2011 General Report to Leadership Committee


May First/People Link is a politically progressive membership organization whose primary purpose is the development and sharing of technology resources among its members. It is unique in this country and one of the few organizations of its type in the world.

This report focuses on recent developments within MF/PL as well as the challenges we currently face. Its purpose is to put into context, the proposals for upcoming work being made by our Leadership Committee which must be approved by the Membership at its meeting. To make that presentation, we have to at least mention some of our history.

A Period of Diversified Growth

Since its founding, May First/People Link has experienced several years of significant growth. We founded this organization with about 65 members with about 100 websites and 400 email accounts. Today, we have over 550 members, about 1,000 websites and over 2,000 email accounts.

We are now one of the largest progressive Internet organizations in the world.

We are recognized and respected as a source of technology work and resource within the progressive movement in this country and world-wide. We're members of the National Planning Committee of the U.S. Social Forum and, internationally, the Association for Progressive Communications and the International Coordinating Committee of the World Social Forum.

This presence in these leadership bodies is rare, even unique, among Internet and technology organizations and reflects the work our technologists and members have done. MF/PL is the official technology coordinator for the United States Social Forum. We have sent technologist/organizers to World Social Forum events to work on technology for those events and have sent teams to conferences world-wide for that same purpose. Our techies have worked on events in various countries around Climate Change. In our continuing support work for the Palestinian Rights movement, Techie Organizer and LC member Mallory Knodel is currently in Gaza working on tech support for that movement.

As a source of resource for our members, MF/PL now has about 100 servers in five locations nation-wide. That grows constantly and is, in fact, the driving force behind all our other activities.

In responding to that membership growth, we have developed two highly successful and important organizational capabilities:

Our support system, member driven and based on the principles of complete transparency and access, has proven extremely useful to our members. While use of the system and comfort with it is a process, most MF/PL members appear to immediately go the system when they are experiencing issues and those issues are addressed by fellow members in an open, voluntary system of member to member support.

The organization of many of our techie members into a specific work group concentrating on improvement of our resources and development of new ones has already yielded considerable benefits including the growing stability of our systems.

We have also, for the first time, expanded our staff to include two paid part-time positions: a staff-member working on membership and dues and a staff-member concentrating on tech support.

Challenges Presented

In my report, earlier this year, to the Leadership Committee, I made the point that "...all growth brings challenges and errors. We have our share." In reporting on our challenges, I will quote from and paraphrase some of that previous report.

  1. The rapidly rising complexity of web sites has increased load on our servers has presented us with a formidable challenge and our response has been slower than might have been expected. This past year was characterized by slow downs and occasional outages and one catastrophic data loss that affected about ten percent of our membership's websites (a completely violation of the MF/PL commitment and mandate). This instability has a profound impact on members and, we suspect, impacts their willingness to bring new members and sites to May First/People Link.

In addition, our attempts this year to address this problem have been accompanied by failures in communication with our membership that have often led to confusion, surprise outages and near chaos in some cases.

It appears that we have turned the corner on those issues; service has been very stable for the past two months after several major improvements to our system were made. But the legacy of those problems and the insecurity among members about service linger and will take some time to dissipate.

  1. Our visibility does not reflect our activity or role.

Most people on the Left don't know May First/People Link. We are essentially still viewed as a technology provider and so most progressive people approach us that way...or, as is mostly the case, not at all.

This affects our recruitment and the pattern of recruitment tells the story. While we do pick up a couple of members every week, they are people or organizations who either have had huge problems with providers and see us as "an alternative to others' failures" or they are working with a techie or site developer member of ours.

May First/People Link has been consistently unable to target and then recruit major organizations of the progressive movement and the Left based on how they figure in our politics. While we are centrally important in the Left's activities, we continue to be marginal in terms of the Left's membership in our organization.

  1. We are not able to convincingly argue progressive perspectives on Technology.

Among the most significant shortcomings we have faced is our inability to truly affect the selection of software and communications protocols by the Left, particularly the younger organizations and organizations of color. Not only has this debate been obfuscated by the movement's liberal voices but leaders of MF/PL (myself particularly) have been attacked, insulted and villified for taking a principled position on software.

Obviously, there has been a problem in presentation. Free Software is, of course, a major (if not the major) political technology issue of our time and the outcome of this debate will have a stunning effect on the political struggle in this country.

We have failed to make clear the differences between Free Software issues and those affecting, for example, Social Networking websites so that debates around Facebook become confused and "absolute". In fact, the position we have taken -- that the movement *should* use Social Networking software while being very aware of and careful about its use by government intelligence and the numbing impact it has on political discussion -- has been lost in many public discussions.

If there is a crippling impact of all this, it is that it has made more difficult the recruitment of organizations of color into MF/PL.

  1. MF/PL is still predominantly a "white" organization.

There is simply no way that a predominantly white technology organization can meet the needs of the progressive movements in this country and support these movements world-wide. Not only will it continuously fall short in this regard but it will actually exascerbate the problem as it grows.

No matter our member composition (and we do have members who are people and organizations of color), MF/PL is viewed as a white organization by most activists of color. In part, this is because there is a deep-seated segregation in the left of this country and the first glimpse many organizations of color get of us is our techies. They are almost all white.

In addition, the above mentioned stances on Social Networking sites and FOSS often cast us, in the eyes of people of color organizations, as technocrats, purists or eccentric scientists...and not practical activists. For that reason, our current recruitment is mainly of white people and white organizations. This, given the way the world is going, is organizational and political suicide. And, of course, it means we aren't doing our job politically. This a potentially long-term problem that could prove crippling.


It is an understatement to say the world is dramatically changing. Recent events in several Mid-East and North African countries, including Egypt, coupled with the stunning developments in Latin America hint at major movement in many parts of the World, movement we don't always know about or learn about in this country.

While strategic concentration is different in each country they appear to share a sense of urgency about human survival, a powerful urge to build complete and universal democracy (especially freedom of speech and congregation) and a use of communications technology as an organizing, outreach and coordination tool.

What's more, many activists in the United States are starting to raise the question of the legitimacy of borders: are these "national borders", imposed on indigenous people and the rest of the people of the Hemisphere a relatively short time ago, legitimate divides for a truly progressive movement?

Viewed in that context, the Internet takes on an even more important political role. It is a truth of history that technology frequently precedes social development; in fact, it lays the basis for much of that development. It can lay the groundwork for perverted and poisonous development, as is the case with weapons technology. Or it can foster progressive development as can be the case with the Internet.

That's why so many governments, anxious to control and restrain the explosive social movements that challenge them, focus on control of Internet communications.

Our organization is in the middle of these struggles and we face an increasingly complicated situation as we move forward. It's hardly surprising that MF/PL's tech teams are being sought after more and more on the International level to do tech work at gatherings, forums and major convergences. Additionally, our leadership is being sought after to form part of the International bodies that direct some of this work.

Yet we remain an organization of the U.S. progressive movement, which itself is struggling with these issues of International work responsibility as well as the role of the Internet in its own organizing life.

While we have no illusions about clearly resolving these seemingly contradictory strategic questions, we have to be clear about their presence and importance as we determine our work for the coming year.

Tasks for the Coming Year

Our work in the coming has two goals:

  1. Strengthen our organization, its resource infrastructure and its membership growth, paying particular attention to the recruitment of organizations and people of color and the development of technology skills among activists of color.
  2. Maintain and aggressively expand the public profile of our organization and deepen its relationships with movements in this country and internationally.

To pursue these goals, we are proposing six priorities:

  1. Bring our technology -- including resources and support systems -- to a point at which our members can have complete confidence.
  2. Involve our membership in the planning and development of new capabilities based on their organizational and political needs as well as the evaluation of our current capabilities.
  3. Add 200 new members to our membership.
  4. Develop an outreach and relationship-building program which would include not only direct contact with progressive organizations in this country but a raising of our visibility in public discussions, debates and decisions.
  5. Continue our involvement in the Social Forum and Climate Change movements and our International work, including our work with the Palestinian rights movement.
  6. Launch a training program, in collaboration with members the Praxis Project and the Progressive Technology Project, to train activists of color to become server administration capable technologists.

We are submitting this report and those priorities to the membership for its deliberation and approval.

Last modified 10 years ago Last modified on Sep 25, 2011, 6:31:03 PM