FOSS stands for Free and Open Source Software. WordPress, the software that runs this blog, is FOSS. Apache, the software that serves the majority of web sites is, FOSS. These are tools used by people all over the world to advocate for change. When you promote your cause online there is a high chance you’re using FOSS. But the people who make FOSS tools and the people who use them don’t always relate to each other.
Bruce Byfield article Why FOSS isn’t on activist agendas does a good job providing some reasons why. Maybe it should be titled Why FOSS isn’t on MOST activist agendas. I know a TON of activists using free and open source software.
I work in both FOSS (aka geek) worlds and activist worlds. So one of my goals is to bring these two communities together. Why? FOSS can be a very powerful fuel for change. Activists desperately need this power when working against great odds. In other words: Activists are David, the problems of the world are Goliath, FOSS is the sling shot that will bring Goliath down.
From Why FOSS isn’t on activist agendas:
Those comfortable in both the FOSS and activist arenas see several problems that must be overcome before activists can accept FOSS. These problems include the FOSS community’s insularity, its failure to deliver the right message to the activists’ technophobia, and a failure to make connections. In the end, it may be only by seeing the values that underlie both FOSS and other causes that any connection can be made.
I think activists desperately need to increase their technical literacy. Very basic things like how the Internet works, how to write basic html markup, how to use a web browser, how to search the internet, etc. (really these things aren’t very hard to understand)
Increasing technical literacy isn’t easy. Especially when a geek like me tells someone they’re lacking. So I spend a lot of energy finding good ways to explain stuff to people. My serious goal is to be more patient and work to empower people. We must remove non-techie people’s dependence on the few geeks with the knowledge. Education can do this.
In the other camp FOSS geeks need to improve their physical social skills. Especially in relationship to values shared with activists. I’m not saying that FOSS geeks should be more PC. (politically correct not personal computer) I just think lots of geeks could use some knowledge dropped on them by people working in struggles centered around race and gender. We must respect women and people of color more. Fact is the geek IT world is dominated by white men. (Like myself)
From years of being socially ostracized for being good with computers geeks/nerds/techies need to break out of their shell. We need to be loved and not feared or held in awe. We need to work harder to talk to people about technology without jargon. We need to see the FOSS struggle as political and akin to the same struggles that others have.
Brown concluded that, if activists were to respond favorably to FOSS, they would only do so at an ethical level. Brown is currently organizing a campaign by the FSF to reach out to the activist community with this new approach.
Activists and FOSS geeks can find common ground on a ethical level. We just have to teach each other to speak our respective languages. This combined with volunteering in our respective causes will bring us together.