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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

May First Movement Technology: Digital Radicalism

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February 19, 2024
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Originally published at Great Transition Initiative

Though technologies have been with us from the dawn of time, the term in today’s world refers almost exclusively to a very small number of digital technologies offered by huge transnational corporations.1 With them come new possibilities, though also the imposition of values, epistemologies, and interests distant from those who use them. How could we design technologies in a consensual way, to support people and our planet? What would it mean to have infrastructure for political movements deeply rooted in their communities and committed to social justice? Resistance in the digital environment demands that we center our values, intentions, and dreams, focusing on other ways to live, be, and know.

May First Movement Technology is a cooperative (primarily based in the United States and Mexico) that aims to put these values into practice: digital media that supports social struggles and grassroots movements working to create the world we know is possible. We maintain our own technological infrastructure and help expose the limitations of mainstream services. We are building a shared political perspective among those who use these technologies so that we can make them work for us, through collective decision-making. We create alliances, listen to each other’s experiences, and jointly pursue creative forms that manifest our dreams.

On Being Part of May First

The MFMT cooperative has more than 500 members (mostly organizations) and a structure that is quite different from other technology services providers, as it promotes democratic participation. Members’ commitment to learning, making decisions, and sharing knowledge about both political and technological issues makes May First unique in technological and social movements.

“The struggles for digital and bodily autonomy go hand in hand” is the first phrase we encounter when visiting the MFMT website. In our political manifesto, we express our commitment to support the building of social movements based on the strategic and collective control of technology for global transformation and emancipation within and across borders.

Having a broad membership provides political strength and a wealth of power, knowledge, skill, and thought that complements technological infrastructure that is offered to organizations. The leadership of May First consists of committed community activists and technologists who—based on their values, vision, and strategies regarding technologies—understand and evaluate the political times. The Board of Directors, as well as the membership, have throughout the years forged relationships with social movement organizations and activists who have eventually become members of the Cooperative, amplifying their potential. We view ourselves as different from other technical organizations, who often limit their board to technical experts. As Pablo Correa of La Coperacha, a member of the MFMT Board, has emphasized, “May First’s vision is quite the opposite; that of having people come from diverse struggles, movements, organizations, and other social groupings, connecting to those diverse realities, expressing their analyses, visions and sensibilities in the leadership of the organization.”

Our Political Vision

The members of the Cooperative emphasize the fundamental role of political perspectives in the building of a digital space that is clearly focused and meaningful. The design and governance of technology have an essential role to play in dismantling systems like capitalism, patriarchy, and racism and in cultivating our connection to the planet. As Jaime Villarreal, an MFMT board member, has said, “We aren't just defending a virtual territory of resistance to an Internet controlled by state and corporate surveillance capitalism; we are ensuring our basic ability to communicate freely, organize and share both life and struggles both within and between our own respective communities and physical territories of resistance.”

Understanding how mainstream technologies can be used to buttress the prison-industrial complex, surveillance capitalism, and abortion bans helps us to strengthen our solidarity work as we forge connections across movements. Once connections are made, we can use technology to effectively reach our objectives. Our struggles cannot be isolated.

Technological Resistance

Following the trail of the origins of several of the corporate platforms reveals how they developed based on the looting of technologies from open-source communities and efforts shared in the commons, e.g., “social media.” During the 90s, the technologies were just emerging when the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) took to the streets. The news was shared by word of mouth and quickly reached the digital media of the times; journalists and activists found it via bulletin board systems (or BBSs)—an adequate space, free and independent from the traditional mass media—that allowed for the distribution of the news of the indigenous uprising in the southeastern part of Mexico, thus overcoming the media blockade. Soon afterwards, the Internet was co-opted into being a business and the independent bulletin boards ceased to be used, swallowed by social networks that, copying their characteristics, updated them and presented them as new forms of communication.

The digital world has expanded since—with digital currencies, online financial platforms, data markets, surveillance, social media, expanded access to information, and much more. It is incumbent upon us to offer an alternative vision to this increasingly privatized global commons.

Viewing technology from a political perspective is still, however, far-off for most communities. Critical digital education is a great ally, as are the learning experiences of social movements that today encompass practices, feelings, and “sentipensares” (feeling-thinking) both familiar and new. If being outraged by impositions moves us, we can also act against technological tyranny and nurture digital spaces that are liberating, cooperative, and autonomous.


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