Open Source vs. the White Supremacists
A man who claims to be the head of the Aryan Nations says he wants to move their national headquarters into my little hometown in Eastern Oregon. This is alarming news, because we don't care to have organized crime, hatred, and intolerance invade our little community. He thinks we share his values and won't mind.
The Aryan Nations and related groups have been chronic thorns in the sides of the residents of Northern Idaho for decades. Oregon's own history is scarred by these groups; for one example, back in the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan had great influence in the state legislature, and to this day we're still finding their messes and cleaning them up.
But even though we are a rural area that has been especially hard-hit by the recession, we have some powerful tools that our predecessors did not have. Like Facebook.
Yes, I said Facebook. The Internet is a fabulous communications tool, and Facebook has made it accessible to whole new generations of computer users who are not tech-savvy at all. This is huge. In a matter of hours three Facebook pages pertaining to keeping the Aryan Nations out of Grant County were created, and quickly became prime sources of information and organization. In the olden days community activism meant time-consuming rounds of phoning, meetings, and going door-to-door. Even when we had the resources for radio and TV those were still limited, because people had to be tuned in at the right times. Going online means it's all available all the time.
The second key piece of this is our local newspaper, the Blue Mountain Eagle. The editor, Scotta Callister, has been on top of this issue from the beginning, doing some real journalism like reporters are supposed to do, and taking the lead in community organizing. Thanks to the Eagle, two experts on dealing with hate groups are coming to town this week and giving a series of meetings on what we can do. (None of our elected officials have emitted so much as a peep, except for some bland quotes for the newspaper, or shown any leadership at all; they might as well be non-existent.)
The third piece is the Web itself, and the ease of sharing information. Many of us went online to get contact information for newspapers and TV and radio news all over the Northwest, and alert them to this story. It was fast and easy, because all we had to do was link back to the Blue Mountain Eagle stories for a quick reference. It's an uphill battle getting big-city folks interested in backwater doings, but the story is spreading nicely, and we may even get some news crews coming to town. Which is wonderful, because "sunlight is the best disinfectant."
The open source connection is indirect, but essential---Facebook is built on open source technologies, and the Internet itself is one of the biggest open source success stories of all: open software, and open standards and protocols.
There are several key points to ponder here: one, FOSS itself is not quite enough, but execution matters a great deal. Anyone can learn to put up and maintain some kind of Web site or forum, but Facebook has succeeded in becoming a central meeting point, so we are able to organize and stay on top of new developments in record time. Two, the free of cost benefit of FOSS has made a huge difference. If we had to pay to use Facebook, if Internet access were more expensive, if there were any other financial barriers, we would not have been able to get together as quickly, and would have to devote time and resources to fund-raising just for communications and organizing. Three, the fundamental principle of one Internet, unfettered and without roadblocks (I know, there are fetters and roadblocks in lots of places) means we don't have to hassle with getting into multiple networks.
Four, the most important point of all: unfettered, swift communications. Some people around here think the only Amendment to the US Constitution that counts is the Second. But the importance of the First Amendment is much, much higher. Guns won't keep these thugs out. Organizing, standing together, and getting accurate information will. Take a look at history; job one of any tyrant is to control the press.
Once again I give my heartfelt thanks to all the great Linux and FOSS people who made all this possible. It's making a big difference to my little community.