HackMeet: First Impressions

October 16th, 2011

HackMeet is a two-day “unconference” of West coast activists, hackers and artists exploring where technology and resistance meet. I just completed my first day and just wanted to share my first impressions. More tomorrow.

I was first struck by how strong a presence social anarchists had at the event. Next to books on programing languages and cryptology were books on Marxism and the coming insurrection. Apparently the event was specifically an anarchist hacker conference not just a hacker conference. So it’s an interesting crowd, with a lot of the same faces from the OccupySF crowd downtown.

The event is being hosted at Noisebridge, which is an award winning anarchist educational hackerspace in San Francisco. It’s a high tech creative workshop where even the soda machine takes bitcoins. Noisebridge and HackMeet are both non profit operations run by donations. On site they have arts and crafts, a dark room for photography, a machine shop, a laser cutter, 3D printers and a full kitchen. The food for the event was provided by Foot Not Bombs. Noisebridge is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and available to everyone for free.

Most of the actual presentations were too high tech for me. I’m just not savvy enough to know what a secure sockets layer is or what practical anti-forensics means. By far the most interesting presentation for me was one called “Storyfight: How to win a war of narratives against the U.S. government” given by Rainey Reitman, the activism director from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Although the discussion centered around cyber activism it could easily be applied to any form of activism. She stressed the importance of not allowing the government narrative of framing something as a cyberwar or an infowar because once you allow war metaphors to dominate the narrative it legitimizes the overreach of government and the limiting of civil liberties.

The conversations I had with the regular attendees were also really interesting. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever talked economics with social anarchists and they actually included government regulations in their critique and even though they wanted to call what we have today “capitalism” they acknowledged that it’s not a free-market. It might be that being a hacker anarchist puts one in opposition to the government more often than a regular anarchist. There was also a sense in which being a hacker and an anarchist was a natural fit, and being a hacker in and of itself was seen as being part of a political culture because the Internet itself is a realm of decentralized autonomous networks, not a realm of hierarchies.

About the Author: Davi Barker

In grade school Davi refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn't understand what it meant. He was ordered to do as he was told. In college he spent hours scouring through the congressional record trying to understand this strange machine. That's where he discovered Dr. Ron Paul. In 2007 he joined the End The Fed movement and found a political home with the libertarians. The Declaration of Independence claims that the government derives its power “from the consent of the governed." He does not consent.