Ruben Safir

President of NYLXS and Founder of NY Fair Use - We are Do'ers. Free Software Classes from the Ground Up, and Volunters Join NYLXS today and become a leader.

Getting a Bigger Tent: Free Software's End Game

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, in the middle of one of the happiest time of my life, on the most beautiful morning that I can ever remember, and while sitting in my sun lit office, I can remember as if it happened this morning, the email on my GNU desktop was ringing and ringing. I looked over and saw 117 messages in my in-box which normally has nothing more than a dozen overnight posts, thinking that this is weird. I opened my mail and saw a message subject, "Holly Cow - The World Trade Center was just hit". I opened the message thinking, "not again", and shaking my head.

The message said that all the TV stations are off the air. I turned on my television capture card, and indeed, all the stations but Channel 2 was off the air. 4,5,7,9,11,13,21,25,31,41 and 45, where all gone. I watched the North Tower burning on Channel 2, when the second plane hit the south tower, while reading mail and corresponding with friends the whole time. I remember my friend Billy Donahue writing that it's raining paper in his neighborhood accorss the river in Brooklyn. So I put the video on record, and ran out the door towards the disaster. When the first tower collapsed, I was stunned, not by disbelief, but fuming with more emotion than I could process. Anger, depression, confusion, and frustration were all simultaneously competing for my attention. I just wanted to be closer and to help, but all entry to Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn was blocked off that morning. There was no way in until later.

The Towers were a great symbol of hope and pride. Those who never had the experience of seeing them on a glassine like harbor, almost as if they were floating on the water, glimmering sunlight, can never fully appreciate the loss to our city on that day. Our heart and souls were tied to the symbolism of the towers. Constantly exploited for their imagery and thrill, New Yorkers had come to identify with the Towers in a very personal way.

The civilization which would attack our city, and strike at the spirit of New York, leaving dust and a fire ball, destroying without a trace thousands of individuals, is an organization which strikes at New York's great message for the world: Through Liberty and Freedom Springs Hope and Opportunity. New York is a wide tent, which stretches out it's arms to all, the womb of Freedom for people of all races and ethnic groups, the worlds greatest symbol of Freedom.

Those who attacked us, attacked the foundation of freedom, and the progress only possible through inclusion. They are exluders. We, as New Yorkers, are includers, and we can never forget that.

Free Software, at it's best, is a tool of inclusion. Free Software is the best hope for a future of enabled individuals, communities and industry. Like all legitimate movements of freedom, Free Software faces detractors with proclamations of efficency and effectiveness. But we should all know that the only proven efficacy for societal growth and prosperity, is a heavy dose of freedom.

226 years ago, on the soil of my home town, in Brooklyn, in August of that summer of 1776, our city was called upon to stand up for the budding freedom of the American Colonies, as the stage for the first and largest battle of the American Revolution. As we mark this this summer I can't help but recalling that through the cooperation, and spilled blood of both our town and the French people, we eventually overcame the bleak outlook after the defeat of that day, to bring forth to the world a nation of peace, freedom, and tolerance. From that day forward, my home town was became the home of multiples of peoples and nations, unlike any place before or since.

It is my hope that today, Brooklyn and the City of New York, can again find themselves as allies in the cause of freedom with this great nation of France. Free Software is the only way of assuring a future of prosperity, and security for all the peoples of the world. Only through the freedom to associate, to come together and collaborate in solving our problems can we hope to assure that these wonderful tools which we use for our expression, our industry, and our education, continue to remain as free as our press and our governments.

Our job as users, marketeers, promoters, and programmers of Free Software, is to assure the creation of the widest possible tent. We welcome all individuals to participate with Free Software. We welcome them to code, and to use Free Software to enrich their lives. We hope they can find in Free Software the freedom to express themselves and to become fulfilled.

While it is central to the business plan of every proprietary closed computing system to entangle the user, and to limit the use of digital tools, for Free Software, the essential goal is the opposite. Our goal to provide Free Software is for everyone. Our goal is to be empower the individual through our software, regardless of peoples wealth, background, or ethnicity. We offer everyone a stake in the future, a future which promises to be filled with digital communications, and increasing dependency on computers for our daily living. Digital devices are the future for education, entertainment and all of our information needs.

The mass murderers who attacked my city, a city of immigrants, tolerance, and fruitful co-existence, these murderers are believers in ethnic purity and religious autocracy. They attack us out of fear of our open door, of our tolerance, and of our freedom. In the same vein, those who use software to exploit people, to manipulate them , and to limit our potential as a civilization, these are individuals who wish to autocratically decide what we can read, what we can listen to and how we share. They abuse their copyright monopolies and are attempting to prevent the private ownership of computers and software. They strike with ferocity at Free Software. They intend to undermine our freedom and our open markets. They jail us for reverse engineering our systems, alter formats to limit our access to their systems, spread lies about the benefits of our products, and then they wrap the entire process in the flag, claiming that they are the righteous victims. These copyright monopoly tyrants claim that they are threatened, and weak. They cry that they need government protection from the public with wiretapping, forced contacts, and police action. And we as a free people are standing here together, shoulder to shoulder, to say that we are not going to take it anymore.

It's the responsibility of every Free Software user, and every Free Software developer to encourage individual empowerment by demanding a free platforms for our communication infrastructure. We must reach out to the disenfranchised, those of us who, through circumstance are left out of the main stream economy, or who are marginalized by racism, or national origin. We should reach out to those who have not had the opportunity to fulfill their true potential. Individuals and nations which live in poverty and disease, and the children in our cities, and around the world, can only be guaranteed the opportunity to improve their lives and their legacy if they can live in freedom. Proprietary software models can never provide for us the freedom necessary for self empowerment. And government policies, such as the American Digital Millennium Copy Right act, can only be used to further exploit all of us, especially the poor. It prevents free trade and fair competition. It limits economic growth and it is stifling creativity. All non-free software systems prevent participation by all, reserving the benefits of development and publication to a few undeserving software firms, movie produces and music distributors, at the expense of our economy and political freedom.

Nearly every economist worth of their title will admit that the driving force behind economic growth is not through corporate giants. It is small and medium size businesses which drive the economy. Individual in their local areas employ more people and generate more wealth, than Ford or Sony. These hard working and creative people produce the goods and services which drive our free economy. How can we expect the budding graphic artists, book seller, and industrialists to develop our future economy without providing the opportunity to create and exploit new technologies in their communities. In fact, all the major industries of today originated as small businesses at great risk to the individual businessmen. Our car industry sprang forth from creative experimentation in barns across the West. Our airline industry developed from adventurous mechanics who learned from each others failures and successes. Our media giants sprang from small time movie produces and radio broadcasters. And each of these success stories underline the need for education, shared experience, and free competition.

Isaac Newton correctly observed that his insights and brilliance was only possible because of the knowledge learned by his colleagues and predecessors. Mankind's unique ability to create is actually grounded in our ability to adapt new applications onto existing ideas. Shakespeare, by the standards that todays media mongrols would have us to believe, is a theif. He lifted ideas and stories from Marlow and writers before him. And yet, Shakespeare is clearly unique, and simply reused the material around him for form new creations. Jazz music, and rap similarly reuse material.

We stand here today at the infancy of the digital communications revolution. Can we have any doubt that in the future nearly all music, literature and works of non-fiction will by available mostly through digital means? Under these conditions, can there be any doubt that our ability to reuse the cultural materials all around us will be badly impaired if we continue to be dependent on software models designed to exploit us? How severely impaired will our means of creating new material be? How suppressed will be our economic growth? Econocmic growth is dependent on invention and creativity. We must protect our freedom to innovate. We must protect the rights of others to utilize our innovations. We must protect the rights of others to improve on our innovations.

There exists, within the ranks of the computer industry, people who feel that their advanced education or experience, entitles them to an exclusive part of the future digital economy. This idea is especially prevalent within the Unix world. Running big iron on large systems continues to be a focus of these users. They are sharp with their tongues in defending their perceived territory within IT. So poor is the reputation of these individuals in the larger business world, that Microsoft targets them when speaking to IT managers. They have a marketing campaign promising to help you to get rid of Unix and those expensive and obnoxious Unix professionals. Failure on the part of Unix companies to market and enjoin the common user is one of the major reasons for Microsoft's success. As bad a Microsoft's products have been at entangling the users, opening security holes, and forcing upgrades on businesses, the Unix vendors, with superior infrastructure, have refused to even compete. This philosophy of computing controlled from on high is a business failure. Every time proprietary systems make generally available a programming architecture, may that be HTML, Javascript, or even VBA, users swell from the rank and file to exploit these technologies to generate new ideas and businesses.

So while we must assure freedom, we must assure freedom for as many people as possible. In New York, we developed a new kind of GNU/Linux organization. As a reflection of our city, we are determined to create as big a tent as possible for everyone. Our goal is Free Computing and Digital communications for all. On the beach front of the digital revolution, we need to forge new advanced positions in elementary school education, in the university system, in business, publishing, in the arts and in the home. We have used a number of tools at our disposal to attempt to push this agenda forward.

First, we have tapped our local community of Free Software developers to give their time on a volunteer basic to make inexpensive classes available to the public. In addition we have started a marketing campaign targeting the public school system in an effort to place Free Software into schools to give young children a change to learn how to program and to use the Free Software tools needed for arts and music. Thirdly, we are are lobbying our congressional leaders, by going door to door with petitions and buttons, lobbying for the needed Fair Use protections of personal property and communications media. And finally, we have an effort underway to fill in the gaps for small business in regards to providing complete solutions for their business needs.

This has been very hard work. But our members have worked very hard to bring all these programs to life. Our organization might very well be the most active local Free Software organization in existence. When the recession which followed the destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC began to grip our region on the heels of the economic blow of the Dot com bust of the previous year, things got tough. But NYLXS responded by being tougher. Today we are seeding fertile ground for which will lead the local, national, and global economy to even higher ground than even the boom boom days of the late 1990's. But to do this, we must be committed to broad freedom, and we must be prepared to work hard.

The choice is laid out before us. We can continue as we have, and hope that things turn out well, not just for Free Software developers, but also the general public, or we can start to redouble our efforts and work harder. Freedom to create, communicate and develop are a fundamental human needs. It is the foundation for tolerance, mutual inclusion and political freedom. No one knows better than the French know the cost of preserving this freedom, as this nation was the battle ground for freedom for much of the last century. And it is probable that no land has had more blood spilt on it for this goal. Free Software is not even asking for the ultimate sacrifice of generations past to assure freedom, but only requires you to act in your own self interest with the pen and keyboard. Join us in New York in forging this new world, a world of freedom and tolerance and mutual respect.

NYLXS, the New York Linux Scene, has a tradition of political action in the defense of free software and digital property rights. Since its inception, shortly after the terrorist attack on New York City, NYLXS has come to recognize that, like any other industry, we need to have effective representation in the halls of Congress and within the executive branch of government. To this end, NYLXS has supported New Yorkers for Fair Use and has taken independent political action, such as local lobbying, to lay the foundation for a secure future. What we've learned from our efforts is that those who wish to work with free software in the future need some basic education in the political process and the issues that threaten our ability to work with free software and our overall freedom as citizens.

Recently, we've made several calls to hire a professional lobbying body in Washington DC. Lobbies can be useful for promoting an organization's political agenda, but in our case, it seems prudent to get our ducks in order at home first--before we waste valuable resources in Washington.

People come to the Free Software movement for a variety of reasons. Except for the most politically active members among us, the main reason is an attraction to the soundness of the technology and the freedom to access the computer systems we use. Another compelling reason is the economic incentives it can provide disenfranchised individuals as well as large businesses. It's a testimony to our current freedoms that we come to free software without a second thought to the underlining principles that allow for the existence of such systems. In our work promoting free software, we've been surprised how often, even in our own circles, there exists huge resistance to anything political or the least bit distasteful. As a population, we have learned to be skeptical of politicians and stubbornly apolitical.

The reality of our current political situation is far more dangerous than most people are willing to admit. In our work, we've learned it's not possible to keep a narrow focus on only free software issues. We also must deal with the nature of digital communications and its relationship with the public. Specifically, NYLXS has found that the efforts of the Copyright Monopoly Industry to restrict the use of digital systems to protect their normal business interests has broad political implications. As our society is rapidly moving into the digital age, this is no doubt the first battle. The basic foundation of our future democratic freedoms is being built now. Yet, the general public is asleep at the wheel. At this point, one of the best things proponents of free software can do is raise the profile of the issue with the public. Fortunately for us, we are taking on the media industry and, if we do things correctly, we can simply ride Jack Valenti's coattails.

But the first step toward political action and the defense of free software doesn't fall on Richard Stallman, the EFF or OSI. No lobby can represent us effectively until those who use free software actually get their representatives to work for our interests. It's really that simple. The US government is made up of three branches, and we have only one nationally elected official. After this, we have 435 elected officials in the House of Representatives. These locally elected officials round out to a representation of less than 700,000 people per representative, although in practice representatives in populous states normally represent more people. In addition, we have 100 US Senators, who also are elected on the local level. We also have a large number of elected officials on the state and local level who have a large swath of guaranteed powers, including control of education programs and local communication network policies. To sum up this civics lesson, almost all politics in the USE are local matters. Our political system is designed to keep political power at home, not inside the Washington DC beltway.

Members of Congress and local officials respond most to issues that effect the people back home. Your job as part of the Free Software community is to raise the issues in your home districts. Without the threat of political awareness in their backyard, members of Congress are free to cut whatever deals they want in DC. If the public is apathetic at home, businesses and business lobbies have the overwhelming advantage. First, they are well funded because they are businesses. Second, they control the press, and members of Congress need the press. Finally, they can make large political contributions our movement can't match. But it's important to realize that despite all these advantages, the Copyright Industry does not represent any major grassroots constituency. As such, they are paper tigers that can be defeated easily if an organization is prepared to do the work needed to influence national policy.

The first step toward getting things done is to get your own house in order. Politicize your local computer groups. Don't flinch from making the political imperatives of protecting the fundamental rights needed for free software's survival a top priority of your user group's mission. If you're not prepared to accept the challenge of protecting the basic freedoms needed to ensure the future of free software, uninhibited by wiretapping and censorship, then you need to step aside. There are plenty of Radio Controlled Model Airplane groups around for you to exercise your interest in technology. Free software is serious business, and we need people committed to the general principles of freedom in the digital age.

What makes free software important is not that we can tinker with it like a hobby horse, although this activity is one that we hope to protect. Free software is the bellwether for our basic political freedom in the digital age. As such, every users group meeting should include an update on important political events. Every technical presentation needs to begin with an explanation as to why it's significant that the project was developed using free software. People who complain that you're over-politicizing need to be challenged. They need to be told, flat out and without excuses, that we act in a political fashion because our existence is being threatened by government policy, including the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which can end all free software tomorrow.

The next step is to get your organization involved with the political process. This will upset a great many people, because people inexperienced with the political process fail to understand its raucous nature. Public discourse often can be contentious and confrontational, and most people don't like to be in that situation. A great deal of money and political rights are at stake with these discussions. Be prepared to be forceful in your points and to be challenged thoroughly by your political opponents. Your object is to win, and your opponent's object is to win. You have right on your side, but they have good arguments and issues on their side as well. Be ready to defend your rights articulately and forcefully, and don't expect them to pull out the chair for you.

Finally, back up your efforts at discourse with political action. At least once a month, your organization should plan a community-wide activity designed to enhance the profile of fair use and digital rights issues with the public. Expand your constituency at these affairs by including librarians, educators, government officials and industrial leaders. Reach out to local religious leaders, churches and community groups, and make the needed presentations to these constituencies. Knock on doors and give out pamphlets in business districts. Even monthly activities can have a large impact. And don't forget to involve the local press. Find the names and addresses of the editorial staffs. Meet with local beat reporters and do interviews. Alert them to your planned actions. Contact the public to act for a specific action or purpose. Ask them to write their local representatives on the issue of fair use. Tell them you want to protect libraries in the digital age from unfair rights abuses by industry and the government. Try to commit them on the spot. Have literature and buttons ready, and make sure there is contact information in the literature.

Finally, don't forget the elections. This year your representative is up for election. Tell them they need to support freedom for digital communications, or you're going to vote against them. You want their support, and this is not negotiable.

During the Libre Software Meeting in Bordeaux, France last month, exciting technical meetings and separate political meetings were held. They offered high quality presentations on a number of important technical subjects. Unfortunately, the two tracts were far too separated. Technical meetings drew in IT students and professionals from all over Europe, but these people simply skipped the legal and political discussions. We gave away the store and failed to charge admission. If we are going to continue to provide high quality technical discussions at little or no charge, it's our duty to make sure that every eager beaver understands the basic political causes that make these technologies available. They need to know that the very discussion of these issues may be considered a felony in the future. If we're spending 100,000s of Euros or dollars to make these presentations, there has to be a pay off for the movement.

Without this level of support from the home district, it's not sensible to hire lobbyists in Washington. If we are determined to be ineffective at the ballot box and we can't outspend our opponents, then politicians will ignore the representatives lobbying for us in Washington. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet here. We must do the work at home. Not only is free software free as in freedom and not free as in beer, this kind of freedom is not cheap.

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Ruben (last edited 2008-08-06 16:36:08 by localhost)