Alfredo Lopez on May First Movement Technology

Alfredo Lopez talks about May First, its origins, vision, and inner workings.

Episode Notes

You can reach Alfredo via email at Join May First as a member at

Organizations mentioned by Alfredo:

Software mentioned by Alfredo:


Recorded in March 2021

Alfredo: It’s about building the co-op and building a structure that’s sane, that’s sustainable and that’s really productive. You can actually feel good about a day’s work. You actually have done something that has contributed to the, to the human race, which is a gift in and of itself.

[intro music]

Ana: Hi, and welcome to Real Co-op Stories. I am Ana, and today I’m talking with Alfredo Lopez, a founder and longtime board member of May First Movement Technology.

Tell me a little bit about yourself about your background and how you came to May First.

Alfredo: I’ve been a part of and, for the most part, a leader in the US left wing movement for, well, right now, about 54 years. May First has been around for 16 years, so you can do the math. But it was an extensive amount of time that I was involved in, you know, about 40 years when I started getting involved in May First.

And I’ve been involved in almost every conceivable movement. I came out of the Puerto Rican independence movement and anti-war movements and New York housing movement. All different kinds of things that mass moves generated around questioning of the fundamental questions in society.

Just the Left, as people call, the genuine left, not the one the conservatives talk about, but the real genuine left that’s out there struggling. All of the stuff that you see currently, I was there, privileged to be there when a lot of this arose. All of the affirmative action, that’s important because affirmative action produced a large number of academically trained women and people of color. Then eventually assumed the leadership of the Left and, you know, accounted for it’s it’s political and social transformations to the movement that we have today, which is a very successful movement. And so, all of that was enhanced by affirmative action. I was in that generation of activists who fought for that and closed down universities. So I’ve been involved in all that for, you know, many, many years.

At some point, maybe 20 years ago, I began noticing the internet itself as a, a connection device. And I began exploring it because I have a fascination with communications and I’ve always been involved in communications. It means a lot to me and it means it’s a big part of my life. I mean, I’m an author, I’m a writer and I’ve done a lot of communications work in TV and radio over the years. So that’s a very important part.

So I started exploring it and I realized that there was something fundamentally different here. You know, the basic human need that’s answered by mass movements is the need to communicate, but also to validate your own existence, your own story, every human being has a story. And part of the motor of oppression is to deny that your story is important. Deny your importance as a human being. When you become able to share your story with people all over the world, and listen to their story, there is a fundamental kind of power that emanates from those kinds of connections and those conversations or that kind of sharing.

When you’re able also to talk about the oppression in your own story and to share how you’re dealing with that. In other words, hear from all these people. All over the world, how they’re struggling against the oppressions and difficulties of their daily lives. And you get ideas as to how to do that in the one hand. And the stuff that you’re doing is validated massively. And that’s what I found fascinating about the internet. And I got involved in the internet as an internet activist. The Left’s involvement with the internet is as old as the worldwide web. The Left has been involved heavily, heavily, heavily with the worldwide web since its inception, since the creation of the early browsers and all of that.

So you know, getting involved in that started the thinking and, you know, working. I launched a thing called People Link, which was a provider of internet services that tried to specialize in left-wing people. It was a small provider, but we functioned for several years. And in the process, I got to know some people from something called the May First Technology Collective, who were techies, technologist s who did progressive work, work with progressive movements, nonprofit movements. And they went out of business, and we weren’t doing that well. And we proposed that we get together and start this internet provider. Because we didn’t have any other kind of name we called it May First / People Link. And that’s how it got started.

From the beginning, May First was a very different type of provider. It was not a regular provision company. It wasn’t a regular commercial company. None of that, it never was. It always viewed itself as a movement organization. And the process of development of May First over the years has been deepening what that means, and attempting to democratize the organization to make it more and more what we felt was necessary. And, you know, myself, Jamie McClellan, Josué Guillén, a bunch of other people who were involved in the inception and development of the organization kind of agreed and developed the concept together, you know?

Ana: Can you explain a little bit more about what May First offers to its customers?

Alfredo: We don’t have customers. So that’s the first thing we offer. We are not a company and never have been. We’re just simply a movement organization. The people who benefit from May First resources are its members.

The way it works is you join May First as a member. That means you can participate in the meetings that, that decide what the organization’s going to do, you know, et cetera, et cetera. Everything, you know. And I’ll explain that in a second. But also it means that at this point, you own the over 120 servers that we maintain. All of the equipment, all that, everything. You co-own that as a member of May First it’s a full co-op at this point. It’s been a full co-op for quite some time, but it’s now officially been a co-op for about a year and a half, legally. In New York it’s called a nonprofit membership organization, but that’s a co-op. And so that’s, that’s in our bylaws. That’s our bylaws. Our members own everything. Because we own everything we get to use our equipment to, you know, for websites, email, cloud storage, all kinds.

There are about 14 or 15 of what we call resources, what the commercial internet calls services. That are available today. Our members use them and they’re for our members. And the use of that stuff is unlimited. So we have members with 50, 60 email accounts. And those members do not pay a penny more than any other member. At May First you pay your dues and a service fee. Those are yearly fees, that’s all you pay and you get whatever you need.

And the theory behind that is: our members are all movement activists and movement organizations. The more they use websites and email, you know, the better it is for everybody, it means they’re doing more work. So we want to encourage that as a, as a organization. And you don’t encourage stuff by charging people for everything. You charge them once to sustain the organization and that’s it. And let them use what they need in order for them to do their work. That’s the theory.

But May First also does a huge amount of political work. We’re involved in many, many networks, many campaigns. We are like a political organization. The Left as such has many, many issues. May First is the organization that holds down technology as one of the issues and our vision of technology and the internet which is a distinct perspective. And to the extent that it’s not unique, that another people have it, I think it’s to a large extent because we’ve pushed it. But we do not believe the internet is the technology, the internet. We don’t believe it’s computers and wires and all that crap.

That’s not the internet. For us the internet is the 4.5 billion people who are using it. It is a movement, a mass movement of people. And so we seek to urge our movement to organize all of those 4.5 billion people addressing their concerns through this communications device.

That’s basically how you know, how we work.

Ana: Do you have any admission or acceptance process for your members or can anyone become a member?

Alfredo: You have to agree to the points of unity, which are very vague points, but they’re written in order to help us weed people out. You know, you can get the points of unity. Everybody who’s a progressive could abide by the points of unity. But if some troll tries to get the organization, to make trouble, you can pick them up right away. They don’t get it. They just don’t understand. They just say some stupid thing.

We have a membership form. You gotta fill out the membership form, and the last thing is, you know, “about you”, tell us a bit about yourself. We have a couple of people who’ve been trying to sneak in over the years and they can’t get it right. They just don’t get it. They say some stupid stuff. And I handle many of the new memberships and I pick up, on those right away. And I say, you know, you know, come on, go do something else with your time. But for the most part that’s all is required.

The thing about monitoring membership and filtering it, it doesn’t come from us. It comes from the people who are applying. If you’re not attuned with the politics of May First more or less, you’re not going to join. You’e not going to be interested in it. You’re not even going to find out about it. You know? So there is that automatic filtering process. But yeah, there’s a join form and all that kind of stuff.

Ana: You described May 1st as holding down the technology needs of Left movements, which feels very powerful. And at the same time, I immediately think Oh my gosh, that would be such a juicy target for people who want to harm the movement or people who want to take it down. And I wonder aside from trolls wanting to become members, to maybe cause some discord, I wonder if you’ve had to face any other attacks as an organization.

Alfredo: Sure. All the time, all the time. We get a lot of denial of service, huge amount of denial of service attack to some members. A lot against organizations that work with the women’s movement, the feminist movement, the choice movement, for example. They’re almost relentlessly attacked.

Black Lives Matter, Black women’s in general, but particularly those identified with the Movement for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter networks, of which we have some members, they get attacked all the time. And you know, of course the, the pro-Palestinian solidarity movements, they get attacked a lot.

Those are the people, those are the movements that attract the most virulent right wing reaction. The government is not the thing that attacks us, the government surveils us. And we have a lot of battles with the government over that. For example, we’ve had seizures of our servers by FBI agents. We have had dozens of demands for information. Or other kinds of legal things where we have to go to the lawyers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who are lawyers for these matters, to fend off these attacks, or these threats. So the government does that a lot. And the reason for that is they’re investigating people who, who are members, or seeking information from our members about people they’re investigating.

We do not comply with that. You’re not allowed to touch the data on our servers. It belongs to our members. Our members' privacy is paramount and their security is paramount. So we don’t give up information to the government period. There’s no negotiation there. And all of our servers are encrypted for that reason.

The denial of service we handle in other ways. You know, we do have partners that specialize in in denial of service protections. We have one in Canada that does that, eQualitie and you know, we do a bunch of things to make sure that people stay online and that denial of service attacks don’t bring our people offline. Our members aren’t taken offline by anything.

And our members data is never taken by anybody. That is paramount to May First, because you see, if you’re gonna function as a left wing movement, you’re going to be opposing the government in many things that it does. And you’re going to be opposing right-wing trolls and people like that. And all these types of people who are attempting to resist some kind of genuine social change. You’re always going to be doing that.

If you’re out there working the kinds of issues that attract these people, that attract attacks. You have to be able to be confident that your data and your online presence is protected. Otherwise your work can’t be completed. It’s too insecure. Movement work requires the security that you can do it. That your voice can always be heard, that you can rely that your data’s going to be protected. If your data is insecure, all the names of the people that work with you are vulnerable.

There you you’re in big trouble. You can’t recruit anyone. You can’t work with people, people aren’t going to trust you. They’re going to say “nah,” because the government’s going to take all my data and start knocking on my door or something like that.

You know, I personally have extensive experience being harassed by the FBI. Extensive experience. And with their Grand Jury apparatus. In the 1970s, ‘74, ‘75 I was constantly on the run for several weeks with my current wife. I mean, the one that I’ve been married to for all these years. We were running around trying to avoid the FBI because the FBI wanted to serve me with papers to bring me before the Grand Jury, because that’s the way the FBI used to take you out of circulation.

See, I was organizing this huge demonstration. They didn’t want us to do that. So the way they do that is they call you before a Grand Jury. They start asking you about everything you know, and everybody you know. I’m not going to tell you everything I know, and everybody I know, it’s not your business. I’m not going to do that. And so the moment you say, no, I’m not going to do that. They throw you in jail. Lot of people don’t understand that. That’s how the grand jury works. You gotta tell ‘em. You don’t tell them you go to jail for the duration of the Grand Jury. They keep the grand jury open for as long as it takes, until the demonstration happens that way you’re not organizing it.

So I had to be running for weeks. We didn’t even get to sleep in our own home the entire first three weeks that we were together, we had to sleep in everybody different people’s houses until our lawyers got with the FBI agent, said you gotta stop this bullshit. So we stopped it. That was part of my experience where I had the best experience with them.

So I’m really sensitive to that personally. I really do bring a ferocity to May First, I think, much more than my younger comrades, although we’re all in agreement about this. But for me, it’s a principled question. You can’t let governments have data about people. You can’t do it. No government can.

So you know, so anyway, that’s what May First essentially does. And we’re fully democratically run. We have leadership bodies. We have annual membership meetings, the whole nine yards.

Ana: So tell me a little bit more about that. Let’s start first with the basics of the work of running the servers and so on. Does May First have its own staff of people that work full time, or how does that work?

Alfredo: We have a small staff. There are three of us on full-time staff. Two of whom work on the technology operations and keep the servers running, et cetera, et cetera. And then we have a larger group of technologist members who collaborate.

And we’re constantly in development. You know, we’re constantly looking to expand upon our capabilities, improve the technology portion of our work. Inclusion of new kinds or different, more improved software and you know, keeping protocol up to date and you know, doing all that kind of stuff that is required, particularly in terms of the approaches of how you do shared server protocols.

All of that, you know, there are a lot of different ways to do it. There’s a lot of different ways to do it more efficiently in terms of more speed. And one of the priorities is always efficiency because our movement doesn’t have a lot of resources. We’re not a big corporation. May First itself doesn’t have a whole lot of money. So we have to do things as efficiently and compactly as we possibly can.

So we do have a staff. That staff is hired by our board of 25 people. Our board is elected by our membership. Our membership is about 670 members most of whom are organizations in their own right. About 450-460 organizations. So we have several thousand people in our organization because those organizations have their own members. Some are quite large, in fact, and that’s in the United States and Mexico.

So we’re a big organization. And that means there’s a lot of technology usage within our organization and it keeps our staff quite busy, but you know, our membership and our decision-making is organized not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

So it starts with the membership meeting, which is a month long process that occurs online. A month long, in which members are making all kinds of decisions. Everything we do flows from member decisions democratically reached, you know, literally voted on. What we actually should do as an organization. That includes all the movement work priorities we have, which include the network work, everything. That also includes educational work within our movement about technology, about the latest things that are happening about the issues, free and open source software as opposed to commercial software, how you deal with things like GMail, which is a very, very, very dangerous development; Facebook and the social media stuff which is massive, but also has its limitations. And if given too much power can be downright dangerous in its own right. So all of that is decided by our members and our members also elect the board for three year terms.

And our elected board, then, runs the organization between membership meetings, and it names a bunch of committees. Not a bunch, but because if you named too, too much bureaucracy, that doesn’t function. It names a couple of different committees to do work groups, to work on a consistent basis.

The main one is called the Coordination Team, which meets every week. And that’s the thing that runs the organization day to day. And that’s the thing that directly oversees the work of the staff. And that’s how we run. We try to stress member involvement as much as we can.

But all of this stuff is flawed and it has to be perfected. So people ask, do you have tremendous membership involvement in all your work? No, not in the internal work of the organization. However, May First understands, and we say this publicly all the time, our members’ work involves the work they do in the movement and in the world. So if you’re an organization struggling for reproductive rights, you are effectively doing work for May First. You’re doing work for the whole world. And you’re effectively doing work for May First because all of May First members benefit from the work and the struggles that you are involved in. We are reflective of our movement and we’re guided by our movement, effectively.

That’s basically how we work.

That was a development. I mean, we, we didn’t start out that way. We started out with just a few guys running the thing. And then later on, we expanded to a kind of leadership committee that we appointed to help us. Then soon thereafter, we began pushing for the election of that leadership committee.

The entire history of May First has been an attempt to democratize the organization in a very conscious way. And without blueprints. There just is no organization like us in technology. Just, it just isn’t. So we’ve had to do what we have to do alone, you know.

Ana: I’m curious about what in Silicon Valley they would call the “bootstrapping process”. What were the, the seed resources that you had in order to get started? Did you get outside funding or was it done with volunteer work? How did that come to be? Because you don’t get from idea to 120 servers just, you know, by wishing.

Alfredo: We have no, almost no outside funding. We started out, basically volunteer work for the first few years. Staff was working at the same time at other jobs, et cetera, to help ourselves out. But there was no shortcuts.

We never, ever, ever got funding. And then at a certain point, as we were recruiting, we very aggressively recruited people. As we began recruiting, we had more and more money from the dues and that gave us some abilities to sustain ourselves.

You work for May First, you’re not working for much money at all. We don’t like that, but funding is very hard for our organization to get. The funding community resists funding technology organizations because they figure you should be able to make it. They don’t understand it all. They think that if you own a server, that you’re automatically a company. And this prejudice, bias on the one hand. And the other hand, we have a very radical perspective in terms of what to do with technology. May First sees itself as a model for what has to happen with technology at some point, which is that it has to be collectivized socially.

It has to be democratized. And owned by everyone in the world. And this makes foundations really uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. The idea that foundations support or fund all kinds of revolutionary alternatives, that’s a myth. It is not true. There are particular issues that foundations fund. But most left-wing organizations never get any funds.

So we have to live off the dues of our members. Now, we do get some small grants here and there. And we have partners on particular projects and stuff like that. So at any particularly year, we might get 10,000 bucks, $12,000 or so in additional funding from those types of things, but that’s it.

Otherwise we run on a shoestring budget, and always have, basing ourselves on the dues, paid by our members. In other words, May First sustains itself. It’s a sustenance model. It’s not an easy model to sustain, but you know, it is the one that we’re presented with and we have to go after it.

I don’t know whether that’s going to be the case in the future. I don’t know if we’re going to move toward, try to get more funding. We’ve applied for a lot of funding and everybody says, no, go away.

Ana: What are the things that you think you might be able to do if you had more funding?

Alfredo: Oh God, we’d be able to pay ourselves reasonable salaries. Be able to get other staff people on, expand our staff somewhat. We could have a more robust technology operation. We would purchase more server equipment, if we could, to do better backup. A lot of stuff that we could be doing, including, if we had the money, we’d love to have an array of test platforms.

So, you know, I’m sure we could do about a million things if we could. But the basics of what May First does, what we set out to do, we get done, you know. And the future is the future.

I mean, you know, people say, well, you’re kind of a barebones operation. Well, you know, we’ve been around for 16 years. We’re one of the oldest technology organizations in the world. And one of the, certainly one of the oldest left-wing technology organizations around. We’ve done it. Nothing in our picture shows any precarious situation.

We are absolutely stable. And functional. We’re fine. And we keep growing. So I mean, you know, we are part of a social justice movement in the United States whose leadership is, is in some cases, very highly paid. And I’m not saying they don’t deserve to be paid.

But what I’m saying is if you can’t be paid, maybe it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t be paid at that level, if you can’t make a six figure salary, maybe it’s not the end of the world. Maybe we can find people who aren’t needing to make those kinds of salaries. Maybe we are over budgeted to some extent as a movement. In some cases, I don’t know.

Because we’re certainly under budgeted, but we continue to operate and, you know, that’s one of the big challenges facing the entire co-op movement. Is the question of what is solvency? What is black ink? What is red ink? What is success? What is stability, financially?

Now, when you’re a straight up business, of course, it’s easier to define. If you’re going broke, it’s no good. If you’re not, if you’re doing okay, it’s good. That you know, there’s a pretty easy business question.

For a left wing organization like ours, it’s a bit different. Are we recruiting the most advanced sectors, organizations, and activists in our movements? Are we reflective of all of our movements?

You know, we are an intentional organization. And have been throughout our history. That means that the majority, the great majority of our leadership is made up of people of color and women, that is publicly stated and acknowledged. And our members make that happen through the vote.

In fact, when we have nominations for the board, The great majority of nominations are people of color and women, at this point. Our white members are hesitant to, to nominate themselves, to be nominated, unless they see that there’s a predominant number of people of color and women, then they do.

And we have, you know, four white men in the 25 member board. So there are white people, absolutely. One of our key staff people’s a white guy. We don’t ban white people you know, they’re obviously part of our family. But we do that for a reason.

Technologically that is unheard of. Particularly in left technology. It’s controlled by white men. And white men have a specific perspective about everything, including how you do technology. And you know, we seek to break that perspective. We’re looking to do a technology that’s reflective of the needs of our movement, on the one hand, and the cultural reality of all the communities our movement is working. That’s how we want to do our technology.

You gotta have these you know, kind of intentional forces. So, for us, success is being able to realize that. But we do not have an adequate number of LGBTQ gender nonconforming people, for instance, in our leadership. We don’t have enough young people, people in their twenties, it’s all people, I would say in their forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies is what we have.

You’re not gonna be able to be effective organization. If everybody that you have is over 40. I mean, in terms of the leadership in membership, we probably have a more, a diverse demographic in both cases. But not in leadership.

So the question for us is what are we doing wrong that these people don’t want to be nominated for leadership? There’s something going on. That’s the question. That’s like just one of the questions that we may be raising.

Well, the average co-op, a co-op that’s selling shoes, you know, whatever. They’re not going to bring that question up. That’s not a question that’s going to normally arise in the life of a, even highly progressive cooperative. It’s not going to pop up, but the way we are and because we are run by our own membership and because we are guided by our own movement, these questions arise as part of the questions that we’re asking about whether or not we’re successful.

So for May First Movement Technology, success is not defined by the flow of cash. It’s defined by many other factors. It’s defined also by the flow of cash, obviously, you’ve got to stay alive, but we’re not a business like that. You know, it’s like there are many other questions on the table to evaluate in terms of evaluating our work.

Ana: You touched a little bit earlier on the idea of having member meetings that are a month long process that happens online. I’m curious to dig in more into the mechanics of the governance and how that works. So for example, these member meetings, do they happen every month? Do they happen at a certain cadence?

Alfredo: Our members meet once a year. Our membership meeting is comprised of eight sessions. Anyway, this year. Maybe it’s not going to be eight sessions forever, but the board designs the membership meeting. This past year, we did six weekly sessions and each session was a discussion of a particular fundamental aspect of our work.

Ana: What’s an example?

Alfredo: I mean a good example, obviously, is the movement work that we were talking about and you know, what do we do in that, in that regard. The straight power and stability of our technology. How we deal with surveillance. Inclusion, and inclusiveness, how we improve ourselves in that regard. The democracy of the organization itself, how democratic or undemocratic we are, that always needs improvement, always needs improvement.

As a species we are led, we select certain people to lead us, as a species. The question really is always, how do you balance that leadership with the democracy that is required in your organization? You know, the power of the majority of people vis-a-vis the leaders and how you balance that off and how you make sure leaders don’t become dictators and all that kind of stuff. You always gotta be working on that.

So those are some of the themes. So people get together. Members, you can get a hundred members, maybe, you know, per session. Maybe fewer than a hundred members. You know, it depends. You never get full membership involvement. And we don’t expect it.

They get together, and you have an hour and a half conversation about it, in small groups. They may come up with some proposals, two or three, you know? And then you do that on every one of the themes. When you finish that process, the board, you know, the top leadership, gets together and figures out a way to frame those proposals in a way that makes sense, and just get like five or six of them, because they could end up having, you know, 20-25, because if six groups are operating, everyone’s going to come out with four or five proposals. But a lot of them repeat each other, they can be harmonized and modularized and everything. So you do that. That becomes the work proposals for the year and that’s what’s going to be submitted to the membership online. Okay.

And that at the same time we’re running this board nomination process. People can nominate themselves to the board or be nominated by other people. And they do a statement of interest, do a description of themselves. And then also they do a video. You have like a one minute video where you talk, you know. And that’s all put online for all the members to see so that they can vote for the board. And so all that package is put out.

Then we have the official member meeting. The official membership meeting is nothing. What it does is it brings together a certain percentage of the members because you got to do this by law. It’s in the bylaws of the co-op. Members say, okay, really cool. We now agree that we can have this election, so go do an election for another week, of the board. We put out a budget, at that meeting. The board has submitted a budget to the membership and the membership at this meeting say, “we approve the board” and that’s it. It’s an hour long meeting. All you gotta do is get the quorum. That’s why we do the, the official meeting. It doesn’t do anything, but comply legally. At that point on that basis, we can start the process of actually voting. And voting happens online, for a week.

You vote for the board members you want. Board members are elected to three year terms and it does rotate. So we’re electing about a third of the board every year, in the United States and Mexico. Right? So this is very important. Our process is made more complex by the fact that it does include two different countries. And that means that everything that we do, everything, is bilingual.

May First, all meetings are bilingual, all activities and conferences are bilingual. They’re all we use interpretations. We have relationships with interpreters and interpreter organizations. There is an official interpreter there. Everything we do, every place we go, whatever, and all of our documents, even our official email correspondence to people, it’s all done in both languages. Everything is done in both languages. So this entire process I’m describing takes place in two languages which makes it even more complex, but it’s a richer experience politically.

And then, finally, they vote on the priorities. And the vote is weighted. So you’re presented with eight, nine priorities of work for the year and you vote, one, two, three, how you list them as in terms of importance. These priorities mix up the technology priorities with the movement work priorities and you know, generally are the basis of that ranking.

Everything’s returned to the board. The new board meets and it’s prescriptive. Hello, new board. Congratulations for being elected. Here are your priorities. Do that, implement them. And the board then has to implement the priorities and figure out work plans that actually implement all those priorities.

The way it generally does it, is it gives it to the coordination team. They say, " here, take this, figure it out and come back to us at the next meeting or by email and let us know how are we going to do this." So that’s what the coordination team does.

And that’s the way we generally work.

Trust me that it sounds, as I’m saying it, it sounds immensely more efficient and effective than it actually is in practice. In practice is a struggle to make all of this happen efficiently, because we’re a real organization. Real life is never that smooth, it’s so sloppy and crazy, but we do make it happen. May First does. We do accomplish the great majority of our priorities and have for many, many years.

Ana: Tell me a little bit about the tools you use. So you talked about how these meetings happen online. The voting happens online. So I’m curious if you have your own in-house built tools or how do you accomplish that? Because for example, having a democratic process completely mediated by online tools is a thing that I hear people talking about, but doesn’t quite seems to be well solved.

Alfredo: We use Mumble. Mumble is a audio only program. It’s fully extensible. It can handle as far as we can, as far as we know a thousand connections, we’ve never come upon a limit of connections. It allows for simultaneous translation rooms. That’s why we use Mumble rather than video tools, because of the translation.

You know, it is true that Zoom, which is a piece of corporate software, we don’t use too much corporate software, but Zoom claims to have a translation capability, but that’s not real in, in some flavors. For example, if you’re using Linux, you do not have access to simultaneous translation in Zoom. That’s a deal breaker for us because the technologists in our organization, almost all use Linux. So that is a deal breaker. So we use that Mumble free and open source program. We do retool it a bit. But it has been extremely effective for us. We live by it and we have almost all our meetings with it. So we do that.

In terms of voting, we have some of our own capabilities. It’s stuff that’s out there that’s free and open source that we tweak a bit particularly at the interface level to make it more usable and more applicable to what we need.

And let’s see, what else do we use? We have a Discourse instance that we use for conversations. All the online conversations that take place with Mumble also then bleed into a text conversation that occurs in a message board format using Discourse.

Yeah, that’s basically how we do it. We try to use only free and open source software. We do tweak some of it because our needs are very, very, very, very specific as an organization, but we don’t have to as much as people might think.

You can use free software for everything that you do. The problem is that the experience isn’t always going to be the same. And you know, it’s interesting when people say I would use that free software, but it doesn’t do this, this, this, that the commercial software does. You don’t need this, this, this, you just think you do because you’ve been using commercial software that has that capability, but you can figure out other ways to do it.

At this point, free software is equally capable to commercial software in most applications, in most situations. The one situation where it’s not is the one you and I are using right now, which is video conferencing software. Big Blue Button, which is the rival of Zoom, is not as capable as Zoom.

Zoom can connect hundreds and hundreds, thousands of connections. And there is no free software package that can do that at this point. You can do it for smaller meetings. If you don’t have to see people and you don’t necessarily have to see people Mumble is as good a substitute as any and it does anything, any other program can.

Ana: And these tweaks that you do to open source software, do you redistribute those also openly or are those private to May First?

Alfredo: We don’t distribute them publicly because nobody cares about them, but we would share that with anybody. And in fact, for example, the instance that we use Mumble, that’s open to everyone. It’s not only our members that can get to use that. And were our technologists asked to, could you share the code, any code base changes that you’ve made, then absolutely. We would never restrict that. Our coding is, is open, unless it involves the security of the organization.

Ana: Going a little bit back to what we’re talking about earlier, we’re talking about what success looks like and what goals are like and how they are different from a quote unquote traditional corporation. I’m curious, what goals does May First have? What is next for May First?

Alfredo: Continued growth as an organization. We want the left of the United States and Mexico to get a clear understanding of the importance of technology as a political issue, and to become much more involved in discussing and working around and making it part of their program, the protection of our internet connectivity, the protection of privacy and data, on the one hand, and also the development of alternative forms of online communication that decentralize internet communications. For our movements to put that on their agenda for discussion, advocacy, et cetera.

Because if the internet is going to be decentralized, which has to happen, for it to survive. Then it’s the entire movement that’s going to have to do it. We can’t do it. You know, we have the tools to decentralize technology. We can do it.

We can develop an alternative internet. What’s lacking is the support because the internet, as I said before, is not the technology that runs it. It’s the people who comprise it. If you get a substantial number of people to engage in an alternative decentralized server structure s, for example, personal servers, at home, and all that type of decentralization. You get enough people to get involved with that, your boat is sailing. That’s all it takes. But it requires the movement to get behind that and start talking about it. So that’s another of the things that we want to do.

And then also we want to see a deepening of the internationalization of internet activism. You know, we’re members of the Association For Progressive Communications we’re active members, leading members in a certain sense of the APC. Internationally, largest internet alternative organization.

However, we want to see our entire movement in both the United States and Mexico engulfed in the effort to internationalize the conversation around the internet. For May First, a sustainable internet is an internet that is democratically controlled by the people in the world. It does no good to seek to democratize the internet in the United States alone.

It’s not gonna work. It’s not going to be feasible. But more than anything, it’s just would be a continuation of the overreaching power of the United States over the rest of the world, the attempt to exercise overreaching power. And that’s just the opposite of where we want to go.

That’s an illustration of what May First thinks. We don’t believe that we’re separate from this movement. So that’s what we want to see our movement do.

And then the things that we want to do as well. One, the one thing we’d like to do is become more sustainable, financially, get more money, so we can broaden our financial cushion, buy more servers, buy more activity, et cetera, et cetera. But since we are a non-profit co-op we’re not looking to make more profit. We’re looking to expand our membership and expand our activities and, you know, concomitantly to expand our budget to invest in more hardware and better capability.

So, I mean, that basically is the direction we want to go.

The thing is, Ana, that the world doesn’t always cooperate with your plans. I just had a, you know, an entire life where the world screws up my plans and that’s the way it is.

And one thing is screwing up plans is the rise of an organized fascism in the United States. This is a huge threat right now, that people have to be very conscious of. And a lot of our brothers and sisters in the co-op movement, aren’t conscious of it, or they’re conscious of it, but they don’t consider it all that important.

They’re thinking about transition to a better world or probably they’re thinking about, how the hell they going to survive their business and in a pandemic situation that threatens us all. I encourage everyone on earth to think really carefully about what’s going on in the United States with this fascist movement, which is a very real threat to human survival.

And given that the internet becomes all the more important. You can’t combat fascism without extensive, intensive and consistent, reliable communications worldwide. It’s the only thing we have that can save us. And so the prioritization of the protection of expansion of the internet has to be part of the plan, everybody’s work and has to be foremost in everyone’s consciousness as we confront this looming threat.

Ana: What would you say as advice to someone who wants to help with this democratisation, collectivization of the internet? How to plug in, how to start, how to join?

Alfredo: Well, they can join us. Go to and then click the join thing and join. That’s one thing to do. There really is a lot of stuff out there from a tech point of view, mailing lists and websites.

If they’re already working on a co-op or, you know, interested in starting a co-op the networks that I dedicated to co-ops, you know, include the Solidarity Economy Network. Networks like that are very valuable resource for learning about it.

You know, I spend my time all day long answering questions like that from people who are interested. I don’t hide from anybody except people I owe money to. My emails, one word is mayfirst, You are welcome to email me, and I, you know, I’ll be more than happy to speak with you about what you’d like to do and what I think everyone else is doing, you know, and how it all fits in. That’s the best advice I can give. I guess

Ana: What about people who are interested in cooperativism as a whole? One problem I see, as someone who has come from again, quote unquote, traditional corporations, is that I feel like we were brought up to say like, well, you go to college and then the way you get a job is that you go to these job boards and then you send your resume and then that’s how you get a job, but that’s not how you become involved in co-ops. So what advice do you have?

Alfredo: Well, I mean, the first thing that you have to do is to decide what, what you want to do, what you’re interested in. There has to be particular kinds of interests that you have, particular kinds of business, for lack of a better word that you might be interested in services or products that my jive with your development or where you want to go.

Just as I invited people to email me, there are people throughout the co-op movement who specialize in steering people in particular directions at every info number at all of the networks. You have all these different kinds of cooperative, particularly the sort of progressive cooperative networks. And there are always information numbers. But you know, also you can do Google searches for particular cooperatives that are working in areas you’re involved in. And there are a lot of those kinds of areas.

It’s really, really simple. I mean, it’s really actually simple. It’s much more complicated to carry on, but it’s simple to start. What I would always advise people is when you’re working in interest in the cooperative spaces, think first about what you actually can contribute, not what you want to get out. What do you know? You know, and it’s okay to say, I don’t know much of anything, but that’s the first place.

Do you have skills that you can that you can offer to particular people, et cetera, et cetera, what do you know? And then search for co-ops that work in areas that may have affinity with what you know, and then email them, because they will email back. They will get in touch with you. They’re always looking for people to talk with and to involve.

And you know, all you have to say is you email and say I’m such and such, I have such and such a background, I’m interested in working in co-op area, I’m interested in your cooperative, is there some place I can go, is there somebody I can talk to, you know, et cetera. And they will almost always get back to you respectfully and attentively because they’re always looking for people who support them. That’s part of the mission. So that’s one thing I would do.

The main thing in the co-op world is you got to invert it. You’re not talking here about what a company can do for you. That’s not the way you do it, because that’s the way you do it in corporations.

How much can I make? What kind of salary, babababa? You can’t think like that. In the co-op world it’s about what do I bring to the co-op, what skills do I have that I could contribute to this particular cooperative effort? Because it’s really not about getting richer, because you’re not going to get rich.

Essentially it’s about building the co-op and building a structure that’s sane, that’s sustainable and that’s really productive. You can really, you know, you can actually feel good about a day’s work. You could actually have done something that has contributed to the, to the human race, which is a gift in and of itself.

So, I mean, that’s how you start. It’s a mindset, I think, more than anything. And we do get, I mean, I’d say from personal experience, we do get people saying I want to help out. Okay. Fine. First of all, are you a member? Join, that’s one way you can help out.

And then second of all, here’s the address of the staff member who runs the technology group that meets periodically, on a monthly basis or every two weeks here at May First and involves all people interested in the technology part of our work. Join that if you’re about technology. While the movement work, okay, here, here are the emails of our members who are involved in the particular area about that. Go email them and see what kind of stuff you can do together. They’re always looking for people to work with them. That’s how we do it here, but we have a very specific mindset and very specific approach because we are a movement organization.

That’s generally the general advice that I would give anyone, trying to get involved.

Ana: Amazing. That sounds like good advice. And thank you for offering to answer people’s emails too. That is also a gift, you know, of your time and your experience.

Before we wrap up , is there anything else that you would like to share? Something that you wish I would have asked you about, but I didn’t.

Alfredo: No, you’ve asked everything, but the one thing that I would share with anyone listening to this is, when you using the internet, you got to think about what you’re actually doing. Don’t just take it for granted. Understand that for one thing, the hardware, software you’re using is the work of literally tens of thousands of people, that’s captured in that.

And that you’re effectively contributing to by using it and testing it. But also that when you’re on the internet and your computer, you’re communicating with a network of billions of people, literally. Extraordinary interaction that’s taking place for the first time in human history. It may seem silly to ask people to stop for a second and consider that, I think it’s really important. I mean, you know, people consider it a minor thing. I think it’s really important to do that whenever you’re on the internet, just stop for a second and realize that you are now part, you are being part of the largest human interaction in human history. And what that means for you right now, this second and what it means for the human race in the future.

And so I would, you know, suggest that by doing that, you’re raising your own consciousness about the contribution you’re making to the future of the human race. And that is to be appreciated by the rest of the human race and by you.

So that’s the one thing I would say, other than everything else we talked about. I always tell people that to make sure that no one ever gives up, it’s easy to give up on the world at a time like this. There are many reasons to feel demoralized, but people have to understand, you look at the big picture, the human race has made remarkable accomplishments. Remarkable accomplishments is stunning that are almost impossible to fathom over the years. And in the short time that we’ve been here as the United States, we’ve done a lot of amazing things. But you do amazing things by building movements and working collaboratively together.

That’s the key. Okay. Everything is collaboration with the human race and that’s what the internet makes possible. So that’s what I would say, you know, as a 72 year old guy to everybody else, probably most of whom were younger.

Ana: We all can use a little bit of hope and perspective right now. Thank you very much.

Alfredo: Great talking to you, Ana, I appreciate it.