|FROM ||Ruben I Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Preliminary Report on NYLXS for the Board Meeting and future publication
The road from here:
Lessons of the recession for Free Software
By Ruben Saifr President - NYLXS
With the current recession and dot com crash of late 2001 unto today,
the heydays of the GNU/Linux based IPO's and rosy optimism of the
last few years is being replaced by the starry eyed reality that much
of the accomplishments of the late 1990's seems to be replaced by
high unemployment among free software people, and an ever aggressive
confrontation from the marketers of proprietary software and hardware
Many of the organizational models within both the free software
communities and her sister movements, such as these orgaziations are
organized, have served very well in bringing Free Software into the
public eye. Rick Moen's FAQ on the traditional setup of the LUG, and it's
core activities, have developed the foundation for GNU/Linux advocacy
and Free Software placement broadly in homes, schools and businesses.
The development of Installfests, monthly technical meetings, stamtish
drinking sessions, and the spirit of volunteerism in developing software
for practical use has achieved allot. But it's a model which is reaching
it's maximum capacity to effect change, and we need to start to graft
new methodologies onto this model for the sake of preserving the freedom
to innovate, compete, and to educate in the digital age.
One of the important lessons in the Jewish tradition comes comes from the
collective work called "Teachings of Our Fathers", which says, "Without
bread there can be no Torah". The fundamental concept here is that for
individuals to strive in freedom for their advancement and improvement,
an economic foundation has to exist for the basic necessities of living.
Economic freedom and political freedom are linked together in a duet.
Economic freedom can not be achieved without political freedom, nor
can political freedom be achieved without economic freedom. We must
The importance of political policy, and freedom to the economic
fortunes of businesses or individuals is known by every businessman in
America. Global Corporations have pored millions of dollars of campaign
contributions into the Halls of Congress and into the the major political
parties of the United States hoping to effect favorable legislative
change which benefits either their industry or individual companies. [Put
in here a statistic on the campaign contributions of the fortune 500].
These businesses are funded, and can pour money and staff into the pursuit
of their legislative agendas. In addition, their full time legal teams
effectively use litigation as a political and business tool. The result
of this common practice is a series of serious blows to the Free Software
movement which is now facing political annihilation. It's also having
a negative economic impact to Free Software developers and
end users. It's time for Free Software people to go on the offensive.
People with a technical inclination, by their nature, prefer to stick with
technical experimentation, and to leave marking and political strategy to
others. This needs to change if they expect to maintain the freedom to do
development. Late last year, we started a new experimental organization
which we hoped to develop new modalities for Free Software advocacy.
Many of the things which have been tried have been widely successful,
and we are encouraged by the initial results. The organization is called
NYLXS, and when we started it, we started with a number of premises which
have helped us succeed. The first premise was, NYLXS is not a LUG.
Attracting large numbers of folk for dog and pony shows was not the
goal of NYLXS. Instead, we are trying to address current issues in an
effective manner. We try to conduct ourselves in a business like fashion.
Three major areas of activity have been targeted by NYLXS. These
activities need to be targeted by other organizations. We need to
move forward with political lobbying, targeted business development,
and organizational funding. Let's now examine the a specific plan of
action for other organizations to emulate.
Currently, Free Software organizations are short on cash, but do have
great potential to mobilize volunteers. One of the primary missions
which Free Software organizations need to undertake in order to foster
freedom, is to emulate that great and wonderful political organization,
Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was very effective at at three core political
tasks, organizing volunteers, delivering votes, and acting as a provider
for jobs and contracts. The key to the success of Tammany Hall, aside
from the obvious graft, was the bonds built by the organization between
it's members and the leadership. This bond was built through tireless
advocacy of it's membership, and the doling out the financial rewards of
political success. Tammany carefully chose it's battles and functioned
top down when putting people on the street and getting people elected.
Nothing is as effective as targeting political candidates in their
bedrooms. All politics are local. Targeting key members of Congress
to become f fast adopters of Free Software issues can be effectively
organized by Free Software groups throughout the country, focusing
attention on elections and constituencies on the grass roots level.
The problem is, that this is real work, and true volunteerism. It's not
fun. Going from door to door, and pamphleting supermarkets requires
persistent effort, and can be a humbling experience. But it can be done,
and it will demonstrate to elected officials that we can be determinant
in getting people elected and unelected, We can even running candidates
as needed and put individuals into office. After the destruction of
the World Trade Center a local NYC advocacy group, New Yorkers for Fair
Use, a had members in the street, and was very effective at getting
pro-digital freedom issues heard. The very next week after the attach
on Manhattan, NY Faiursue was going door to door with it's "Save the
Libraries" campaign. That campaign targeted members the House Judiciary.
If NY Fairuse was able to organize this effort, straight through that
disaster, your organization can likewise do the same.
A key component to being effective in this level of organization is the
need to develop leadership. Leadership development must become a core
component of all Free Software organization, and the leadership of these
organization absolutely must commit themselves to the identification
of future leaders. Have in place a system for mentoring new pools
of members. Leadership training needs to be built into all LUGs and
Free Software organization in order to propel the groups forward into
the future. It's a good idea to establish a committee within your
organization to direct this activity
Another aspect of running the political arm of a Free Software group is
the development of a social services for your organization. Your group
is dependent on the loyalty of it's members. This loyalty is best
earned through a program of membership services. What services should
your organization provide is dependent on your location. Mentoring,
internship, job banks and resource networking, are all areas which can
be formalized as a functions of your membership. People who work for
your organization need to feel part of the family and the leadership
must actually cares about their individual wellbeing. In this time of
high unemployment among talented free software people, your organization
has a huge pool of untapped assets waiting to be exploited for the
benefit of the larger group. Workshops, educational programs, business
planning, and Job searching can all be implemented at a minimum cost to
the organization. Often, nothing more is needed than a schedule, and a
kitchen table in providing valuable help to membership. When talented
people gather together for the purposes of developing opportunity for
members great things can happen. People often need help with surprisingly
simple tasks like resume writing and url to put resumes or services.
State and local governments will often fund educational programs and job
placement efforts, and leaders need to organize their efforts in getting
state funding for such programs. Clients of Free Software consultants
can often be huge potential resources when they are happy with the work
of Free Software people. They can provide evening space for classes,
projectors and white boards, and even services such as accounting for
your organization, or helping to develop publicity channels.
It's absolutely key that your political arm provides these level of
social services to develop the necessary loyalty for the hard work of
door knocking. Members must come to see themselves as real stake holders
in the outcome of digital rights legislation. Both members and client
enterprises, may those enterprises be government, businesses or school,
need to feel empowered through Free Software and your organization.
Your job as a Free Software leader is to build these bridges through
education and member services. As more people become indebted to your
organization for work, business and personal development, the broader
your reach will become in influencing political campaigns and IT buying
One of the key social services which a Free Software organization needs
to provide is the ability to target local industry for a complete Free
Software desktop and server solutions. It can't be stated firmly enough
how important it is for local Free Software groups to join together,
identify local industries, and to build complete functional business
environments. Let's look at the accounting industry, for example.
A group of 4 dedicated leaders from your organization should meet,
and call accounting firms to make an appointment with the partner or
employee who is responsible for IT purchasing decisions at the firm.
Sit down with that individual and your group to identify all the current
software being used by the firm, and also determine what additional
software needs they have and which are currently not being met.
After obtaining this information, your job is now defined and the
work cut out for you. You now need to produce a plan for filling all
the needs for the firm on one desktop. And I mean ALL of the needs.
No company can covert it's desktop platform to Free Software, or GNU
Linux, unless every need that they have is met. Your job is to assemble
a desktop and server solution which can fill all the needs.
So for an accounting firm, it's not good enough to just have accounting
software, but they also need a program which tracks employee activity
and creates bills for clients. They need to tract document movement,
to handle their faxing needs, and to provide their standard office
applications. If any part of their needs is missing, then company can
not move to a free software platform or entrust their business too you.
Once the organization has produced a complete solution, it can demonstrate
that product for the whole industry, and share the development with
fellow members. It's likely that members will need to be matchmakers
between free software developers and the targeted industry. They may
also need to develop some pieces of the system themself. And they will
have to be prepared to develop a comprehensive training program for
the new platform. Training and support can be distributed to working
members of your organization on a paid basis, as a social service of
your organization. Use your organizations Public Relations engine to
promote your effort, your memberships and your solutions. Be prepared
to sell the concept of Free Software to businesses and unchain them
from licensing fee structures and restrictive agreements which impair
the organizations ability to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.
Another area to explore, is federal, and local Free Software
government opportunities. The federal government's bizops site needs
to be carefully combed everyday for potential bids. The process of
forming a bid and identifying possible opportunities is daunting to
the individual consultants without experience in handling this process.
Businesses have staff people who's sole full time function is to handle
this process and fill government contracts. Local organizations need
to develop similar in house expertise, again, offering this service
to working members and building loyalties. Government contract are
especially important in recessionary times like today, can feed a lot
of Free Software families. This would be a good thing(TM).
This paper has outlined many new avenues of activity for Free Software
Organization and GNU/Linux user groups. It's very different than
the sort of activities which LUG's normally perform. And key to
producing this level of organized activity is funding. Free Software
groups need to start funding their activities from within. And several
means are available to them to accomplish this task. NYLXS, as a case
study, has had considerable success with it's educational program.
While charging cut-rate pricing on classes, at $200 - $300 a course,
NYLXS has developed a comprehensive Free Software education program which
successfully enlarges membership, and services the role of organizational
fund raising. It's success depends on the volunteer efforts of it's
membership. They have also started to build videotape assets for sale,
ISP networking services, and an online curriculum. Teaching accomplishes
two goals of Free Software organizations. It provides a foundation
of future membership and it generates revenues to fund activities.
It can also be funded by the local and state governments as part of
their unemployment and training programs. If targeted well, it can draw
membership from the untapped pool of minorities and women into the Free
Funding for necessary political and business activities can also be
generated by annual dinners, sponsored workshops, journal publication, and
public speaking. Membership dues, while not a great fund raiser itself,
should be used to determine the membership of Free Software groups.
Since so much work is being done by the organization, membership efforts
must focus and committed members. A nominal charge for membership
sets a bar for entry into the organization, and shows a commitment
by the individual to the organization. It's your goal to build the
organization one committed member at a time. Each individual brings
to the organization a potential, it is your job, as a Free Software
leader to develop that potential for the benefit of the individual and
In regards to funding lobbying and business endeavors for Free Software,
one of the long term goals of your group should be to acquire a permanent
location to hang your hat. Having a permanent location gives to you a
powerful tool in attracting students, new members, and addition income
generating opportunities. It gives you a permanent teaching space,
a place for demonstrations and meeting space for conferences with local
politicians. In short, you need a clubhouse for your club.
GNU/Linux user groups and Free Software organizations just have to
do more. More is what is required of you to protect your freedom.
We simply are not doing enough to protect our interest and the freedoms of
the wider society from the evils of proprietary software scenes, digital
information control, and the development of free competitive markets.
The road is laid out before each and every one of us, and it is up to
us to choose the proper path.
Brooklyn Linux Solutions
http://www.mrbrklyn.com - Consulting
http://www.brooklynonline.com - For the love of Brooklyn
http://www.nylxs.com - Leadership Development in Free Software
http://www.nyfairuse.org - The foundation of Democracy
http://www2.mrbrklyn.com/resources - Unpublished Archive or stories and articles from around the net
http://www2.mrbrklyn.com/mp3/dr.mp3 - Imagine my surprise when I saw you...
http://www2.mrbrklyn.com/downtown.html - See the New Downtown Brooklyn....
New Yorker Linux Users Scene
Fair Use -
because it's either fair use or useless....