Can Technology Save the City? Cory Doctorow debates hactivism in Bradford

‘Can Technology save the City?’ was the question asked on Saturday by members and guests at The 1 in 12 Club, a long standing volunteer run social centre in the centre of Bradford.

For 32 years the members of the club have been self organising their own DIY music events, initially just in hired rooms around the city. For the last 27, these have been in their own mutually owned and volunteer run in what was once a dilapidated mill on Albion Street. Over the years the club has added additional revamped spaces that now include not just a gig venue but also an ethical vegan cafe and library space that cater for the different wants and needs of its members. The one thing that these all have in common is the way that they are run in a non-hierarchical manner, celebrating the DIY aspect of the punk culture from which they were formed in the 80’s.

The club has provided a physical social space over the years for people to congregate and openly share ideas about freedom, oppression, DIY culture, knowledge and skill sharing and ethical living. It was apt then that in the current climate of Facebook, Twitter and social networking in a digital age, that the 1 in 12 Club @1in12club hosted this day long event that included discussions on digital freedoms, online safety and maintaining a DIY culture utilising technology and also included a talk by celebrated author Cory Doctorow.

The event started at midday when the cafe opened serving hot drinks and flapjacks to the assembling guests, who mingled and discussed current projects. One of which was BarnCamp, scheduled to take place in early June 2013 in the Wye Valley, and also about Tech Tools for Activism, which is not just for ‘activists’ but hints, tips and knowledge sharing for anybody who is interested in protecting their online identity.

Food became available shortly afterwards and conversations died down as people chowed down on the tasty vegan provision from the cafe – an extremely tasty Gobi Manchurian (curried cauliflower) with a side of rice, which was so much tastier than the carrot sticks on a bed of grass that most people wrongly assume that vegan food consists of.

At 2pm we were introduced to the themes and proposed running order of the day by @JimDogBratfud, a volunteer at the club and regular contributor to HacktionLab and Tech Tools for Activism. Cory Doctorow @doctorow took the mic at 2.30pm and provided an extremely entertaining, thought-provoking and at times horrifying talk on the history of DIY culture in digital media, and the current state of play with regards to laws attempting to curtail digital freedoms.

If you missed the event it is well worth spending 40 minutes of your time catching up with it at Hidden Bradford, courtesy of the Tech Collective from the club @SoundClubOrg and @HiddenBradford

Further information relating to the individuals mentioned in Cory’s speech is available online just by searching for them, but for ease, the basics are here:

Following the talk, we were treated to information about Bridge Rectifier a makerspace based in Hebden Bridge, on the sorts of DIY projects that they were currently undertaking for people interested in learning about how technology works. It was fascinating to hear that they had just finished building their own 3D printer from scratch and were using that to replicate another 3D printer. Looking back I wish I had taken further notes (or any notes at all) as I can’t do justice here to the information provided. What was supposed to be an unscheduled “5 minutes to promote this project” turned into an at times lively group discussion about why DIY culture, Hackspaces and digital safety are important to everybody in an information age, and why it’s important to not just leave it down to corporate-driven governments and legislators to protect individuals.

This discussion led rather neatly onto the final sesgment of the event, an exclusive preview of the film Into The Fire about the hidden victims of austerity in Greece and the rise of the Golden Dawn, which is due for general release on 17th April. The film is released under a Creative Commons licence.

Again I really must stress that if you missed this event, this is another must see. No amount of description will convey the reality of the suffering and hardships faced by asylum seekers in Greece, nor the extent of the racist attacks that they face. This film, with its stark images of the hundreds of refugees that queue endlessly for days, in all weather conditions, often with no food or water other than that which they can salvage from bins, as well as the bruised and bloodied faces of the victims of nazi attacks goes a long way towards providing the imagery required to illustrate the horrors of EU austerity on those, other members of the human race, that come to us in the European Union seeking assistance and help.

With the end of the film and the drifting away of the final attendees, I was left for a short while reflecting on whether the question posed by the title of the event, Can Technology Save The City?, had been sufficiently answered. There was, perhaps rather cleverly, no definitive Yes or No answer, but given the content and ideology of the talks, discussions and films over the course of the day, and embracing the underlying DIY aspect I conclude that YES, there is huge potential for Technology to Save Bradford as evidenced by the Twitter campaign centring around the Freedom of Information requests that ultimately convinced the Homes and Communities Agency to look at alternatives for saving the much loved Bradford Odeon and also highlighted the back door dealings of the Regeneration department at the council; the recent successful campaign to support a local BMX club providing bike access for a Bradford community following a rather large theft; the provision of computer access for immigrants and asylum seekers in Bradford by BIASAN at Bradford Resource Centre which provides much needed resources to people that would otherwise go without, as well as enabling them to stay in contact with loved ones many miles away. These, combined with the numerous Bradford based groups on social media such as Twitter and Facebook enable the city and those that live within it to share information about what is important to them, as well as rally support for things that may otherwise not gain the wider followings that they deserve.

Technology HAS Saved the City as mentioned above, IS saving the city, and CAN Save the City when the DIY aspects of online culture are combined and used to complement and enhance the current corporate offerings, but it is wholly dependent on how we as the individuals living in and around our city choose to use it, and what digital freedoms we wish to fight for.

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