Last night, I gave a 5 minute “lightning talk” at the monthly 5 Minutes of Fame event at Noisebridge, a local San Francisco hackerspace in the Mission. Noisebridge is only a few minutes walk from the venue for this Sunday’s KinkForAll San Francisco, the Women’s Building, so I took the opportunity to share a little bit about how KinkForAll got to where it is today. Unfortunately, video of my talk is currently unavailable, so I recorded my own voiceover to the slideshow I presented and would like to share it with you now.


Community Organizing for Great Justice! – Five Minutes of Fame, March 2010

It’s incredibly difficult to condense a lot of information into a five minute talk! Although this recording clocked in at 5 minutes and 42 seconds, somehow I managed to clock my talk at Noisebridge in several seconds under the 5 minute time limit.

In addition to the video, below is a transcript of my presenter notes so you can follow along.

Hi! My name is ‘maymay’ and this is my second time at 5 Minutes of Fame, so thanks for having me back. :) By day, I’m a web developer. By night, I’m a sexual freedom community organizer. All told, I’m kind of a “social justice technologist,” and my talk is called “Community Organizing for Great Justice!”

My story begins in 430 BC when my buddy Thucydides, the ancient Greek historian, observed:

Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

I think it’s really unfair for the world to work that way. I didn’t know what to do about that until 2009, when Mark Zuckerburg, the creator of Facebook, announced that if Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world.

Whereas even Greek gods had to ask Hermes to deliver messages for them, you and I can reach a global audience with the push of a button. Thus, “doing right” (as the world goes) should be possible pretty quickly.

I figured I’d try this social media for social justice thing out myself by starting to organize free, all-ages conferences called “KinkForAll unconferences.” Each was designed to inspire a local community to have documented conversations about the intersection of sexuality with the rest of life. Within a year, event participants had put on 5 full-day unconferences in 4 cities across New England, attracting hundreds of in-person participants and thousands more online. 4 more are planned for the Spring and Summer across America, including the next one this Sunday at the Women’s Building here in San Francisco. (You should come.)

So it turns out that spreading ideas on the Internet actually can effect real-world events. Moreover, organizing a community around a passion or an idea that you have isn’t actually all that hard. I want to show you how to do that.

Start with having a vision of a better world. This is really a fake step because every one of you already has this. Whenever you get annoyed by how boring, wasteful, or unfair something is, you’re envisioning a better world.

Take that vision and make it a really specific goal. Mine is empowering every person on Earth to claim their sexual rights and freedoms.

Consider giving your vision a name. Make it unique enough to show up in Google searches while still symbolizing your goal. I find sticking multiple words together works well. Names can say a lot about goals, leadership styles, and the community you’ll build. Choose one thoughtfully because it’s going to represent you for better or worse.

Next, start working towards your vision in public. When you do your work in public, you immunize yourself against distrust. It also becomes easier for people to work with you because they can see every step you take; you make it easy for people to mimic you and you end up leading by example by fiat. This is particularly important for novel ideas or innovations in a particular field.

This kind of transparency was central to KinkForAll’s success. All organization happens on a public mailing list, allowing anyone to read how an event got put together, even if they’re not part of the group. At the same time, the mailing list provides a sort of pseudo-documentation so we have a way to transfer knowledge to other people without a human gatekeeper.

The mailing list works well for what it does because email is a fairly ubiquitous technology. You can’t bring people on board unless they can collaborate with you, so don’t require the use of tools they can’t access or don’t understand.

In a social movement, people are like the pages on the Web; your job is to build links that connect individuals in a meaningful way. If you act as the glue between knowledgeable experts, all you’ll have to know is how to find out the answers to questions. You don’t need to have all the answers yourself.

Also like the Web itself, build community using “small pieces loosely joined.” Don’t get hung up on infrastructure requirements. Instead, use the tools already available to you.

To distribute KinkForAll talks, participants uploaded media to their own blogs as well as any number of hosted service providers. Each upload is marked with a global “KinkForAll” tag as well as an event-specific tag, creating a distributed yet well-organized library. Using multiple cyber-venues not only reaches more people, it also makes controversial messages harder to censor.

Reaching people through online social networks is especially helpful because using them can help you overcome discrimination. The pseudonymous Internet gives us the fantastic ability to collaborate with others based solely on the merit of their contributions, literally blinding us to skin color, age, gender, or other characteristics.

Use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to approach people you think might help you—especially ones you don’t already know. Don’t “market” to these people. Instead, engage them as leaders of their own social circle so they become your ambassadors to their own communities. Then invite them to convene with fellow participants in a shared space, like a mailing list.

But don’t rely on the Internet alone. Have at least an occasional real-world presence so people have an opportunity to connect face-to-face.

Having both real-world and cyber venues is also one way to invite different levels of participation. Rather than controlling what people do with rigid roles, let people gravitate towards the tasks that interest them. Your job as leader isn’t to tell people what to do, but rather to make the things that need doing obvious.

When someone signs up to participate in a KinkForAll event, for instance, they automatically gain visibility to the event’s list of logistical needs. When someone makes a change to the needs list, everyone who signed up gets an email notification alerting them to the newly needed item, thus giving them an opportunity to bring it to the event and building participation directly into the process.

Regardless of your vision, it’s likely the first thing you’ll encounter is other people telling you “no,” and reasoning about why you can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to do what you’re doing. Dave Winer calls this “stop energy,” and it’s deadly to ideas.

As a general rule of thumb, the more stop energy you encounter from people who represent the status quo, the more you know you’re on the right track! Don’t let it distract you. Once you can see your vision, never stray from it, even if it takes a while for other people to see it, too.

Don’t change your vision; let your audience find you. As my buddy Thucydides said,

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, both glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, they go out and they meet it.

So have a vision, share it with others, and then go out and see it through. And of course, to learn more, come to KinkForAll San Francisco this Sunday morning at the Women’s Building, or visit KinkForAll.org!

Thank you very much!

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