I have returned to my normal life after a few intense days at the unMonastery in Matera. #LOTE4 brought, as LOTE does, together a large range of people and individuals who are improving things in their communities and the many challenges that face them. There is really a broad variety of different technical and engineering ideas that can help solve many pressing needs for communities!
Still, whether one thinks about it or wants it, one is always affected by the politics of a given situation. There is, of course, internal politics in the project, but also local, regional, national, European or even global politics, which is largely in the hands of other actors and often seems to be very far away. I tried to make my experiences of the European Parliament useful for other visitors at #LOTE4 by encouraging more interaction with political institutions. Especially in a community which so often restricts its interaction with policy to interaction with governments and civil servants, my hope is that some people now feel more encouraged to speak with directly elected individuals.
Members of Parliament, both at the local and the higher levels of parliaments. Contacting members of parliament can be frustrating. You have no guarantee that they will reply or care. They may not be able to give you active support and bring their own ideas, and it can feel as if you have to pull them rather than engage in a cooperative task. Unfortunately, they are often very busy being asked to steward, advance or support a multiplicity of different initiatives and they end up not having the time to engage closely with all of them. Some actors are also better equipped or resourced to pull the elected officials in a particular direction, and this creates a challenge.
Still, it is my belief that a reasonable, constructive cause for the embetterment of our communities will merit the attention of publicly elected officials and the very least one can do is give a few different elected members of parliament the opportunity to know that they may be rejecting something good.
That said, I wanted to raise a few non-parliament related topics that some of the participants at #LOTE4 reasonably take an interest in: A Munich court recently made a referral to the ECJ about the feasibility of open, free public wifi. An analysis of the referral by the Max Planck Institute’s Martin Husovec is found here: http://www.husovec.eu/2014/10/munich-court-asks-cjeu-about.html
It seems like it might have a big impact on community networks. Intermediary liability rules in the member states are severe in various degrees, and makes life uncertain for those who engage in getting more of their fellow citizens talking with each other. The most heart-breaking story I’ve came across were a group of young, Portuguese students who were trying to improve the lives of people in Lisbon by providing them internet resources in a cheap, voluntary and participatory way. They got stuck on not understanding how or if they would be liable for something and what that liability would entail. They were only planning to provide equipment and technical assistance, but ended up not helping fellow citizens out of fear for the uncertain situation. The result is that fewer Portuguese individuals have access to affordable internet connections.
At #LOTE4, we had representatives of projects who are trying to build community networks in Greece, and invest in community networks in libraries in the UK. All of these actors can be negatively impacted when they are trying to help citizens in otherwise disempowered areas or social groups, if the European Court of Justice is not able to take fundamental issues of citizen participation and human rights into account.
Here, participants can interact with their local authorities and ask them to submit opinions to the European Court of Justice. At the very least, mobilisation of local authorities can help push a national government to make a constructive submissal. Everyone is better off if citizens can participate in building their own, useful infrastructures at the local level, but the political sympathy is likely to be largest at the local level.
I have this idea that it isn’t and shouldn’t be so difficult to interact with politics. It’s not something to avoid, but something to confront and with which to engage. The hard work is finding out how to act in ones own interest, but I hope that if there is anything my experience can provide, it’s the ability to help people figure that out