Pam somewhat more quietly suggested we bring the issues down to things that trouble us here in the NEK and for awhile the discussion toggled back and forth between local suffering and systemic injustice. Finally Mary said this: Our (NEK 99%) strength has always not been in butting our heads against the system head on, because we are so small, but in finding work arounds and educating others about how we can implement them.
The Newport Wireless Mesh Project is such a work around. Here's why it's the perfect project for us:
1. It addresses a local need. Many NEK residents have low incomes and can't afford internet at home. Most opt to access the internet on their phones, paying a lot for data time. This is OK for looking at Facebook, but for anything else, like job searches or filling out applications or doing Google searches, a phone is less than desirable. And if you have kids who could use the internet to help their school work or indeed are required to do work via the internet, mom's phone just isn't going to cut it.
2. It combats a systemic injustice. Big companies like Comcast charge a lot to bring cable or wifi internet to your home because they can. They are making billions at it. If there is a cheaper alternative, we should be doing it.
3. The mesh is locally controlled. It places more of the power in the hands of the users. It requires people to become actively involved in how they receive information.
4. The mesh project requires people to cooperate with their neighbors. This is an incredibly wonderful learning opportunity for all kinds of organization. If you can cooperate to make your local internet work, can you cooperate to get better rental conditions? How about sharing of skills and resources? Does it make working with your neighbors at the community garden seem like a good idea?
5. Low cost internet is a great hook. People want it so much that it motivates them to do a little extra. This is a first step in breaking the cycle of dependence.
6. And finally, it's doable. We are a small group and some projects would be beyond our ability to organize. But this is one we can manage, with some hard work, ingenuity and help from others who are working on similar projects.
As we go into the summer, we hope to get out and confront our world's injustices with chalk art, street events and attendance at City Council meetings. But more quietly we are hoping to build a wireless mesh for our town that will do more than just provide internet.