SAN FRANCISCO — As fleets of shuttle buses take employees to their respective Silicon Valley campuses, resentment and tension grows in the Bay Area. Last week, protesters blocked one such Google bus in an effort to draw attention to the widening gap between the technology industry and the communities it affects; a union organizer impersonated a tech worker to incite dialogue through performative gesture. Within days, further demonization of tech figures, like the entrepreneur Greg Gopman — guilty of making crassly disparaging remarks about the Tenderloin area of San Francisco — continued to fuel divisions across the city.
Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of being in conversation with writer, culture critic, curator, and artist, Ben Valentine at ZERO1 for the Bring It! Summer programming. Admittedly, it was a small and intimate group that joined us for the talk. When I got home, I read and wrote because I walked away from the evening with many big ideas. One of the things that kept coming up (even well into this week as I mull over the discussion), was a question by ZERO1 curator Jaime Austen. It had to do with responsibility.
What do you feel is your responsibility in terms of my writing, research, and scholarship?
There are so many ways to answer the question. Being a blogger since 2007, I’ve experienced different ways of looking at my writing practice, research, and what this means not only for me but the community I am trying to build around writing, critical theory, arts and technology. It definitely starts somewhere and a writer/theorist life can be rather lonely because it’s not as prolific and doesn’t promise benefits from efforts made to produce content (whether its for media outlets, a personal blog, and/or for print). So, how did I answer the question…well, I’d like to think that the work I’m putting into the community is helping answer that question.
Do you have a story around your commitment to the arts? What do you feel is your responsibility? How do you feel the virtual landscape facilities and allows or hinders and distracts your objectives? I would love to read your stories.
#FREEBASSEL CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED TO BRING HOME LOVED AND CELEBRATED INTERNET VOLUNTEER DETAINED IN SYRIA
Damascus — Tuesday, 3 July 2012 – Today marks the launch of the #FREEBASSEL campaign to bring about the release of Bassel Khartabil, known widely on the Internet and in technology communities as Bassel Safadi. Bassel is a resident of Damascus, Syria, a technology pioneer and respected community leader. He is a loving family member and friend to countless people at home and around the world. He has been detained since March 15, 2012, without trial. Today the campaign learned Bassel is being held at security detention branch 291 in Kafer Sousa, a facility that was uncovered in the recent Human Rights Watch report “Syria: Torture Centers Revealed.”
The #FREEBASSEL campaign launched today by releasing a letter signed by leading supporters and organizations that Bassel has worked with for some time including support from Joi Ito, Chaiman of the Board for Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School Professor, Jimmy Wales, and already 577 others from around the world who have signed a letter of support to #FREEBASSEL. The letter is directed at the Syrian Government, people living in Syria, Internet citizens and related diplomats worldwide with the goal to raise awareness about Bassel’s situation to see him free once more.
The letter reads:
To Whom it May Concern:
On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location known as branch 291.
Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.
Since then, Bassel has become known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open web, teaching others about technology, and contributing his experience freely to help the world. Bassel is the project leader for an open source web software called Aiki Framework. He is well known in online technical communities as a dedicated volunteer to major Internet projects like Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org), Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.org), Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), Open Clip Art Library (www.openclipart.org), Fabricatorz (www.fabricatorz.com), and Sharism (www.sharism.org). Since his arrest, Bassel’s valuable volunteer work, both in Syria and around the world, has been stopped. His absence has been painful for the communities that depend on him. In addition, his family, and his fiancée whom he was due to marry this past April, have had their lives put on hold.
Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him.
We, the signees of the #FREEBASSEL campaign, demand immediate information regarding his detention, health, and psychological state.
We urge the Syrian Government to release the community member, husband-to-be, son to a mother and father, and celebrated International software engineer Bassel Khartabil, immediately.
#FREEBASSEL is a campaign to bring about the safe and immediate release of Bassel Khartabil from wrongful detainment in Syria since March 2012. He is a well known contributor to global software and culture communities like Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library,
Fabricatorz, and Sharism. He is missed by these communities, his family, friends and loved ones. The campaign says, “We will not stop campaigning for him until we see him as a free global citizen once again.”
The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts constantly puts on phenomenal events, lectures, exhibitions, and facilitates classes for the community. Summer of Smart (SoS) is another project that puts both the organization and San Francisco on the map, globally. Having the community participate in learning and seeing democracy in action through innovation and technology allows citizens to engage in a collective effort for positive change, growth, and development.
Independent scholarship has been difficult. Navigating through art history, criticism, and journalism without teachers to reign in all these ideas, fellow peers to test ideas, an editor reminding me of a deadline, and/or a project or paper due at the end of a few weeks makes for a challenging approach at scholarly research and constant engagement. Then again, this is MY forum and virtual space. Another issue that has come up for me – creating context. It’s only me writing and it’s the first time I’ve admitted this, publicly, posting every day is hard! Structure and organization are starting to scream feverishly at me and I’m listening.
That said, whoever you are, dear reader (hoping it’s not just you, Mom), you may see some changes in content in the next few weeks. There’s going to be some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes [Insert David Bowie track – Turn and face the strain…time may change me…]. Having scoured some of my favorite online and print art magazines to see what works for me and what doesn’t has been a great exercise. I’ll definitely try to keep things light and fun. After all, this is the space to engage, right? Who knows, I may incorporate a bit more sound and video (hmmm, intrigued? So am I!). There’s gotta be other ways to attract and involve the reader.
I’m curious, for anyone interested in sharing, privately or publicly through the comment thread, what form of media gets you interested and involved (other than Facebook or Twitter)? Art-wise, what questions do you have? What themes or concepts would you like to see covered? I’m trying to approach this independent research in a way to help me fine tune my interests as well, obviously, BUT I always love a good conversation (even if it’s a virtual one). 🙂