(This post explains why I donated to the FSF. Really.)
“Your entire life here is from MH and MM, isn’t it?”
One of my housemates asked me this over coffee. Well, she’s was drinking coffee. I had tea. I could not deny what she said. MH and MM, and the IRC channel they started, have led me to the life I have now. They suggested I visit. They suggested I move here. MM suggested an internship for the Free Software Foundation when I was trying to figure out how I to stay after the summer ended.
My internships (I also had one at OLPC), led me to an RA position at Berkman. The friends I made interning at the FSF helped me get the job I have now, by giving me both an understanding of free software, and general free as in freedom issues, and some pretty kick-ass references.
When I first got to the FSF, I wasn’t entirely convinced. I got the importance of free software (have access to your tools, own your tools, understand your tools, etc, etc, etc), but I thought a lot of the arguments I had been hearing where too ephemeral. I was going through a brief spat of rejecting the idea that “moral underpinnings” were what you needed for an argument–I thought needed practical points to even be worthwhile. (That phase ended pretty quickly.) I also didn’t buy that negative campaigning stuff, and I didn’t see what the Foundation had actually been doing.
In the fall of 2010, the FSF was in the financial red. Two people were laid off during my time there. Everyone else quickly became overworked. A significant portion of my internship shifted to helping with mailings, membership databases, and writing blog posts.
I started getting e-mails from people who read my blog posts. None of them declared undying fan-love, which was a bit of a downer (I thought my brief stint with semi-celebrity blogging was supposed to lead to fame, fortune, and cute nerds trying to sleep with me). Instead, I got thoughtful responses thanking me for bringing attention to issues or projects, or just explaining things in ways that were easy to understand. Not only did I feel good about myself, but I got that the FSF was actually reaching people.
Being in the community allowed me the luxury of thinking everyone thought the way I did. Everyone knew freedom was important, but just used Apple or Windows products because they were easy–they consistently worked without any effort. Once I left the FSF, understanding (though not entirely believing in) the arguments they had and used, I began to see the privilege I had had to work with people who got it.
Freedom is like health insurance. We want it to be there. What we have we think is good. But then, when pressed, we can see it isn’t actually good. Ferrett told me that you don’t know the quality of your health insurance until you have cancer. Similarly, you don’t know the quality of your freedom until it’s tested.
The freedom of software is tested when DRM content you purchased is removed with no recourse offered to you. When a single switch being flipped on or off restricts your operating system. When you’re using a piece of software and want it do something differently, but can’t change it because you don’t have access to it. Freedom in software is about agency, which is something we generally don’t have.
Software is something that is such an integral part of life, realizing you have no control over it is pretty scary.
Or comforting. Some people just don’t care about freedom. Caring about it is hard and depressing. Using what you’re given, what is functional, is easy.
Freedom, in general is important. There are a lot of great groups trying to help with freedom. The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty, Occupy Together, City Live–just to name a few.
However, in my financial support of freedom, I decided to become a member of the FSF during their membership drive.
I have a button and everything. (Which you could click on to donate, should you so desire. Today is the last day of their membership drive, but one could join, or donate, at any time.)
Mostly I decided to give them money because of peer pressure. When you see the majority of the employees socially, it’s hard not to feel the expectation that, now you have a job, you’ll join. But I also support what they do and want to help them do more because they can do more. I like that they’ve been adding their voice against proposals like ACTA, PIPA, and SOPA. I like that they’ve restarted the GNU Education Project. I like that they take digital/electronic rights issues (like DRM), draw on the relationship of these issues to software we don’t realize we’re using and become involved. They need to be in a position to hire more compliance officers, to help people (student people, adult people, people involved with computers, and people not involved with computers) understand not just the insane role software has in our lives, but what it means to have no control over this software. They need financial help to be in a position to help change the way we interact with the things we own.