How Practicing Liberation Built Futurist Lenses at the Internet Freedom Festival

By May 16, 2019 Blog

When IFF asked me to co-host the Internet Freedom Festival, I wondered what I could possibly contribute to an un-conference that centered human rights activists, digital organizers, and communities of freedom defenders that were working on solving complex world problems. This year was a hard one: we witnessed our comrades in Venezuela and Zimbabwe go through state repression, media blackouts and censorship, while activists in India were tracking the Hindu fundamentalist ruling party BJP and their strategies to win another election through corruption and manipulation of technology. Activists across the world were looking for answers, and over 1,000 of them gathered in Valencia, Spain for the fifth anniversary of the Internet Freedom Festival. I told myself this opportunity to learn would be guided by depth and spaciousness — some years answer, and others pose questions.

I see the Internet Freedom Festival as futurist space. The work we do across movement — whether we are defending human rights, organizing for digital rights spaces, protecting freedom of speech — are all ways that we are practicing living into a new future together. We are leaning into the hope and possibility that another world is indeed possible — and we are building the systems to replace old ways that do not work anymore. We need each other right now. If there’s one thing that we’re learning from the rise of authoritarianism globally, we are learning how urgent it is for us to create authentic, deep, critical connections. We are learning how taking it slow, focusing on the things we can change, and how being in authenticity can facilitate transformation.

I opened Adrienne Marie Brown’s Emergent Strategy to map out the different systems and beliefs to cultivate for frontline defenders who are often told to solve issues without resources, institutional support, and a container for the emotional turmoil it requires to dismantle oppressive structures of oppression. Some values to highlight:

  • We need adaptation and interdependence to create more possibility.
  • We need collaborative models that centered the fractal, to be able to witness how the small feeds the larger work we are doing.
  • We need decentralization to lean into new ways of doing the work.

We shared Theories of Change, and thought about the issues that required us to examine people’s hearts and minds, that lead to change behaviors and habits, and eventually our cultures and structures.

Transformation is the work of iteration — of constantly doing something enough times to make a habit, and inevitably cultures will change. To dream of this, I designed Liberation Practice sessions throughout the week in the Library. The Library at Las Naves, as you may know, is an open space, where people are working on their laptops and chatting with friends they haven’t seen in years. Consequently, over two dozen people joined these sessions everyday, while dozens listened in on what people were dreaming about when it came to transforming our work. We asked the hard questions: how do we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we are fighting for?

We had fruitful dialogue across communities — developers from Italy shared stories of issues in collectives, and how hard it was to plant the seeds of transformation with people who weren’t willing to engage in difficult conversations. A feminist organizer from Ethiopia talked about the impossibility of self care in an urgent work culture that responded to trauma in real time, with little time to engage in transformation, since the conditions to hold that process were not created. People from all walks of life were curious about power and our socialization around change, and I shared tools for power mapping, designing action plans, and self care assessments for a community model to care and transformation. Practicing liberation is a practice — so there are lessons in the iterations, there are feelings of discomfort and powerlessness, and there are values that guide the hard work of embodying a new practice. The practice of changing communities and ourselves requires us to think of a future where the systems that don’t serve us, don’t exist anymore, and we start from there. Futurism requires us to dream from that possibility.

Below are resources that can help guide your process of transformation.

Tools for Transformation:


Self Care Resources:


Sharmin Houssain, IFF’s Co-Host and Community Health Lead. Network Coordinator at the Social Transformation Project, and Digital Security Trainer with Equality Labs.

Also published on the Internet Freedom Festival Community Stories Medium Publication.