Free Software Under Attack, an OFFDEM Manifesto


The threat to free software

An OFFDEM manifesto

by petites singularités

This text was originally published on January 5th, 012020 HE and was revised for this edition. On peut le lire en français.

" It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’, which has come to be known as neo-colonialism." [1]
The Last Stage of Imperialism
, London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1965.

We[2], as a group of free software activists, have decided in 2020 to organize OFFDEM, an intersectional gathering around collective practices and free technology productions. Our reasons have been explained in a friendly post on p.s.: forum:

It now seems about time to voice our feelings towards the astonishing preemption of the developers communities by surveillance capitalist corporations. While there has been large social movements to claim “Fuck Off G̶̢͈̠̣̓̓̈a̴͖̦̓́̇̒͜ḡ̸̺͇̚̚͝g̵̨̻̺̣̓l̷̞͊̀̿e̴̫̼̳̊”, and protests against A̷̲̬̐͌m̸̺̫̈̾i̴̛͎͝ĝ̶̻̖ô̶͍n̷̳̿ē̸̼̖ burst all over the world, large protests in India against F̶̥̈ȧ̶͜k̸̤̋ê̶̦b̸̠̎ơ̴̠ọ̸̍z̷̝̎, those companies and other GMAFIA brands are promoted by our “community” events, which also receive individual donations and are organized by people who are often volunteers.
We find unacceptable that our communities be associated with such companies: instead of supporting people around the world who oppose their domination, we cross their picket line. If free technology producers do not stand up to surveillance capitalist corporations, who will?

OFFDEM is open for freedom, desire, emancipation, meaning. It was a first, necessary step to affirm the existence of free software outside of the reach of surveillance capitalism. Someone had to do it. We took the risk, and all the people who attended with us[3].

  • Do we need such large events
    OFFDEM vouches for decentralization, as most people only have one life and can achieve a limited number of projects, we do not need to be all at the same time at the place, let’s organize and promote smaller and more focused meetings on different topics aiming at practical achievements for the communities they support.

  • Do we actually reach out to our audiences?
    The organization of small events can be done at a lower cost and in better conditions than amassing a large number of professionals without asking the question of the uses, the intentions nor the modalities of technical developments. Opening up to otherness consists in working in proximity with resistance networks, on the ground, in order to open up to plural realities.

  • Do we question the power relations in technical production?
    The comfort of privilege blinds us to the stakes of technique. We are numerous and we are well informed! However, we are permanently in an entre-soi favored by an individualistic culture that limits the organization. For example, we still do not reach the regions of the world outside of the West, where half of our workforce is located, and who are confronted with even harsher forms of domination: we are hardly aware of the concrete problems generated by our activity, nor of the alliances we could make.

Since 2020, OFFDEM has been proving its relevance, because the moments spent together are materialized in acts, the choice of decentralization opens up possibilities and explores new paths outside of surveillance systems.

We want to affirm the possibility of gathering in a different way, in conviviality, comfort, benevolence and hospitality; we want to remind that this form of convivial gathering reflects the values of our community much more than any intensive corporate event, which FOSDEM has become over the years, shaped by the mentality of surveillance capitalism and Silicon Valley. This is not like us, and we will not let them crash our party.

The factory of technical violence

The material origins of powerlessness

Change comes only through action, but the simplest action seems unattainable. As producers of technology, we remain caught up in the dominant operating models, despite our awareness of the reality of the situation: our actions continue to bring destruction beyond our borders.

The infrastructures that organize our communications and industrial production are in the hands of actors who seem beyond our reach. If contemporary activists have never had so many means to organize, the scales of destruction and violence of the military-industrial complex are exponential, leaving barely any interstices for our action.

We also know from experience that the recurrent re-appropriation of all our community models by an insatiable system shows the power of our associative capacities. This pattern of co-option by industry repeats itself over and over again. “Their resource radar detects what can be pumped out for free and comes to suck the energy, according to the famous principle: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.”[4]

From systemic violence to technological cannibalism

We can observe, in our ultra-liberticidal, madly capitalist world, that everything our production system touches is immediately destroyed, just like the legendary King Midas who turned everything he touched into gold, until he could no longer eat or drink. These fatal consequences are borne by all ecosystems and by the most vulnerable people in our society.

It is a widely accepted fact that we have blood on our hands, that every day our comfort is provided by soldiers who monitor the mines, fly the drones that will erase lives through a screen, out of sight, out of mind, funded by “structural programs” to “defend” access to “our territories,” by politicians who delegate atrocities to “regimes” set up and maintained by “diplomatic”, “commercial”, and “democratic” coercive forces. The propaganda is unquenchable on the benefits of “civilization”—ours, but remains silent on its mass graves—theirs. Similar is that which resembles us and which industry can assemble; beyond this utilitarian distinction, we fall into the implausible – yet the norm. Yet this reality is most often impossible to address at the heart of our organizations, and we have just passed a point where the discourse of power “saves lives one by one” while, in the meantime, technological solutions to social problems are still being sought, in vain. For the propaganda strives, with disconcerting ease and success, to put all the weight of the responsibility of the system on individuals — not collectively, en masse, but in isolation, in a detached way, intimately accused – on the individual atomized by this system that deconstructs him.

The proposal to OFFDEM is to trust in the capacities and knowledge of our networks of resistance, the only ones capable of inhabiting the interstices, of forging links according to other modalities, lively, perennial; in the face of insurmountable pressure, to take a step aside and erase the burden by letting it fall under its own weight in order to consider the facets that usually remain invisible: those strings pulled and frayed, those empty words, those shareholders without action, those financiers without thickness, those one-way mirrors where the emptiness of accusing and demotivating speeches is reflected ; then watch, from the embankments where we are, the train of progress and growth pass by, hurtling towards a mountain whose tunnel at the end of the rails, however real, has just been painted by a mischievous Geococcyx californianus who will revel with the audience in the devastating compaction of the ultimate crisis – if the audience ever survives it. On the embankments grow grasses, fragile and thirsty, carrying the whistle of the winds even after the catastrophe.

OFFDEM and THX are the points of connection where we will continue to think together and build the tools, the methods, the collective, that will allow us to take that side step we talk about all the time; to branch off, to pull the brake, to continue elsewhere, differently, here and now…

What are the conditions for escaping from systemic pressure? We imagine them in the collective. We wish them out of the compromise. We know that they are subject to the inertia and tentacles of reality. Far from summing them up as a life recluse behind a screen, between four walls, behind an explosion engine or next to another jet engine, or surrounded by men in arms, we conceive them, intimately, also as propitious to another relation to the world, subjected to a desire to live together, to the will of a good life.

What is alive is dephasing to be no longer oneself–and this is how it remains. The side step, it is this dephasing, this force of the living to accept nothing of the ineluctable, to make it null and void every time that it comes to announce its triumph. The life is what resists entropy, to the ultimate homogenization, the uniformity of the world towards the sand of time, the announced end of the universe; but in the meantime, we are there, here and now, everywhere to affirm compossible living worlds.

  1. C’est l’ensemble de ces tentatives modernes de perpétuer le colonialisme sous couvert de « liberté » que l’on appelle le néo-colonialisme. ↩︎

  2. OFFDEM was organized by a group of different collectives based in Brussels, such as le HCKLABXL, les, Neutrinet, la Voix des Sans Papiers, la Maison des Migrants, Source radio show, the Hashët collective, and Petites Singularités.
    We thank Instant City Harbor, HSBXL, EDri, ActivityPub SocialHub, the Tor Project, CCC and all the collectives who enjoyed the gathering. ↩︎

  3. including some who came to OFFDEM who were not attending FOSDEM. ↩︎

  4. Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.,_extend_and_extinguish ↩︎

Le contact avec les représentants d’un autre monde ou l’infiltration en présence est difficile à vivre.
Il y a pas mal de questions soulevées par ce texte. Ce qui m’intéresse particulièrement c’est le ballon qu’il lance vers l’organisation d’un mouvement pour faire face au capitalisme de surveillance.
Là il y aurait beaucoup à dire et à préciser. Cela oblige à prendre de la hauteur, prendre conscience des faiblesses. Comment pose-t-on les bases d’un mouvement plus ou moins articulé, hétérogène, décentralisé, pouvant défendre un Internet ouvert, libre et doté de privacité…etc? Le niveau local est sans doute une bonne piste. Quel point de vue, quelle expérience aurait le FOSDEM/OFFDEM là-dessus?

J’ai essayé de gratter quelque chose mais plus général: Bref panorama numérique de l'année 2019 - Plate-forme Dunia

Salut François ! OFFDEM est parti du groupe autour de petites singularités, notamment les @gnuragistes, le #ps:hcklabxl, @natacha, @fredux et moi – et bien sûr nos ami·e·s de la Voix des Sans-Papiers et de la Maison des Migrants. Nous avons tou·te·s une activité hyperlocale et notre approche, dessinée dans #engagement:3rd-technoscape consiste à partir de l’existant, des réseaux existants et leurs activités, pour interroger les technologies, leur production, leur adéquation, comment elles contribuent à (trans)former des communaux et qui en détient le contrôle. Nous aimons l’approche d’événements de petite taille (entre 10 et 300 personnes) afin de pouvoir pleinement profiter de la présence de chacun·e, et si possible se déroulant sur plusieurs jours afin de véritablement entrer en résonance entre nous et avec les sujets abordés ; nous jouons sur la (dis)continuité des rencontres dans le temps et du suivi entre ces rencontres – c’est là le plus difficile à accomplir. Après l’expérience magnifique du TransHackMeeting à Tarnac en 2018, nous avons voulu reproduire une expérience similaire avec THX à PAF qui a donné naissance à THX comme milieu de collaboration et comme événement décentralisé sur le modèle du Placard (festival de musique électronique pour casques) dont l’approche est d’offrir des principes de fonctionnement (un lieu public ouvert 24/24 pendant 3 jours, etc.) et une approche volontariste. Nous avions prévu avant le confinement d’en faire un là où je me trouve actuellement, mais évidemment ce sera pour plus tard – du coup nous expérimentons avec l’approche à distance soutenue par des outils numériques (de Discourse, un service Matrix, un Mastodon, etc.) et des conversations en appui d’actions localisées (en ce moment c’est Prendre Soin du monde).

L’article que @natacha et moi avons publié dans Journal of Peer Production #11 (Le Tiers Techno-Paysage - THSF - petites singularités) rejoint complètement ton analyse, en fait c’est un peu le point de départ de petites singularités :

D’une certaine manière, l’activisme numérique souffre de sa propre apesanteur et de son absence de territoire physique, au sens où son enracinement et son épaisseur idéologique ne lui permettent pas de développer une gravité plus forte. Dans les arènes politiques traditionnelles, y compris progressistes, il est relativement rare de voir s’intégrer les questions numériques dans l’agenda, à l’instar d’autres questions technologiques. D’où, d’un point de vue stratégique, la centralité des alliances, de l’éducation populaire et du travail en interface avec les réseaux de médias, municipalistes, féministes, de transition écosociale…

Thanks to share theses thoughts. I’ve started to read and . I like different ideas of rooting techno-initiatives into very diverse realities, avoiding a dogmatic or static perspective pointed to a unique enemy, embracing diversity (instead uniformizing from another point of view). There are conceptual seeds to act technopolitically in a complex and evolving environment. That’s a good perspective we could compare to activism in other fields, for instance sustainability, agroecology…etc.

Salut François, it would indeed be great to do such work. Do you have resources on the subject regarding agroecology? We’re quite fond of La Vía Campesina and how they handle networking and action.

We’re also close to APC and support their Feminist Internet initiative: @natacha is finishing her article to be published in the Catalyst Journal: Taking Back the Future -- A Short History of Singular Technologies in Brazil - Third TechnoScape (3TS) - petites singularités, that brings a new perspective on some understudied aspects of citizen networks there.

Maybe @hvalevale and @karel would like to participate. I see APC have been publishing extensively about the situations affected by COVID-19. @fsoulard do you have something in mind?

Moving a screenshot of the original vote before removing it from the original manifesto since we want to publish it and votes do not work well with published pages.


New vote is open below to members of the @supporters group.[1] :slight_smile:

I support the OFFDEM manifesto

  1. You must be a member of this group to see the buttons! To join the group, simply click its name above and click “Join”, then reload the page to accept policy. ↩︎

This thread was just brought to my attention on the FOSDEM list

Interesting that people wonder if mails questioning ggl were intentionally held for moderation.

Also, that the thread goes on to mention the case of gender-based salary imbalance and subsequent mistreatment and dismissal of the last female employee at FSFE, and there’s a fascinating piece of mental vomit from somebody who’s dug themselves a massive fantasy hole of paranoia and toxicity.

More a reminder for me … but could be related at some point … a talk at (f)osdem The Death of Openness and Freedom? Open Source Under Attack - Saturday 6/02 12:15->13:00.