Phillip Smith

Putting people first

Illustration by Prince Serna of the Prison Moratorium Project

Several years ago, I was introduced to the organization that is now known as May First/People Link. I had just met Andrew Boyd and, at that time, he was fresh off the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) campaign. The original Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) site had been developed with the assistance of Andrew’s good friend Will who was part of the May First Technology Collective (previously known as Media Jumpstart). Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the work of this incredible organization, to read about its rich history, and to get to know personally one of its founding member — Josue Guillen — at Web of Change in 2004. (And, if you’re in New York, you’ll probably run into Josue — as Melanie and I did — at a rally or march)

Media Jumpstart, the May First Technology Collective, and the newly formed May First/People Link are part of an important movement to build people-based technology support for progressive organizations that is both radical and sustainable. Similar to my colleagues here in Toronto at the Anarres worker co-operative, May First/People Link is focused on being a part of a movement for change — being involved with coalitions and taking positions on issues — in addition to supporting the technology needs of non-profits and grassroots groups. 

If you’ve ever asked me “Where should I host my Web site,” you’ve probably heard me rant about the need for progressive organizations to take a closer look at their purchasing policies. I’m constantly surprised by organizations that work for change on one hand, and invest in multi-national corporations with the other. Why do so many non-profits bank with a credit union, or get their cards printed at a union printer, if their purchasing decisions don’t impact the issues that they’re working on? However, when it comes to Internet access, Web hosting, or technology support: most organizations are only too happy to hand over a $40 - $100/month investment to their local Telco or corporate media giant.

But, as Lawrence Lessig often asks: how many of you in this room invest $40 - $100 a month in the EFF, or other organizations that are working to protect people’s rights, or for people’s movements? 

If we want to build a movement, we have to start walking the talk. This means shopping and buying locally (even if it’s Internet services), it means choosing organic (free and open source software, hello!?) where possible, and it means banking with those credit unions or going with a unionized printer when you can. So, when it comes to putting your organization online, that means looking to member-based — and values-aligned — organizations like May First/People Link (and double that if your organization is in New York or the US). You should choose a provider not only because they’ll treat you like a real customer (not just a customer number), but also because you’re investing in a movement, and in real people like Josue and his colleagues. 

So, go check out the new May First/People Link website and take a look at what the organization is about. And, if you are paying a commercial provider for your service,  think about whether it make sense to use that money to support a values-aligned organization (and get even better service in exchange). 


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


Want to launch a local news business? Apply now for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp

I’m excited to announce that applications are now open again for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp. And I’m even more excited to ...… Continue reading