wiki:techies_of_color

Version 8 (modified by alfredo, 9 years ago) (diff)

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Program Summary:

This program provides an intense, supportive mentored training program for activists of color to become professional-level, politically progressive and movement involved technologists. At the end of a 15 month program, the trainee will be able to perform all server administration functions as well as basic code writing and other skills needed to plan, maintain and upgrade any organization's technology.

No other program of this type exists in this country.

The Importance of the Internet

The converging crises in the major capitalist economies, the precarious state of the world environment, the political crisis in government in so many of the world's countries and the usurpation of government authority by international banks and committees have brought humanity to a point of urgency and increasing certainty that something must be done to save humanity.

The Internet, a community of more than 1.4 billion people world-wide, is one of humanity's responses. When all else fails, human beings come together to communicate and figure out how to survive; that is our legacy as a species. That's what's happening today with the Internet.

Humanity's crisis demands greater communication and collaboration among the world's people. And humanity has been forging ahead in doing that with world-wide efforts like the World Social Forum and the Climate Control movement and, of course, the Internet.

The Internet is humanity's way of facilitating the communication necessary to make all this collaboration possible.

At the same time, the global crisis against which we're mobilizing depletes the resources required to build gatherings of large numbers of people. They are too large to put on, too expensive to get to and not capable of broadening the number of poor people attending. If we are going to ensure the progressive movements' continued collaboration world-wide, we are going to have to use the Internet and that is one reason why humanity invented it.

In that context, the role of technologists becomes critically and centrally important. Techies are the leaders of the Internet because we run its technology and lead the work on its software.

Progressive techies have a very special role to play:

  • our political perspective prioritizes the use of the Internet and development of its software for organizing (rather than merely commerce);
  • our commitment to Free and Open Source Software makes us central to a struggle that is fundamental to the Internet's future;
  • the fierce opposition we have long had to controlling and interventionist government policies helps assure the Internet's essential independence and freedom;
  • and our politics give the progressive movement a leadership position within the Internet.

The Problem

There is one serious flaw in this promising picture, particularly in the United States: techies, the Internet's leaders, are mainly white men. This means that, while people of color can do a lot on the Internet, the machines that serve the Internet, the software that runs it and the power and ability to control and maintain the technology is in the hands of white people.

This general problem is inherited by the progressive movement and, while progressive techies frequently lament the situation, not very much is being done about it.

The problems emerging threaten the movement's successful use of technology and the marrying of technology with the movement's organizing work: the movement's two political priorities in dealing with the Internet.

To characterize and understand the dimensions of the problem:

1 -- This lack of representation is actually a lack of empowerment. Since white people control the technology at the operative and managerial level, the important contributions people of color make in combating racism, raising issues that are hidden by color, diversifying the "recipient" population and so much else simply doesn't "get" to the Internet's techies and users as it could and should.

2 -- Software development is never geared to people of color. Since techies do the software development, that software frequently does not incorporate of the true needs, culture, generalized perceptions and stages of development that exist within communities of color. This is true at the planning stages up to the testing stages which is also frequently done mainly by white people.

3 -- Far too little effort is made among techies in this country to combat technology barriers that keep people of color off-line (what was once called "the digital divide"), a situation that would definitely improve if there were more techies of color. While it is true that many young people of color now use the Internet in this country, that use has not crossed generational lines as it has with the majority communities.

4 -- The Internet is, of course, a world phenomenon and one of its greatest contributions is uniting the world through its communication. The necessary and politically powerful collaborations among techies from various countries and parts of the world are crippled by the lack of background diversity among US-based techies. It's difficult to truly develop a collaboration when the US techies are all white and not reflective of the entire US culture.

What Do We Do?

The simple solution is to bring techies of color into the progressive movement's techie activities and that would be eminently possible if there were techies of color. But that is the second part of the problem.

Internet activists of color are traditionally mired in a disempowering situation when it comes to technology. Most activists who use the Internet are dependent on proprietary "social networking" software and websites built for them that they know how to use but don't know how to fix or expand. The activists whose skills go beyond that are sometimes familiar with "content creation" software like web creation packages (e.g. WordPress) but are usually completely ignorant of the software and processes that actually run a server.

In that state, organizations of color (and individual activists of color) are universally beholden to white technologists to run their servers and other infrastructure and, while it's not immediately apparent, this puts the communications of all movements of color in the hands of people who are white. In the long term, this is extremely harmful to everyone, to all movements and to the ability of our movements to work with the Internet and with each other using its technology.

In the short term, it serves to exacerbate the feelings of powerlessness and dependence on the dominant "race" that are a significant part of racist ideology.

To address this problem, we need to consider the reasons for it

1 -- People of color are not given the same opportunities and access as white people. Since the technology is in white hands, it serves to reason that it will remain there as techies share tasks with people they know and trust.

2 -- We don't get training. Because no techie training program exists specifically for people of color and training programs reflect a predictable bias in their development and conceptualization. And they are intimidating since most white trainees start with many advantages.

3 -- The Internet has, in fact, been slower in introduction into Third World communities and this is systemically linked to the absence of techies of color since the presence of the technology in his or her community is a techie's first encounter with it.

4 -- The "Techie Culture" that has grown around technologists' functioning and interactions with each other reflects white culture in virtually every way. Because interactions among techies are so intense the cultural imprint is that much sharper and vivid. Techies of color would find self-introduction in that culture very difficult and intimidating.

5 -- The focus of political techie work is out of step with the usage patterns and identified needs of activists of color. For instance, the techie movement's stress on free and open source software contradicts the dependency by most activists of color on such social networking tools as Facebook. Such dependencies are, in fact, extremely damaging and dangerous and techies have been able to argue that successfully within much of the mass white movement. But the divide between techies and the movements are color make that argument must more difficult and even viewed with suspicion.

A note of major importance here: for the most part, progressive techies who are white are not oblivious to this point. In fact, as the recent United States Techie Congress outcomes demonstrate, progressive techies consider the struggle against racism in technology to be an absolute priority. They are allies of this struggle; not the agents.

Goals

This program's primary goal is to turn the situation around by training a group of people of color to become proficient techies with skills in server administration, web and email administration and trouble-shooting and basic software development including the ability to construct basic scripts in Drupal and similar content management systems.

After a one year program of intense on the job training with constant support from a fully qualified "mentor", the trainee will be proficient enough to actually run Linux servers, perform installations, diagnostics and upgrades, maintain the server system and

The trainee will also have benefited from a full year of intense discussion and reflection on the political significance of his/her work, the issues a progressive techie confronts and the problem of relating to other activists and how to deal with those problems.

Program Specifics:

1 -- A call is issued to many organizations of color seeking applicants.

2 -- Applicants are selected by a team from the sponsoring organizations.

3 -- Interviews are conducted with each selected applicant and then applicants are assigned their curriculum based on their skills and needs and assigned a mentor.

Mentors come from the ranks of May First/People Link which includes some of the country's top technologists in its ranks.

The work curriculum would usually include:

a -- building a server, prepping it and maintaining it either for the techie's organization, some organization identified by the techie's organization or May First/People Link. The techie would then maintain the server.

b -- developing website capabilities, email systems and mail list systems on that server and maintaining them

c -- developing a technical support system for that organization

These areas of proficiency will make this person a qualified server administrator.

Mentor Role

The mentor is the living response to a call being made by many activists, particularly within the Climate Control movement, to "take responsibility and give back". Progressive white techies know they have been privileged over activists of color and, for the most part, want to respond by turning that around.

The mentor's role is to guide the mentee through the curriculum, provide all technical support and question answering needed, share all skills necessary and provide the opportunity for discussion of the social and political context for this work.

The course would be mentored by the MF/PL technologist who will meet with the techie at least once a week, answer any phone calls the mentee might make with questions, and conduct email communications on any and all topics related.

Every two months, mentees will gather in a location (probably two locations in the country) for a two day "seminar" with one of the program leaders about what they are learning, how the course is going, what could be changed, what kinds of political developments are taking place that affect their movements, etc.

The program will award certificates of proficiency to all who finish it. We believe this process will take 18 months in most cases although it is possible that a trainee could finish the course in a year.