Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year in Allies

"Wikimedia has friends". This is I think the most important lesson we've learned at our Wikimedia NYC chapter-in-formation over the past year.

Us Wikimedians are an eclectic and disparate bunch, but when we organize on a local level, some interesting possibilities open up; e.g. Wikipedia Takes Manhattan 1, Wikipedia Takes Manhattan 2 (Wikis Take Manhattan), and Wikipedia Loves Art. This is not so much because of great efforts on our part, but rather that our ordinary experience as Wikimedians gives us the skill-set to enable outside parties to contribute to the projects in unique and exciting ways. As community gatekeepers, we hold the key for institutions who need only a helping local hand to get started in this work.

All Wikimedians should be conscious they are part of a broader movement, the Free Culture movement, itself a kissing cousin to the Free Software movement. And we're not a peripheral part of this movement either, but we are almost certainly the most successful Free Culture project in existence. This is in spite of, or maybe even because of, the fact that the great majority of our workaday contributors are not yet activists on these issues.

This is a movement of many faces, including of course Creative Commons, but the standout for us at Wikimedia NYC has been Students for Free Culture, with their particular enthusiasm and numbers of activists. We have worked with the Free Culture chapters at Columbia and NYU, but there are chapters all over, and likely in your city as well. These dedicated student activists with their weekly meetings are determined to get things done, and to do it all in fun and creative ways. And they are great friends of Wikimedia.

Forming a working relationship with your local Free Culture chapter is a great way to jump-start your local Wikimedia activities. These clubs have always been gracious and open to me and other local Wikimedians, and they have always considered our proposals. These students have an admirable industriousness, and they are always actively looking for new projects. If you engage with them seriously, they are likely to embrace your project and will be glad to work together with you closely, almost as a virtual Wikimedia chapter. Indeed, they are more effective than us Wikimedians on many counts, hard-working, anxious to engage with the broader world, and better activists generally.

I cannot praise these good people enough. And indeed, with Wikimedia NYC we have consciously tried to adapt their activist model for our own chapter-in-formation.

And engaging with groups like the Free Culture clubs can be an important step in laying the groundwork for working with more institutional actors. With our work with great folks at The Open Planning Project, we found ourselves engaged with a group that is halfway in the Free Culture movement, but that also has a broader focus as a non-profit. And recently we've taken a further step toward the establishment in working with the fabulous Brooklyn Museum, a big institution with a progressive heart, that is now making its first steps into the Free Culture world.

(And, if you have problems contacting your local Free Culture chapter, don't be discouraged; usually with a little detective work you can get clued into the right person's e-mail)