[artinfo] From a Free Software Movement to a Free Safety Movement

micha cárdenas mmcarden at usc.edu
Thu May 30 10:23:16 CEST 2013

This is a call to all feminist hackers, anti-racist coders, gender
hackers, genderchangers, queer hackers, political hackers and
networked activists to help stop violence against queer and trans*
people, people of color, and women.

Many forms of daily violence: sexual, gender and racial, and
state-sponsored (committed by police) are only increasing. As global
warming, neoliberalism, and neocolonialism continue, more and more
people are subject to violence on a daily basis due to social
instability. This is a call to people to acknowledge that the Internet
era has not brought more safety but less. This is a call to say we
need more people hacking safety. Why do we have better software to
share pictures of lunch than we do to keep each other safe?

These solutions can take all forms from technological ones to social
to combinations of technological and social. We need more
collaboration between hackers, activists and artists to end violence.
We need networked devices which people can use to call on their
personal networks for help, games to teach people to not rape,
mechanisms for bystanders to step in and stop violence, discrete ways
for people in private situation to call for help when violence occurs
in their homes.

I started the project Local Autonomy Networks [http://autonets.org]
two years ago to create wearable electronics to prevent sexual and
gender violence against queer and trans* people of color. In those two
years I have made prototypes of devices like dresses, hoodies and
bracelets which have wireless transmitters in them and can be used to
call for help. Some Of these devices can detect proximity of other
devices. I have been working towards adding GPS units so that the call
for help can be accompanied with the location. But, I am only one
person. This problem is much much bigger than me.

I am an artist, hacker, activist, writer. I am not a business person
or an engineer. I have also spent a lot of last two years doing
workshops and performances with people in different cities to build
the social agreements necessary for us to keep each other safe in a
world where police often cause more violence, if they even show up. In
some of the cities I work in people have told me repeatedly that they
will call the police because they won't ever show up. Anti-violence
activists have also told me that it is common that queer and trans
people and people of color know not to call the police because they
inflict more violence in most cases.

I am shifting my role in this from checking the details of the
electronics to building the infrastructure for a network of networks,
for people to be able to contribute and think together and discuss
this problem together. Lots of people. The free software movement has
been incredibly successful since it was begun thirty years ago. What
we need now is a movement for free safety. A movement of people who
want to figure out how to make transformative justice happen in
networked societies. A movement that will develop networks for safety
that don't rely on the corporations and police that daily perpetuate
violence on our communities. A movement of people who will agree to
keep each other safe from unjust forms of violence.

This needs to happen in a distributed way, and can't depend on me.
Everywhere I have gone in the past two years throughout the Americas
and in Europe, people have told me: we need this here. Violence is a
problem that is happening everywhere and is getting worse. So please
join me and help build this movement and send me and everyone else and
email. Or tweet about it. Or Facebook about it. There are many ways of
using existing technologies such as Circle Of 6, Foursquare and Group
Me for safety.

What is important to me is that solutions need to be affordable. There
is already a huge industry of safety products and if safety is
something that only certain people can afford and clearly that is an
unjust situation. So we must make these solutions affordable.

What is also crucial in this movement is to develop safety solutions
that maintain people's privacy. Solutions which can be exploited by
law enforcement to surveille people do not make them more safe but

What is most important to me in this movement is to center the needs
of the most affected groups of people: transgender women of color are
the number one targets of hate crimes, sex workers are often subject
to violence, disabled people are also subject to violence on the daily
basis and can benefit uniquely from networks of communication and

I have set up a wiki at http://wiki.autonets.org to help start this
conversation and I will start putting in detailed documentation of the
prototypes I have made and the workshops I have facilitated. This is a
call for you to take up this project own city talk to others about how
to build networks, technological or not, of safety, and support for
survivors of violence.

To join this discussion, you have lots of options!

Post a comment at http://autonets.org/movement


sign up for the discussion mailing list here:



Email movement at autonets d0t org for a wiki editing account


come to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and participate in my
two sessions

Wearable Electronics and Building Autonets

Movements that Keep Us Safe: Autonets

Please help spread the word about this movement. My hope is that it
will grow and spread and we will see a coming together of many
activists applying media and technical skills to the problem of daily
violence around the world in a multitude of ways, sharing skills and
knowledge and reducing the harm that people experience daily.

For updates, check back at http://autonets.org/home

micha cárdenas

PhD Student, Media Arts and Practice, University of Southern California
Provost Fellow, University of Southern California

New Directions Scholar, USC Center for Feminist Research
HASTAC Scholar

MFA, Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego

Co-Author, The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities,

blog: http://michacardenas.org

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