Radical media, politics and culture.

Hacklabs - From Digital to Analogue

hydrarchist writes.... This is an article written for the e-zine http://suburbia.sindominio.net
by Nomada and Montserrat Boix about hacklabs.

translated by cain, and then edited and revised by hydrarchist

~ MeSk

Hacklabs, from Digital to Analogue

Wednesday 10 September 2003

Translated 06 June 2004
revised August 13, 2004

The history of the hacklabs began in 1999, year of the second italian hackmeeting in Milan, where the need to take a great leap forward in digital
communication and create physical links between people interested in the use of new technologies and having a social background was discussed. But let´s proceed step by step... What is a hackmeeting?... The hackmeeting emerged in Italy in 1998. The manifesto of the italian hackmeeting in 2003 underlines that it´s a "meeting of the alternative digital community", setting out a "vision of hacking as an attitude not exclusively related to computers". Our "hacker" being -- states the manifesto -- is manifested in everyday life, even when we don´t use computers. It´s shown when we fight to change everything that we don´t like, such as false and prefabricated news, the commodification and restrictions imposed on the division of knowledge and know-how, and generally the use
of technology to defend dignity and freedom. The hackmeeting meets annually, usually for a duration of 3 days, during which are organized talks and conferences related to the world of liberated data networks, free software, cyber-rights, cryptography, hacking in general and, most of all, it proposes strong links with social collectives that use the net as a space of communication, sharing and struggle for their different causes.

We soon saw the necesity however, beyond this anual meeting and our contact through network, to create permanent physical and autonomous spaces to experiment, create and learn next to others with similar interests. The first physical space appeared, LOA hacklab, and then the idea spread throughout the italian peninsula and began to cross borders. After that the virus grew, especially in the big cities, because "it's hardly useful, and even sad to experiment alone with things that you can easily do with other people; because we don´t want to be isolated from the world that surround us, but the opposite; because our bedrooms
are too small to build networks in; because the digital is no substitute for the organic; because it's enjoyable to learn and do things together" as the hacklab website of Madrid WH2001, aka "Cielito Lindo", emphasized.

And it's not by chance that this initiative began in a mediterranean country, with a long history and strong presence of social movements and free radios. Because at that time there already existed important digital collectives taking care of the need for a presence on the net for all sorts type of civil society organizations. Groups like Autistici, Isolle nella rete (Islands in the Net), communicative experiments in internet like Radio Blackout, Strano network...

Later, emulating the italian adventure, during the Spanish Hackmeeting of Leioa in Bilbao, the first hacklab was presented: Kernel panic, an open space located in the CSOA (occupied social center) "Les Naus" in Barcelona. After that the WH2001 (Wau Holland 2001 in honour of the recently deceased founder of the Chaos computer club) was born, then Metabolik Biohacklab in Bilbao, Downgrade in Zaragoza, Cuca Albina in Alicante, Vklab in the Vallecas neighbourhood in Madrid, The hacklab of the enchanted house in Santiago de compostela in Galicia... and others gestating in various locations (actually there are far more about 13 see www.hacklabs.org for details).

The routes taken towards opening a social space are many and varied, and importance is placed on the quest for autonomy and independence; renting a premises or using a social space inside squatted Social Centres (CSOAS) are the most frequent options. All of them are self-managed, such that decisions are taken in periodic meetings where any participant can give their opinion and participate in deciding on any issue. The objective is not to fall into any type of vertical organization and to rely on horizontal model of decision-making and activity, following a model of cooperation without leadership.

A key element is self-sufficiency. To maintain this capacity, the hacklabs are self-financed, raising funds through t-shirts, free software distributions, selling drinks, parties, and donations from individuals involved the project at a symbolic rate varying according the economic means of the individual. Frequently municipal subventions are rejected given that this can mean a loss of independence in how they function.

All the hacklabs have a local network with DSL connections to the internet, where they can offer free conectivity to every person who would like to use the facilities. Usually recycled or dumpstered computers are used and this, along with spreading the use of free software, is one of the main campaigns; all of them run under free systems like *BSD and GNU/Linux.

The hacklabs offer a field full of posibilities and initiatives which are open and free of obstacles to the collaboration of anyone interested in contributing to the collective. It doesn´t matter if you are a seasoned "hacker" or a person who never knew how to check email... you have only to enter these "magic" spaces with enthusiasm and a positivite attitude towards creating and learning from other people.

With the perspective of changing things for the better and supporting the free movement and distribution of knowledge, the hacklabs offer workshops and classes related to the varied range of uses of new technologies: networks, programming, graphic design, etc... all of them, of course, using free systems. Promoting the use of free software is an non-negotiable aim of the hacklabs.

It is in this field of personal and cooperative growth that a social and political compromise is born. But don´t get confused... we are not
talking about politics or party based ideologies. It is about the need to improve the coexistence and the quality of life for everyone, about valuing the collective and the need of a more real and active democracy. From the union of the words "activism" and "hackers" arises "hacktivism" a new way of posing the civic struggle.

The harassment that we face by from decisions taken in the offices of big corporations, selfishly supported by government, make us more able to react to them when in union. Thus emerges initiatives of every kind to fight for what we consider right and in the common good, discussing it and organizing within that space which we know best. One of the main tools of comunication that we use is the mailing list in which we invite you to participate.

There are various initiatives that have arisen in and around the hacklabs, for instance, against controversial laws such as the famous LSSI or the INFO plan. Supporting campaigns already initiated by groups like Kriptopolis, holding talks in universities, civic and cultural associations, etc... so as to raise awareness about the slashing of civil liberties entailed by the introduction of these laws, collecting signatures for their repeal and their subsequent presentation by the same hands of the minister Pique.

Many of this actions might be considered insignificant and ineffective, but undoubtedly it would be worse to just stand idly by and do nothing to prevent it. If we promote the civic response in a creative and original way, we are convinced that we can have put the "boot on the other foot" in many areas.

Following this logic, the hacklabs aren't closed to anyone who comes with new ideas and concepts. It is normal thus that members of other related collectives participate in these spaces. Wireless network communities like Guadawireless.net o Zaragozawireless, associations dedicated to commitment to free software such as CPSR-ES, pro-feminist collectives such as Heterodoxia and Women in the Net, that use the network as a tool of communication and mobilization; antagonist Telematic projects like Sindominio and the different indymedias; Hacktivist groups like Runlevelzero/Hacktivist spain and groups that are more in the underground like Linenoise and Dtfzine... they meet around the hacklabs, and many of them actively participate.

Many initiatives and actions have been developed up until now:

The "Wireless conferences", celebrated in the month of july with meetings, debates and to give visibility to the different wireless communities in the spanish state, brought together and organized by the Metabolik and Vklab hacklabs.

The Hacklab Kernel-Panic reinvented the street actions of Reclaim the streets (street parties organized to demand the creation and recovery of public spaces invaded by shopping centres,highways... ) This action has been adopted by many other hacklabs. The objective is to squat streets or squares with computers... hold parties and talks, distribute free software and show its use in the creation of community wireless networks, warn about the dangers like patents, etc. A good opportunity for communication and interrelationship between hacklabbers and pedestrians.

Metabolik set themselves up at the gates of It4all, a congress of big corporations of the telecomunications and computer industry. In this action a hacktivist dressed up as a
friendly penguin (mascot of the linux movement) distributed leaflets to those attending the congress, while another group invited them to connect for free to the internet through wireless in computers running Debian GNU/Linux. This action was baptized "Money4them" and was intended to announce and demonstrate that other kind of technologies are possible, created also for civilians in response to the economic and political interests of the big corporations.

The first community wireless in spain: madridwireless.net, born of the hand of the Wh2001 hacklab. This important group. which promotes the creation of civic wireless networks, participates actively in the dynamics between different hacklabs. The Wh2001 has thus been converted into a meeting point for learning how to build antennas, the creation of wireless nodes etc and discussing about the organization of the citywide network which is growing bit by bit.
When a person comes in contact with madrid wireless, they discover not only the technical and social posibilites of wifi..... but also that the whole network is born out of free cooperation between the people with free software as reference point.

After the conferences against copyright organized in march 2003 in Madrid, we saw the need of creating a copycenter for copyleft material. The copyshop has been created in the space of Wh2001 and offers the possibility to anyone to copy and distribute all kinds of copyleft material: music, video, literature, technical stuff,
magazines, software and so on. The proposal turns out to be a practical example of the initiatives that an be taken against the requirements of associations like the SGAE (similiar to RIAA in US ) and defenders of copyright and patents. The steps that have begun against the free flow of information and data (such as the recent prosecutions against users of P2P), that the government is taking under pressure by interest groups to attack the privacy and freedom of the populace. In opposition to them, the spread of free licenses such as the LGPL, GPL, BSD etc is a path to take as a the legal weapon in the struggle and a way to prevent them from putting us in the box of the "sacking of intellectual piracy".

The creation of the Live-cd distribution X-evian by Metabolik, a "distro" that allows a GNU/Linux system to work without having to be installed on the hard disk, is a gambit to enable the distribution of the free software to all those who never dare to use it out of fear and ignorance. Building off Knoppix, it has the added value of being able to be used in old computers that are not very powerful such as a Pentium 100 with 32mb, allowing the use of multimedia tools, networks and programming.

Active participation in the hackmeetings or the "Copyright Days" in conferences like those recently held with Richard Stallman in Zaragoza, creating a new independent information centre to propagate the civilian response against Spain's participation in the Irak war through streaming via wireless using free software, the creation amongst them of radio-pwd and the Ezine Suburbia....

The hacklabs reintroduce the hacker philosophy, of the freedom of information "Information wants to be free" and counter the negative and stereotyped image created around the "hacker" as a social danger through positive activism. Creation, the fight for freedom and the spreading of knowledge are the maxims of the community,
trying to recover the esence of the first hackers from MIT... the thirst of curiosity and the creation as a means of initiative and protest from a social perspective, a push for change for the better in the "dark" times of nowadays.

By Nómada and Montserrat Boix ( Suburbia:[Telemacktical MediaZine]) in
collaboration with Mentes Inquietas.Originally published in citated space.

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