AMC Session Inspiration: “Collaboration with Github and Git”

The Allied Media Conference is a space to come together to explore the practice of “media-based organizing,” which is any collaborative process that uses media, art, or technology to address the roots of problems and advances holistic solutions towards a more just and creative world.

As we gear up for AMC2017, we are excited to take a look back at some highlights of last year’s conference. We hope the ideas and creative strategies explored in the interview below encourage you to propose a session for AMC2017!

Last year, one of your favorite sessions was ‘Collaboration with Github and Git’, which introduced the basics of collaborative website development to folks of all backgrounds and knowledge levels. Read our interview with facilitators Libby Horacek and Cassie Moy, and get inspired to submit a session idea of your own for AMC 2017!

Github and Git AMC2016
Participants in a session at AMC2016. Photo by Ara Howrani.

How did you get involved with the AMC and the Community Technology and Independent Media Track?

Libby: Cassie and I work at a small, worker-run software consulting company called Position Development, and a couple of our coworkers had been to the AMC before. We wanted to go as a company, but we didn’t just want to attend, we wanted to contribute something, so when I heard that there was going to be a technology track I thought that could be a perfect way to contribute. As a company, something we really care about is working on the technical infrastructure for organizations, like other workers co-ops, that we know and love. We considered what AMC was looking for with this track and what we could offer, brainstormed a lot of ideas, and took them to the track organizers.

Cassie: The topic that ended up being accepted was something that I have some experience teaching, which was great. We wanted to have a deep familiarity with the topic of our session, and GitHub and Git are tools that we use as software developers every day. GitHub is also pretty accessible as far as software tools go, so it seemed like a great way to bridge the gap between a technical and non-technical audience. I really enjoy teaching beginners to get involved with GitHub and with technical tools in general in ways that percolate back to the communities that we want to see make use of it.

Why was it important to present on Github and Git at the AMC?

Cassie: As developers, we do a lot of very interdisciplinary work, where we borrow skills and tools from other fields and bring them to causes that we care about. Git can be very intimidating because it’s aimed at a developer audience, even though it can absolutely be used by people who are not ‘technical’ and not developers. So we wanted to find a way to make this free tool useful for people who normally might not have anything to do with software.

Git can be very intimidating because it’s aimed at a developer audience, even though it can absolutely be used by people who are not ‘technical’ and not developers.

Libby: A lot of activists in many different movements are looking at how they can use technology to get their message out and have an impact. Github is a great way to collaborate and share the work that you’re doing, especially when you’re working virtually with people spread out across many different locations. There’s actually a workshop similar to this taught by the people at City Hall Occupation, as an introduction to tech tools. We thought it was really important to help people at the AMC understand how they could use these tools for whatever kind of organizing or media work that they’re doing.

GitHub gives you a lot of tools to be able to contribute to other people's projects and open up your project to being contributed to by other people. It's also a way to be radically transparent with what you're working on (if you want; you can pay for private projects, too). It's mostly used by software developers, but we think it should be used by more people! We think it could be really helpful in things like developing community-sourced curriculum or resources. For example, a DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity is a great open source project that has its code and content on GitHub.

What were some highlights from the session?

Libby: The session was structured in a way that leaned heavily on the AMC Presenter Guidelines, which really helped us out as first time presenters. We started by explaining what the tool behind Gitbub—Git—is, then introduced Github itself and got people to set up accounts and work together to put up a website.

At the end of the session, I was happy that people seemed to really understand the uses and benefits of Git, and how they could use it for their own activist work. For example, one participant was interested in working with open data, another was doing independent radio at the Trumbullplex in Detroit, another was interested in using mapping software for journalism, and another participant was working in IT at an alternative high school.

Cassie: Something I’m pretty proud of is that it seemed like no one got lost. It can be hard if you’re teaching really specific technical skills to ensure that no one is left behind. But during the session everyone was really on board and open-minded about us feeling our way through our first workshop. The people who were more technically adept, like some programmers in the audience, were cool about us taking it very slow. It was really amazing to see people make their first contributions to an open source software project. One participant contributed a page, and said we had “demystified” GitHub for them. It’s a big deal! I’m so happy that people did a thing that is now on the internet for everyone to see, that they can point to and say that they’ve done it and could recreate it. I’m proud of that.

We were also psyched to work with a wide range of ages at once - the age range definitely spanned a couple decades, and we loved that AMC's Presenter Guidelines told us to get ready for teaching all ages. I think a lot of tech education doesn't think like that, and it was cool to see everyone be able to create an account with GitHub, and be able to edit a website that's live on the internet.

What were the takeaways from the session?

Libby: The most concrete ‘takeaway’ was definitely the website and the Github repository that we made together. People also generated some ideas for continued work on the website, and I’d like to encourage them to keep doing that. The website we made was about the workshop itself, so it has a lot of resources included, like a list of the next steps people can take to continue learning. As far as outside resources go, Open Hatch is a great one for getting started contributing to free software, and Girl Develop It runs workshops in many cities that teach technical skills.

Cassie: We were able to share our experiences, before and after the session, with people who are considering becoming software developers. It was good to talk to people who are currently where I was at two years ago, and tell them, “I know where you’ve been and I am living proof of where you can be”.

What’s next? Has the AMC influenced how you approach this work year-round?

Cassie: One thing we talk about at work now is using language like “obviously” or “clearly” that create divisions and differentials that we don’t want. So teaching this workshop made me much more aware of the language that I use to talk about technical tools and concepts.

I realized that over the years I’ve become blind to a lot of spaces that weren’t accessible. This workshop really helped me rethink our approach to accessibility.

Libby: We’d love to do the workshop again. It’s made me stop taking for granted how complicated the tools that we use everyday really are. There are definitely hidden barriers. I realized that over the years I’ve become blind to a lot of spaces that weren’t accessible. This workshop really helped me rethink our approach to accessibility.

Want more AMC session inspiration? Read our interviews with the presenters of “Babel’s Workshop: Best Practices for Multilingual Events” and “Holding Space.”

We’re coming up on the 19th annual Allied Media Conference, June 15 - 18 in Detroit, and we need your ideas to make this year’s conference the best yet. Artists, designers, technologists, policy advocates, media enthusiasts: we encourage you to submit a session proposal! The deadline to submit your idea is March 12, 2017.

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