Natural Disasters and Environmental Justice

This post was collaboratively written by Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh, and Tamara Shapiro. It was translated by Mariel García (thank you).

Every year, communities are affected by “extreme environmental events.” These might include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. There are, of course, official response agencies with mandates to rescue, feed, heal, and rebuild; however, the true first responders are always people who live in the affected regions — neighbors and community leaders.

The matter of who responds — and who is supported by formal institutional response — is complicated by patterns in which historically marginalized people are often ignored or unseen by outside actors.

These patterns have been further complicated in the aftermath of recent disasters during which spontaneously-forming networks have “shown up” to assist in ways that are more rapid and distributed than is typical of the formal disaster response sector — yet without any of the accountability that formal institutions (supposedly) uphold.

During these experiences, we’ve seen clearly both the promise and the peril of modern digitally-enabled and network-led crisis response and recovery. After 2017’s alarming hurricane season, a network of people formed with interest in improving the capacity for disaster response to more effectively support local priorities and leadership in times of crisis. We are now calling for the convening of people who have worked together through crises such as Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the like. At this “Crisis Convening,” we will share experiences and skills, explore ways to promote equity and justice through modern crisis response, and build resources for the type of assistance that we offer.

Here is our key question: in times of climate crisis, how can outsiders — formal ‘disaster response institutions,’ grassroots community organizers from other locations, emergent networks of volunteers on the ground, and ‘digital responders’ — most effectively engage and support community-based responders to achieve a more accountable, humane, and adaptive response?

At this ‘Crisis Convening’ event, we will converse and take small, actionable steps towards addressing some of the following questions, and many more we haven’t considered:

  • How can formal institutional responses best support those who are most impacted by a crisis?
  • How can spontaneously forming networks provide assistance in a way that centers the needs, interests, and leadership of people who are experiencing the crisis?
  • How can we ensure that data about a community stays in that community’s control?
  • In what ways are environmental justice and disaster response related?
  • How can outside intervention support recovery as well as response?

We hope you’ll join in this conversation with us here, or (better yet!) at the event. If you are interested in participating in the convening, please fill out this form to let us know – and we’ll be in touch.

About the Event

We’re excited to announce that we’ve been invited by Public Lab to host this convening during their upcoming network gathering on July 13-15, in Newark, NJ.

Public Lab is an open community which collaboratively develops accessible, open source, Do-It-Yourself actions for investigating local environmental health and justice issues. Twice a year, they convene in an event called a “Barnraising” in the spirit of coming together to achieve something larger than can be achieved alone. At a Barnraising, people share advocacy strategies through telling stories from their lived experience, build and modify tools for collecting data, deeply explore local concerns presented by partner organizations and community members, and connect with others working on similar environmental issues across regions.

During this convening, we will gather between 30-60 people from areas that have been hit by climate crisis in the past 15 years to discuss real-world scenarios and discuss actionable steps to help ourselves and others practice more effective community-centric crisis response.

Here’s how we hope to do that:

Dedication to local voices and representation

The impacts of crisis often fall heaviest on those who are already struggling. We hope to include those most impacted, though we also understand such folk might have a diminished capacity to engage. To address this, we are inviting an intentionally broad set of people, actively supporting child care at the event, and offering scholarships to those who express interest and need.

We will need all kinds of help to make this happen. Will you sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate? Click here to contribute to travel and accommodation costs.

An advance day for Crisis Convening

On Friday, July 13th we will gather to focus on the matter of crisis response. Attendees are encouraged to have a quick conversation with the facilitator in advance to shape the agenda. We might share skills, contribute to a resource repository for communities entering a time of crisis, or further explore how inequality plays out (and can be counteracted) in response.

Public Lab Barnraising

Building on the energy coming out of the Crisis Convening, we can continue our conversation in the same location Saturday and Sunday as more people join for Public Lab’s Barnraising. On the first morning of the barnraising, all participants, including those from Crisis Convening, will collaborate to create the schedule via an “Open Space” approach. This process will ensure that the agenda speaks directly to the interests of the people present. Crisis Convening delegates will be welcomed to add their topics to the schedule. The Code of Conduct applies here as in all other Public Lab spaces.

Please Let us Know What You Think

  • In comments
  • Reach out to discuss directly
  • Join us at the event.  If you are interested, please fill out this form to let us know.  We will follow up with an official registration form shortly
  • Sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate. Click here to contribute to travel and accommodation costs

Together, we hope to discover small, actionable projects together which will equip community-first response, whether through organizing, technology, institutions, or things we have yet to discover. We hope you will join us.

 

Este post fue escrito en colaboración por Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh y Tamara Shapiro. Fue traducido por Mariel García.

Cada año, hay comunidades que son afectadas por “eventos ambientales extremos”. Éstos pueden incluir huracanes, terremotos, tornados o inundaciones. Por supuesto, hay agencias de respuesta oficial con mandatos para rescatar, alimentar, reconstruir, etcétera; sin embargo, los verdaderos primeros intervinientes siempre son personas que viven en las áreas afectadas: vecinos, líderes comunitarios, etcétera.

La cuestión de quién responde, y quién recibe apoyo por parte de la respuesta institucional formal, es complicada por los patrones en los que poblaciones históricamente marginadas tienden a ser ignoradas o no vistas por actores externos.

Estos patrones se han complicado aun más en las secuelas de desastres recientes a lo largo de las cuales redes de formación espontánea han “llegado” a asistir de maneras que son más rápidas y distribuidas de lo típico en el sector de respuesta formal a desastres, aunque sin la rendición de cuentas a la que las instituciones formales (supuestamente) están sujetas.

A lo largo de estas experiencias, hemos visto con claridad la promesa y el peligro de la respuesta a y recuperación de crisis modernas, habilitadas por tecnologías digitales y redes. Después de la alarmante temporada de huracanes en 2017, se formó una red de personas con interés de mejorar la capacidad de respuesta en desastres para apoyar liderazgo y prioridades locales de manera más efectiva en tiempos de crisis. Ahora estamos llamando a personas que hayan trabajado juntas en crisis como Sandy, Harvey, Irma, María, y otras similares. En esta “Reunión de crisis” compartiremos experiencias y habilidades, exploraremos maneras de promover equidad y justicia a través de la respuesta moderna, y construremos recursos para el tipo de asistencia que ofrecemos.

Aquí está nuestra pregunta clave: En tiempos de crisis climática, ¿cómo pueden los extranjeros (las instituciones formales de respuesta a desastres, líderes de desarrollo comunitarios de otros contextos, las redes emergentes de voluntarios y las personas que hacen respuesta digital) involucrarse y apoyar a los respondientes locales de la manera más efectiva para promover la respuesta más humana, adaptativa y responsable?  

En esta “Reunión de crisis”, conversaremos y tomaremos pasos pequeños y accionables para abordar algunas de las siguientes preguntas, y otras más que aún no hemos considerado:

  • ¿Cómo pueden las instituciones de respuesta formales apoyar de la mejor manera a aquéllos que son impactados por una crisis?
  • ¿Cómo pueden las redes de formación espontánea proveer asistencia de una manera que se centre en las necesidades, intereses y liderazgo de quienes están experimentando la crisis?
  • ¿Cómo podemos asegurarnos de que los datos de una comunidad queden bajo el control de esa comunidad?
  • ¿De qué maneras están relacionadas la justicia ambiental y la respuesta a desastres?
  • ¿Cómo puede la intervención externa apoyar tanto la recuperación como la respuesta?

Esperamos que te unas a esta conversación con nosotros aquí, o (mejor aun) en el evento. Si estás interesado/a en participar en la reunión, por favor llena esta forma para comunicarlo, y nosotros nos pondremos en contacto contigo.

Acerca del evento

Nos emociona anunciar que nos invitó Public Lab a ser anfitriones de esta reunión en la próxima reunión de su red del 13 al 15 de julio en Newark, NJ.

Public Lab es una comunidad abierta que colabora para desarrollar acciones accesibles, de código abierto en el espíritu de “Hágalo usted mismo” para investigar salud ambiental local y temas de justicia. Dos veces al año, se reúnen en un evento llamado “publiclab.org/barnraisingBarnraising” (“construcción del rebaño” en inglés) en el espíritu de juntarse a lograr algo más grande de lo que se puede lograr en soledad. En un barnraising, la gente comparte estrategias de defensa a través de contar historias de su experiencia vivida; la construcción y modificación de herramientas para recolectar datos; la exploración de preocupaciones locales presentadas por contrapartes organizacionales y miembros de la comunidad; y la conexión con otras y otros trabajando en problemas ambientales similares en distintas regiones.

Durante esta reunión, juntaremos entre 30 y 60 personas de áreas que han sido afectadas por crisis climáticas en los últimos 15 años para discutir escenarios del mundo real y pasos accionables para ayudarnos a nosotros y a otros a practicar respuesta de crisis centrada en la comunidad de manera más efectiva.

Esperamos hacerlo de la siguiente manera:

Dedicación a voces locales y representación

Los impactos de la crisis seguido caen con mayor peso sobre aquéllos que están de por sí batallando antes del evento. Esperamos incluir a los más afectados, aunque también comprendemos que estas personas podrían tener una capacidad disminuida para involucrarse. Para abordar esto, estamos invitando a un conjunto intencionalmente amplio de personas, activamente apoyando el cuidado infantil en el evento, y ofreciendo becas a quienes expresen su interés y necesidad.

Necesitaremos todos los tipos de ayuda para lograr este cometido. ¿Podrías patrocinar a un participante que de otra manera no podría costear su participación? Haz clic aquí para contribuir a los costos de viaje y estancia.

Un día de preparación para la Reunión de crisis

El viernes 13 de julio nos reuniremos para enfocarnos en el tema de respuesta de crisis. Se alienta a las y los participantes a que tengan una conversación rápida con el equipo de faclitación con antelación para influir en la agenda. Podemos compartir habilidades, contribuir a un repositorio de recursos para comunidades que entran a un tiempo de crisis, o explorar más cómo las inequidades operan (y pueden ser contrarrestadas) en la respuesta.

Barnraising” de Public Lab

Para aprovechar la energía resultante de la Reunión de crisis, podemos continuar la conversación en el mismo espacio el sábado y el domingo con las personas que lleguen al Branraising de Public Lab. En la primera mañana del barnraising, todas las personas que participen, incluyendo a las de la Reunión de crisis, colaborarán para crear la agenda a través de la técnica de “espacio abierto”. Este proceso ayudará a que la agenda apele directamente a los intereses de las personas presentes. Las y los participantes de la Reunión de crisis serán bienvenidos a añadir sus temas a la agenda. El Código de conducta aplicará en éste y todos los demás espacios de Public Lab.

Por favor dinos qué piensas

  • En los comentarios
  • Contactándonos para platicar directamente
  • Viniendo al evento. Si te interesa, por favor llena este formulario para informarnos. Te contestaremos con una forma de registro oficial.
  • Patrocina a alguien que de otra manera no podría costear su participación. Haz clic aquí para contribuir a los gastos de transporte y estancia.

 

Juntas y juntos, esperamos descubrir proyectos pequeños y accionables que equipen respuesta donde la comunidad esté adelante, ya sea a través de la organización, la tecnología, las instituciones, o mecanismos que tenemos aún por descubrir. Esperamos te unas a nosotros.

How to Blue Hair

The author looks into the camera with startlingly blue hair and a galaxy necktie.

I’m vain about few things, but my hair is one of them

I typed this up years ago for a young human in Lima, Peru trying to persuade their parent that blue hair was totally do-able. I recently dug it up for a friend and realized it might be nice to post. Here’s how I blue my hair, after 11+ years of consistent experience. The pictures in here are hella old, but I find them charming. Also I miss my mohawk now.

 

Much affection to Libby Bulloff and Jessica Polka, both of whom traded hair dye jobs with me for years, and to the Hair Dye Party crew for the same.

The author looks into the camera, with chin resting on a hand which also covers the mouth.

I didn’t always have blue hair.

To get the hue I like, I mix two or more of the following to get a balance between the blues that tend towards purple and those that tend towards green:

Different hair takes different kinds of dye better and worse. Experiment. I’m about to try PulpRiot‘s Nightfall to see how it sticks, for instance.
You can add conditioner to lighten the color. Or you can go for pastel by using nearly completely conditioner and a sliiiiiiight amount of blue (dime-sized in a 12-ounce bottle), after bleaching to white.

Supplies

  • You can get latex or similar gloves from a beauty supply store or a pharmacy
  • You’ll want a hairdye brush.
  • Hair dye can could come from internet, from a beauty supply store (such as Sally’s Beauty Supply), or punk rock shop.
  • Bleach powder and developer, from a beauty supply store if you want to do a lot of it (bucket of bleach and bucket of developer) or a pharmacy if you just want to try one round (box example – not one I specifically recommend, as I don’t use box bleach anymore).

Bleaching

photo of the author from the ears and eyebrows up. the edge of the mohawk has a white paste on it, as it is at the beginning of the bleaching process

Starting the bleach process

If you don’t bleach, you’ll end up with a neat blue hue if your hair is even mildly brown, but it won’t stay long and it won’t be bright at all. It’ll look rad in the sunlight and otherwise be understated. That said, bleaching is the part that damages the hair. This damage can be trivial – the equivalent of swimming in chlorinated or even salty water – or it can be heavy, like the horror stories you hear about hair breaking or frizzing. The trick is to use powered bleach and 10 or 20 Developer (these go all the way to 40. The higher the number, the stronger the effect. Start low and work your way up with experience).

The mix can go in a throw-away bowl, or ceramic or glass to be washed. Should be thick enough to stay in place, but creamy enough to get in between strands. Do a test on your skin (arm, for instance) and let it sit for a minute. If it burns, add more developer. If it drips, add more powder.
the base of the hair of the mohawk is now a yellow, rather than a blue or orange

after the bleach

Apply with a brush from the roots out. I first do the hair line and then go in rows on my head to be sure I get everything. Start at the part, then work my way down one side of the head in parallel rows from my face to just past the back curve of my head. Once finished with that side, I go back to the part and work my way down the other side. Then down the back, still parallel to the floor. Then I get anything beyond the roots I’m interested in bleaching. Let sit until bleached enough, you can’t handle the feeling any more, or it’s sort of fluffy(?) and doesn’t feel/look like it’s doing anything anymore.

How do I deal with long hair? Well, I don’t. But you might have to. Either twist it up as you go and use bobby pins, or use tiny clips to secure in place. I’ve never been one for tin foil
Rinse your head. Shampoo is fine. Deep condition and let it stay in your hair for 10ish minutes. Rinse and dry, using a towel you don’t care about (it will get bleach on it). Your hair will feel not great right now. Have faith.

Dying

Once your hair is pretty dry (it’s doesn’t have to be completely dry), go through the same process with the brush, working from the roots out, but this time with dye. I make a rough mix of the different sorts of dye – that weird mix of color is why my hair has weird depth to it. By a “rough mix” I mean put your different dyes into one container and stir or shake with maybe 5 aggressive movements. Dip the brush all the way in to get a full collection of dyes.
blue dye is now applied throughout the mohawk. in addition, a smiley face is drawn on the short hair on the side of the head

the consequences of being animated when libby dyed my hair

Leave on for at least 30 minutes. I let the dye stay on my head overnight. Seriously. I plastic-wrap the top of my head, put a sock cap on and a towel on my pillow, and go to sleep. There isn’t anything in the “fake” colors that has damaged my hair yet.

When ready, rinse your hair until the water runs clear. I sometimes add in some normal conditioner to my hair in this process as I don’t want to shampoo yet but do want to help the dye get out. Best done in stainless steel or porcelain (unpainted) sink. Others will do, but you’ll have to scrub the surface harder to get it clean afterwards. Use a towel you don’t care about to dry. Your hair will now feel better than it did after the bleach.
 

Clean-Up

For sink/bathtub/etc: scrub with soft scrub or equivalent.
For skin: if your skin gets dyed, soap and water will often fix. If not, use rubbing alcohol.
 

Upkeep

I now cycle through vibrant blue, teal, and purple Overtone every time I shower for upkeep, but lacking that, put a bit of hair dye in your conditioner. I shampoo my hair at most twice a week. Will fade faster in sun, from hot water, salt water, etc.

Go forth, and feel equally confused as I do when people ask you if you’re feeling blue.

2017 in Review

This will be my third year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 2015 and 2016 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what one has accomplished over the year. The headers in this post are based on my 2017 goals.

Explore, decide upon, and execute the next work bits.

This was the hardest on me. While my time at Aspiration helped me to slow down, it also removed me from the circles in which I had run, which I feel made finding work far more difficult than it might have otherwise been. Over the course of 2017, I applied to ~200 jobs, and got to the second-interview stage (or further) at 12.

Contracts did come in, some through the consultancy Vulpine Blue my brother and I started. We had 4 clients and a workshop series, including participation in a field scan for technology for social justice (complete next year) and a network strategy workshop around microfinance and direct cash assistance. External to Vulpine, I facilitated a lovely group of folk in creating a game about disaster response, and am working with Megan Yip on a resource repository about digital estate planning. Some of these things have been covered on this blog over the past year.

I applied to a data science bootcamp, and so took time to learn more about Python, statistics, Javascript, and d3. While I didn’t get in based on my lack of memory/knowledge of statistics and calculus, I did learn a lot, especially about coding. The most significant progress in all this has been made under the excellent guidance of Tilde. <3

The work on digital response has also continued, with assisting Greece Communitere in setting up their Monitoring and Evaluation for Accountability and Learning plan, participating in Neighborhood Empowerment Network and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster Sacramento, apparently having 35 Marines tasked to me for setting up the disaster response section of Fleet Week, and helping with community technical responses during the hurricane season. The influx of attention has improved our response knowledge base and sparked a new Slack group. A donation came in from a friend for these efforts, which means we can be even a bit more prepared in the future to do more work. For a short period of time, I had a Patreon going, and it was a reassurance that I’m not shouting into the void. Some of these efforts also appears on this blog.

For longer term thinking, I also supported the swissnex Crisis Code event, found a co-author and new editor for the mixed-mode system paper book (which progresses a goal for 2016), and set up the Do No Digital Harm Initiative with Seamus and Joe.

In short, I did manage to explore the next work bits. The route I’ve been selected for, and accepted, is to become the project manager at Truss. Truss embodies my desire to do epic shit quietly, in a healthy working environment. I’m stimulated and supported, and it’s glorious. Also, we’re hiring.

I don’t know how *you* celebrate being a new job, but I sure have a way..

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Make a longer-term financial plan (and start on it).

All that means I have a long-term financial plan and am plugging away at those longer-term objectives. 2017 was a year of sporadic income and job hunting, and has drained all personal savings and put me back in debt to family (I am the luckiest, I know). Being paid like an adult living in SF while still persuading myself that I don’t make that kind of money means I can start saving for bigger Future things.

Remain emotionally vulnerable and available even when it suuuuucks.

After taking some time to heal after the multi-level collapse of 2016, I developed a Dating Plan, which perhaps isn’t terribly surprising to some of you. I executed at full-bore and thereby met lots of lovely new folk.

But the dating Plan didn’t go exactly as expected because the casual thing I had going with one Reed Kennedy escalated. Quickly. We worked backwards from when we should decide if we want to do other Life Things with each other, and set a move-in date in August. Be still my logic-based heart. We now share a home (but not a room), and his mom knows my parents.

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This isn’t the only relationship in my life, of course. I’ve also worked to maintain my relationships with Jenbot, Lily, and Estee; and to deepen my friendships with friends old and new. A big part of being able to do all this was getting my average miles per hour into the single digits for the first time in years. 7! Seven mere miles per hour. That’s 61k miles traveled over the year.

There are other aspects to being emotionally vulnerable and available. To me, showing up was also participating in the airport protests, women’s march, and acting as security at a Berkeley march. Another aspect of vulnerability is this: over the course of 2017 I experienced two bouts of depression, the second of which was bad enough to mean I’m on medication. A++ modern medicine, would ask for help again.

Find 3+ adventures of any size to go on, and go on them.

I went a little overboard on this one, but I’m really proud of myself for that. In the past, most of my travel has been for work, with rare exceptions. In 2017, I went snowboarding in Colorado, went to Santa Fe to see Meow Wolf, rode to Pinnacles to go rock climbing, hiked Gunsight Pass with my dad in Glacier, and had romantic getaways with two partners (one to Point Reyes, the other to Virginia)!

Where I was yesterday.

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I also managed to Do Things in the Bay Area, including taking a shining to the SF Neo Futurists, playing D&D for a long weekend in Oakland, experiencing an interactive play set during the Prohibition, and seeing Hamilton and the Magnetic Fields.

Adventures aren’t just for experiencing, they’re also for building. Over 2017, I gave a talk at Odd Salon, did some minor support on Radiance, sat on a panel about Apocalyptic Civics at the Personal Democracy Forum, gave a talk on Weaponized Social at SHA (the Dutch hacker camp), contributed to a Cultivate the Karass event, and sat on a panel about disaster response technology at Hackers. Oh, and I ended up in a coordinating leadership role for the 1100-person, 4-day festival Priceless, which I shall continue doing next year as well.

Yours truly, on the last day of #priceless, with “enough” radios.

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Get back into reading a nerdy amount.

I did ok at this, but not as well as I might’ve liked. Instapaper doesn’t offer data, but apparently I’ve finished 18 books this year on Audible, and maybe 3 physical books (yay dyslexia!). Favorites include Thanks For The Feedback, Marriage (a History), the Broken Earth series, The Gone Away World, and The Fire Next Time. I also binged hard on The Adventure Zone podcast.

Physical Things

Here were the physical goals for 2017:

  • Run 400 miles over the course of 2017 (about twice what I did this year).
  • Beat my time/position for a Spartan race.
  • Climb at least 6 times a month.
  • Bike 50 miles or more a month.

Maybe there are so many because they’re the easiest thing to track?

I ran 307 miles (100 more than 2016, but 100 less than my goal), primarily because bicycling became more of a priority than running. I bicycled 1,163 miles over 2017, which is pretty great for the first year of having my own bicycle as an adult. The hardest (but not longest) ride I did was 31.8 miles and 2,554 ft of climbing. I walked 100 miles less than last year, but 500 miles more than I bicycled in 2017.

Hours and hours spent with @sofauxboho for this Goldie-Locks-fit of a bike.

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The Spartan race I ran was during the same month and same location as 2016’s, but the track was slightly different. I ran a better time (1:40 to last year’s was 2:05) but poorer position (583/4800 to last year’s 255/2617). I don’t know that I’ll do another race. It’s been interesting but I don’t see it building to anything.

The only month I missed my 6x climbing goal was November, and November was a tire fire. I got Reed into climbing, who got Josh and Gordon into it, and I made new lead-practice climbing friends Sophia and Alejandro. I made it up a Mission Cliffs .11C (not Yosemite grading, so not as fancy as you think it is, but still damn hard).

I persisted with yoga and strength training, took up boxing (this also knocks out (lulz) a goal for 2016) (shout out to Four Elements Fitness, and to Scout and Debbie for the encouragement), and started on a ketogentic diet which has had huge benefits to my mood stability. And I’ve halved my alcohol consumption from last year, which was already a drastic decrease. My average workouts per month is up to 15 from 5 last year. This is especially strange, looking back to 2015 when working out regularly was notable. Lest this seem easy or accessible, it’s the equivalent of spending just over 7 straight days in the gym (not including walking or biking), almost 4 days of which was just on walls.

Not-Goal-Related Joy in 2017

Got my motorcycle painted so it is now the right colors.

Personal things : still improving.

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Bought myself very nice slippers. I mean, really nice. I’m wearing them right now.

Now drink only decaf coffee and teas unless under extreme circumstance.

I also learned 3 songs on the ukulele. This was a huge deal to me, as I’ve always been convinced I couldn’t play an instrument. Now, having played those three songs, I don’t know how much more time I’ll spend on it, but it was fun to figure out. Thanks to Katie and Drew for badgering me into believing in myself.

2018

The term I carried with me into 2017 was personal ambition, as I wanted to start considering my own needs while caring about the world. While I don’t think my personal ambition came anywhere close to the ambitions I have for the world, this goal did shape how I thought about things.

The term I will carry with me in 2018 is space for foundations, as I continue to re-learn how to take up space, in light of the things I’ve learned about humility and ambition over the past couple years. So my goals are:

  • Do solidly (excel, even!) at my job
  • Get certified for lead climbing
  • Continue reducing my intoxicant consumption
  • Meet one of my four savings-related goals. I still feel awkward about money so I won’t go into more detail here.
  • Get the book proposal in front of 4 publishers
  • Go bicycle camping
  • Bicycle further than I walk (without any drastic reduction in walking)
  • Complete the coding project with Tilde for the year-end report next year
  • Responsibly wrap up some of the projects listed here
  • Keep on top of my responsibilities during Priceless and other high-tumult times
  • Feel like I’m speaking 1/Nth of the time

Rights Based and Needs Based Response

The humanitarian aid groups I work with are “needs based.”

The advocacy groups I work with are “rights based.”

These are useful frames which mean different things, and while a person can operate with both of them in mind, it is not possible for an organization to operate under both pretexts. Let me explain.

Rights Based

Rights based groups include the United Nations, Amnesty International, the ACLU, HURIDOCS, Islamic Human Rights Commission, and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. Find more listed on Wikipedia.1

The UN was born out of the aftermath of WWII. One of the things the UN immediately2 did was to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These include both freedoms from and freedoms to, such as the right to “rest and leisure,” “life, liberty and security of person,” and “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”3 Sounds dreamy.

From the UN Populations Fund on why the UN decided to go with a rights based, rather than a needs based approach:

an unfulfilled need leads to dissatisfaction, while a right that is not respected leads to a violation. Redress or reparation can be legally and legitimately claimed.

The rights based approach states a baseline expectation of how humans should be treated. However, if a government, group, or individual is violating that baseline, public opinion are used against the perpetrator to change behavior. While countries may base some of their laws on the UDHR, the international courts use them as customary law, rather than anything more rigid.

But what about in unusual circumstances, such as conflict? Rights based organizations do not care about the unusual circumstance–rights are rights–and so rights based groups are rarely “allowed” access to conflict zones, although they may go regardless.

Needs Based

In war, the Geneva Conventions apply, which

are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).

These are also enforced through a special international court called the International Criminal Court.

While there is a neat and tidy list of rights based organizations on Wikipedia, there is instead a category of humanitarian aid organizations. The only organizations founded on the Geneva conventions are the International Committee of the Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which operate under the full set of humanitarian pricinples, including neutrality.4

Neutrality is the hard one which is often forgone by groups which call themselves “humanitarian”5 because of how difficult it is to maintain. It means laying aside a personal sense of justice (related to rights) in order to provide for human needs. It means fixing up the wounds of a militia with the assumption that the wounds of the civilians and the “other side” will also be fixed up.

This means needs based groups are allowed access to regions which rights based groups are not. But if that neutrality is ever called into question it is hugely detrimental to all people in conflict zones everywhere. A needs based organization can never act as if it is rights based.

Making Choices

It is from this background that I asked a question of Twitter about a project I’ve been working on called Do No Digital Harm.

Should the people who help secure an ICT6 network in use by groups in conflict align/organize themselves with/like a group like Amnesty, or a group like the Red Cross? The first allows for a much broader conversation and pushing of an agenda. The latter allows access to places otherwise inaccessible.

As always, one of the key groups I continue having a massive crush on is Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Even in their founding is the combining of a rights and needs based approach, and though comprised of many fiercely rights based individuals, the organization itself remains needs based and trusted to be neutral in conflicts of all severities.

I’ve talked before (with the amazing Margaret Killjoy) about how humanitarianism needs to be politicized. But that political action can happen by other groups to those which are needs based, in different arenas. We must be strategic in meeting needs while also increasing access to rights in the future.

Footnotes

  1. Bless you, Wikipedia. Have you donated to them, or called your rep about Net Neutrality? If not, please do so now.
  2. well, for them… it took 3 years
  3. If you’d like to feel inspired and crushed all in one go, visit the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner website to see what they’re up to.
  4. Yes, IFRC and ICRC are different, I’m so sorry.
  5. Also sometimes Proselytism because people gonna people.
  6. information communication technology

The Contributions of Grassroots Technical Communities

The Haitian Earthquake saw the first significant uptick in responding entities. Gisli Olafsson brought this up the first time we’d met, at a talk of his at the Wilson Center. I was just starting to visually take notes (having broken my arm), and I was a year into leading a group called Geeks Without Bounds, one of the many technical response groups which had emerged and then stuck around. It was hard to know what we would be good at, where we fit in. Disaster response has such a long and complicated history, and the culture of technology is so used to being new, shiny, and the Fixer of All Things.

Seven years later, and the patterns of digital response are becoming so well ingrained in my soul that I can use the Socratic method to help new groups as they spin up without becoming frustrated, and insist on things like self care. There’s still a lot to learn – especially as our physical and digital environments are changing all the time – but here is what I have figured out about where digital/technical/whatever response fits into the larger response ecosystem: crowdsourcing (and microtasking), increasing everyday capacity, information communication technology, and easing collaboration through standards.

Because each of those is a hefty thing to speak about, this entry covers crowdsourcing and microtasking.

What’s the difference between crowdsourcing and microtasking?

Crowdsourcing is about gathering data, microtasking is about parsing through data. Both are predicated on a very large task being broken down into many tiny pieces, which can can then be done by relatively unskilled/untrained labor. Then all those individual contributions need to be able to re-combine into a logical Whole again without too much overhead. Because of the need for a very clear workflow, the problem-solving creativity of in this process exists in the creation of the workflow, the systems on which it runs, and the creation of the experience for the individual participant.

What follows is an example of an emerging crowdsourced practice and one with a smoother flow and two examples about microtasking. A later entry will cover how citizen science exists in the overlap between crowdsourcing and microtasking,

Crowdsourcing

Rescue Requests and Dispatch

The way I’m used to seeing rescue requests happen is through an overloaded emergency response system asking people to stay in their homes and wait it out. It’s never sat well with me, but I’ve been at a loss as to how, as a remote responder, assist. During Harvey, the Coast Guard activated the Digital Humanitarian Network to help go through rescue requests on social media to provide them with summaries every 12 hours which they could then respond to. 12 hours is a long time to wait, even if it’s a quick cycle for the formal sector. Locals started using Zello to request and offer help via the Cajun Navy. (Let’s return to a rant on redundancy in dispatched resources based on a lack of sharing another time, yes?) Rescue.fm has since started working on ways to coordinate dispatch beyond scribbling on pieces of paper and spreadsheets. Good work, Zello, Cajun Navy, and Rescue.fm! I’m excited to see how this evolves over time, and to see such clear improvements to systems for mutual aid.

Shelter Information

During Harvey response (and then again for Irma), Sketch City set up a workflow for volunteers to call shelters to ask for their capacity, available beds, location, etc. That information was then entered into a data structure which could be queried via SMS through code built by the HarveyAPI team.

Eventually, something like a data standard for health and human services could automate much of this process. But until and unless that happens, this sort of information doesn’t become available to people under stress unless folk are chipping in to make those phone calls and enter the data. Good work, Sketch City!

Microtasking

Mapping Infrastructure

The remote mapping of regions (whether in crisis or not) is something that Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has been doing as a core component of digital response since before their mapping of Port-au-Prince in less time than it would have taken to set up a contract through a response agency. Their Tasker is a beacon of how anyone can get involved in helping a response (or “Putting the World’s Vulnerable People on the Map“). Those maps are then used by responders and locals to allocate resources, find useful paths across treacherous ground, or focus restoration efforts. This most recent round of hurricane response was no different, and for that we thank you.

Translation

People should be able to ask for, and offer, help in whatever language they are most comfortable in. Areas affected by extreme environmental events will always be home to multilingual populations, whether or not they are visible. The incoming and outgoing information is often so varied as to mean blanket translations won’t work. Thankfully, Meedan stepped in with their Bridge tool and community to create a workflow around translating individual messages, announcements of services, and some documentation of products. Without them, we would have been even more colonial than usual (another rant for another time).

Closing

In short, there are many people in the world who want to help, and many who need help. Often, they’re one and the same. Our role as remote responders and system-builders is to help them find each other and to interact with fewer things in the way. A good first step for many people wanting to help is to have a quick, easy way to contribute – often through crowdsourcing or microtasking. A next step to plug in for more complex and longer-term efforts is ethically desirable as well.

If we work together to build an ecosystem around different ways for people to contribute and request, we strengthen our social fabric and become more resilient.

With thanks to supporters on Patreon, who made it WAY less stressful to take the time to write all this down, and to Greg, Jeff, and others who reviewed the post.

What is a Digital Asset?

This blog post is a part of an ongoing series for Networked Mortality. If you’re new to the series but not to the blog, here is a primer post about the approach I’m taking. We’ve already covered using password managers for estate planning. Here, we get into what a “digital asset” even is.1

Do you own your Flickr photos? What about the ones you have on Instagram? Can you pass them on to someone when you die? Should you be able to pass on the license of Photoshop you purchased? Access to your Instagram account? I think you should be able to, but right now companies and the law disagree (in very unclear ways).

How do we define a digital asset?

We define digital assets as: content, files, resources, or accounts that you have created, purchased, or primarily store in a digital format.

Some digital assets you OWN, some you LICENSE (access/accounts/software). Digital assets you own you can bequeath or pass on to others. Those you license may not be transferrable.2

But how did we get here? Does it match with what other frameworks (legal and otherwise) define digital assets as?

What is an “asset”?

Continue reading

Looking for Help

Want to help me survive while I help with crisis response? Now there’s a way! I launched my Patreon recently. I’m excited to do community response as backed by the community.
Screen shot of my Patreon page

I still feel a bit strange, asking the community to support my work in this as I’m also looking for more regular work gigs. If you see any program, project, or product management positions that I might be a good fit for, please do let me know. My work portfolio website, designed by the amazing Jen Thomas, has been live for a bit.
Screen capture of my work website. Includes types of work such as facilitation and teaching, as well as logos of organizations for which I have worked, including the Digital Humanitarian Network, Aspiration, NetHope, and Aspiration.You can also contract me for facilitation gigs specific to employee retention through Vulpine Blue.

An Open Letter From Civic Hackers to Puerto Rico & USVI in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

We are a group of civic developers committed to supporting Hurricane victims for relief & recovery who have helped with the software development and data analysis of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma primarily in Texas and Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, we want to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the same way. Devastation has already occurred in Puerto Rico and the USVI, and we’re here to help in the response and recovery pending from Maria.

But, we won’t jump in without your permission. These places have a long history of imperialism, and we refuse to add tech colonialism on top of that.

Here’s how we might be able to help:

Rescue

Sometimes emergency services are overloaded fielding calls and deploying assistance. Remote grassroots groups help take in additional requests through social media and apps like Zello and then help to dispatch local people who are offering to perform rescue services (like the Cajun Navy in Houston after Hurricane Harvey).

Shelter updates

As people seek shelter while communication infrastructure remains spotty, having a way to text or call to findt the nearest shelter accepting people becomes useful. We can remotely keep track of what shelters are open and accepting people by calling them and scraping websites, along with extra information such as if they accept pets and if they check identification.

Needs matching

As people settle into shelters or return to their homes, they start needing things like first aid supplies and building materials. Shelter managers or community leaders seek ways to pair those offering material support with those in need of the support. We help with the technology and data related to taking and fulfilling these requests, although we don’t fulfill the requests directly ourselves.

If you are interested in this, please let us know by emailing me (willow dot bl00 at gmail) or finding us on Twitter at @irmaresponse and @sketchcityhou.

Here are other groups lending aid already (maintained by someone else).
If you’re looking to jump in an an existing task, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team already has a tasker active for helping to map the area for responders and coordination.

Parameters of Social Interaction

What does equality look like? How do we know if we are getting there?

This is the question I asked to open my talk at SHA 2017. It is also the question carried with me as I walked into CtK.Campfire. Both aimed to look at how to mitigate the polarization of human interaction in a digital age. The talk looked at the infrastructure of human interaction, and the retreat embodied some of the best ideals towards action. I’ve written two blog posts – one about each event – but they occurred temporally and intellectually adjacent. You can find the post about CtK.Campfire here.

The talk at SHA2017 (the Dutch hacker camp) was called “Weaponized Social.” WeapSoc is a project in which Meredith and I invested heavily through 2014 and 2015. She has gone on to write for Status451 on an extension of the topic area. I’ve continued to frame bits of my work in this context but have generally not kept up. It’s some of the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally draining work I’ve ever done, and that includes disaster response in the field.

A background assumption for this talk is that the effects of violence become less and less apparent to an observer of a single instance as we push the edges of “acceptable behavior” into being more aligned with human rights.

Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”, although the group acknowledges that the inclusion of “the use of power” in its definition expands on the conventional understanding of the word.

Example: seeing one person hit a non-consenting person is (pretty) easily defined as violence. Seeing one person say “your a dumb bitch” online to another non-consenting person isn’t as easily defined as violence (it’s often instead categorized as “conflict“). We have to zoom out to see that the receiver isn’t able to be online any longer due to thousands of similar messages in order to see it as the violence (in the form of depravation to opportunity or psychological harm) it is. Here’s just one example:


I don’t want to limit what this person says, but I also have a right not to experience him saying it, if it detracts from my ability to be online. As the quote says, “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” How can we bridge this sort of contention at scale?

To zoom out like this, and to take action at a systemic level, we luckily have Lessig’s four forces for social change. As the infosec crew which was the audience at SHA is largely skeptical of law (excepting the EFF), of social norms (“don’t tell me how to act”), and that I’m skeptical of markets being able to solve problems of inequality, we are left with architecture/code.

In the talk, I asked this question:

“Do we want to take a scientific approach to equality, where we tweak our infrastructure in explicit ways to see if it changes how people are interacting?”

We, as the creators and maintainers of online spaces have a responsibility to strive towards equality in the ways available to us. How can we do this without surveillance and control of speech? We change the architecture of the spaces. The crew of Weaponized Social (namely, TQ at the SF event in May 2015) started to lay out what the different parameters of social interaction are. Such as, how many people can one account be connected to, how far a message can travel (through timeouts or limits to re-broadcasts), of if an element of serendipity is introduced. These are toggles which can be changed, sliders which can be moved.

If we change these things, we can see how/if architecture changes the way we interact. The social sciences point to us being deeply (tho not solely) affected by our environments. By changing the architecture of online spaces, we could see how it changes how we interact. Who feels safe to speak by taking part in the act of speaking. We can then make better choices about our individual instances and realities based on those results. We now have one more set of tools by which to examine if we are progressing towards equality, without impinging on the individual right to speak. I hope you make use of these tools.

Cultivate the Karass

I came away from CtK.Campfire thinking about how anarchists might be aligned with Republicans in more ways than expected… and possibly more so than to Democrats.1

I was invited to Cultivate the Karass: Campfire based on two previous friendships and a workshop at Personal Democracy Forum. After seeing Lori talk at PDF about her son, Jake, and about carrying his work forward in cultivating relationships between “loyal antagonists,” I had to go to their workshop session later in the conference. One of the few truly interactive sessions (and that includes the one I was a part of called “Apocalyptic Civics”), I loved the use of spectrograms and deeper political discourse. Also, Seamus and Clarence were there! My friendship with both of them has been forged out of somewhat oppositional circumstances (one documented here). So when they suggested I attend the CtK.Campfire event, I listened.
5 people prioritize breakout session topics by applying stickers to post-it notes with topics listed.22 people – Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, and one Anarchist (hey that’s me!) – gathered over three days to bond, to engage in facilitated civil discourse, and to learn to see each other as humans.

It worked.

After we had built trust over our life stories, and Not Talking About Politics, and some amount of beverages, we were able to move into more in-depth conversations. “Is our Democracy broken?” “Race relations and white people” “Equipping institutions for a VUCA world.” We did a spectrogram around whether or not statues of Confederate leaders should be removed. After much discussion, we came to a shared view – we should have to face our terrible history2, and that ideally some sort of process would be available to remove or relocate to museums the current glorification of those who wished to continue dehumanizing others. There was acknowledgement that democratic processes exist for this but has been ignored.

I want to tell you about one conversation in particular. Of all these conversations, the one that I both gave and received the most from was “What if it all goes wrong?” As in, what if we do put removal of statues to a vote, and the vote is to leave them where they are? What if Trump gets a second term? What if…

The conversation was posited by Cameron (Republican) and attended by Kyla (Democrat), Sarah (Republican), and me (Anarchist). We agreed that we shared a concern about a consolidation of power, and that respecting the systems we’ve built when power is imbalanced would lead to greater and greater oscillations of “now it’s my turn” from one party to the next. We agreed that a polarization in civil society could lead to increasing violences, and with diminishing ability to recover from imbalance. We had an interesting conversation around the vacuum of power currently occurring in leadership positions meaning a loss of infrastructure maintenance (let alone creation). We agreed government had been bulky, but that the current rate of displacement was dangerous.
7 people sit around a campfire in the sun. The image is taken through some trees from above.We even agreed about what “what if it all goes wrong?” might look like – our leaders becoming more radical, a continued shift in the Overton Window towards less and less civil/human-rights behavior, a validation of lack of leadership also leading to a lack of social cohesion, an increasing lack of faith in our electoral process and the census. I brought up that the world had already gone wrong for many people. I talked about cops not intervening in fights at protests in Berkeley. This was considered too specific by some folk in the group, but it did lead into a conversation about what “antifa” was.

“‘Antifa’ means ‘anti-fascist,’” I said. “I’m anti-fascist, but I don’t agree with destroying things.” “Ah. That is the ‘black bloc.’ They also identify as anti-fascist, but view meeting violence with violence and occasional destruction of property as a necessary component of fighting fascism. There was ‘civil discourse’ in pre-Nazi Germany, but the movement was still successful. As much as we’ve talked about how well Germany has done about monuments honoring the dead rather than the killers, there are still many Neo-Nazi groups there, which are often kept at bay by antifa/black bloc folk who are willing to literally fight them back. Some folk in the US think this is also necessary.” “So I’m antifa but not black bloc.”3

Then we got into problem solving. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “this is where it will all go wrong.” But I was wrong. We agreed that America’s strength is in its plurality4. We agreed that Obama had normalized the use of executive orders which Trump is now running with even more. “Obama built the weapon that Trump is using,” as Cameron said. Since Republicans are invested in diminishing the size of big government, did they have a plan to reduce the run-away power of the executive branch that Democrats might be able to sign onto? Why yes, yes they do. It’s called the REINS Act and it limits what an executive order can do. It would be a huge step if Democrats were to pick this up (it’s already passed the House, but needs the Senate) as an act of good faith and self-awareness that it’s the amount of power someone has, not just how they use it which is at the core of the problem. Of course I need to read more – here’s a writeup from a “liberal” source, and one from a “conservative” source5.
We also talked about having open primaries, if the American people are smart enough to handle ranked voting (I think we are), and the problems of gerrymandering.
The Cultivate the Karass cohort stands and sits around a fire at night.But here’s what I walked away with: a new knowledge that my new conservative friends have been fighting for the same thing I’ve been fighting for as an anarchist in crisis response – getting more decision-making power into the hands of local populations. That although I align more with the rhetoric of liberals and radicals… the people doing the work within government to actually devolve power are those I never considered myself to be aligned with. I still think there are more responsible ways to care take the newest and most vulnerable in that process, but now I know I have some loyal antagonists with whom to debate the best path forward.

Footnotes

  1. *cough* Horseshoe Theory */cough*
  2. Facing History And Ourselves, anyone?
  3. I recognize I didn’t get into the more blurry lines of how Antifa is a movement which is often more comfortable with violence as a tool than explicitly nonviolent groups. But that was not the topic of the session, so I didn’t want to detract too much. For more information, start here.
  4. I’d of course argue that the human race’s strength is in its plurality, but America is currently considered a subset of that, so sure.
  5. Which has me thinking about anarchist reviews of policy as a useful project, as if I didn’t have enough projects on my plate…Anyone want to adopt this one?