for future work.

Our planned Consulta Hemisferica would be the culmination of this point's implementation and is, in fact, one of the proposals for this year's work.

In-reach/Out-reach has been a troubling implementation for us.

There is, at this point, no real outreach strategy except for working through techies and this, as stated above, has proven problematic.

We *have* done internal work although only our very large and successful video meeting (bringing together all members working in video) followed the "bring similar members together" theme. We also brought together our food coop members (there are three of them) along with the Park Slope Food coop for a "CiviCRM sprint" workday. And, at the Allied Media Conference 2009, several members came to a lunch meeting with Mallory to discuss MF/PL, its plans and its future.

The consistency of LowDown is a reminder and an organizational binder and among our most successful in-reach tools.

Proposals for Coming Year

Recruitment -- It's essential that we start working on membership recruitment in a planned and much more confident/aggressive way. The strategy of waiting for people to join or working exclusively through techies' referrals appears to have dried up. With a continuously growing progressive movement, making the political argument for membership could become more palatable.

AT the same time, our dependence of small funded social justice organizations is dangerous: funding is drying up and this incarnation of the progressive movement seems to be in very dangerous decline.

Techie Congress

With a job loss that some estimate at over 70 percent in the last decade and a dramatically declining pool of freelance opportunity, techies have become one of the American working class's most battered sectors and those who continue to work are among its most exploited.

Yet most of the techie gatherings have functioned on job-tool development (how to do this or that piece of software) or almost sadistic "career networking" gatherings which do little more than rub the salt in the unemployment wound.

In this context, the progressive movement which should be in solidarity with techies has sought to take advantage of our plight by paying less, making project hiring more competitive and using part-time or freelance labor rather than hiring people.

This "don't practice what we preach" activity is made possible, in part, because techies have no advocacy or political voice. And we're one of the few organizations capable of giving one to them.

We're proposing that MF/PL call a national techie "congress" which would take place during the USSF 2010 whose purpose it would be to draw up a Techie Bill of Rights and present that to the entire movement during the Social Forum and to get as many organizations as possible to "pledge" to the observance of those rights in their work. The gathering would also make plans for recruiting signators to this document after the Forum and also to make it a document for International outreach to techies world-wide.

Consulta Hemisferica

This would undoubtedly be the most ambitious project in our organization's history. The plan would be to use the Collaborative Democracy software to bring together groups in about 20 countries in the Hemisphere to work on a plan for Hemispheric Economic Development. We *do* have contacts in a few of these countries but no where near what we need to make this an impactful event.

However, our membership in APC provides at least some contact in much of the Hemisphere and, shortly after the USSF 2010, the Hemispheric Foro de las Americas is taking place and would represent an excellent venue for this event. We are proposing doing the consulta at the 2010 Foro with a build-up using every opportunity we can to

Last modified 11 years ago Last modified on Nov 18, 2009, 6:14:23 PM