Recently Johannes Grenzfurthner and Frank Apunkt Schneider of monochrom authored a piece discussing the past, present and future of the hackerspace movement. It's an interesting read, but represents a much different vision of hackerspaces than I share.
When we were getting CCCKC organized last year, I spent a lot of time describing to people the nature of hackerspaces and what they are about. For obvious reasons the European spaces were used to demonstrate what we could achieve. I would occasionally mention that European groups had become politically active. Perhaps I misunderstood what political stances they were taking. If you take this piece to be representative of all organizations (which is probably as much a mistake as the authors make in their interpretation of spaces in America) this isn't exactly what I envisioned.
Lets take the piece bit-by bit.
The history of hackerspaces in the piece is traced back to the late 1960's and 1970's after the hippie movement died off...mostly due to the fact that they realized that they had to eventually get jobs to support themselves and the rejection of the concept with the stomping of George McGovern by Richard Nixon.
The politics of establishing open spaces were meant as explicit statements confronting a capitalist (and in the East: an authoritarian communist) society whose very structure, purpose and operating mode were broadly considered to "alienate humans", to take control of and to modify their basic human needs and relationships.
Now I wasn't around, but I'm not sure that the various movements of the 1960s had as much to do with the confrontation of capitalism as the authors believe. The grammatical kung-fu exhibited by distinguishing communism from authoritarian communism certainly telegraphs the authors' economic perspective. Last time I checked, communism is a command economy. You can't have communism without authoritarianism. Thinking otherwise ignores why communism failed. Go read Animal Farm again.
Thus, the first hackerspaces fit best into a countercultural topography consisting of squat houses, alternative cafes, farming cooperatives, collectively run businesses, communes, non-authoritarian childcare centres, and so on.
This is certainly a fair assessment of the European spaces and they have flourished. As the hackerspace design patters point out, however, turning your space into a squat house is a recipe for failure.
Hackerspaces provided room where people could go and work in laid-back, cool and non-repressive environments (well, as far as any kind of space or environment embedded into a capitalist society can be called laid-back, cool and non-repressive).
I quote this segment only as demonstrative evidence that the authors' perspective is clearly hostile towards capitalism in general. I think it speaks for itself.
The Capitalist system is a highly adaptable entity. And so it isn't surprising that alternative spaces and forms of living provided interesting ideas that could be milked and marketed.
I'm guessing that this is a slight towards some of the projects which have come from NYCResistor such as the Makerbot. Heaven forbid a person would develop something which consumers demand at a hackerspace and then turn it into a way to quit their day job to be creative all the time. Mitch Altman, who I had the pleasure of spending a good deal of time last weekend, is a great example of someone who did just that while giving back to the community through making his plans open source and available to the world. Mitch doesn't exactly strike me as the evil capitalist envisioned by the authors.
Without former political agendas hackerspaces turned into small places that did not really make fundamental differences.
It's the lack of political agenda that enables hackerspaces to flourish...especially in America. We have a shared ideal: We like to make things and push the envelope of technology.
The lovely alternative approach we share should be grounded in such a theory, which is to be read: a political agenda that lends some revolutionary glam to what we are doing on a daily basis making technical gadgets, networking through the world, or utilizing our technological and programming skills.
Actually the last thing we need in America is more politics right now. Such an agenda would do much more harm than good to the hackerspace movement...especially one rooted in such extreme leftist concepts. Something that happened recently underlies why over-politicization is a bad thing.
One of our members mentioned to me early in the year that he had a Gadsden Flag that he wanted to put up in the space. I believe that this is one of the greatest symbols of American freedom and one which had not (at that point at least) been co-opted into a symbol of a specific ideology like the Conservatives had the American flag in prior years. Sure enough, not less than a month later the Gadsden Flag was identified as characteristic of Right Wing Extremists and quickly adopted as the symbol of the Right and the Republican party. No longer was it a symbol of individualism which could be shared by those who advocated a broad interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution (save for maybe the Commerce Clause) and the Bill of Rights (all of them...not just the Second Amendment...not all but the Second Amendment) but was used by conservative protesters who reflect a poor image of both Republicans and Libertarians alike.
But I digress...
Plus, we need to reflect and understand that the hackerspaces of today are under the "benevolent" control of a certain group of mostly white and male techno handicraft working nerds. And that they shape a practise of their own which destines most of the hackerspaces of today. (It is hard to understand that there are hackerspaces in certain parts of the US that don't have a single Afro-American or Latino member.
But we'd like to keep our European smugness to ourselves. We have to look at our oh-so-multicultural hacker scene in Europe and ask ourselves if hackers with a migrant background from Turkey or North-African states are represented in numbers one would expect from their percentage of the population. Or simply count your women representation and see if they make 50% of your members.)
Math is a poor indicator of diversity. True diversity is measured by the mixture of ideas...not by some sort of proportionality of membership to demographic distribution. Trust me...one thing which was actually a written agenda item at one of our meetings was "We need girls." It's not for lack of trying or due to some kind of old-boys club mentality. As far as the European smugness goes, I'm not sure what the rest of this essay is but I'd love to see a full on example of the authors' European smugness. For the lolz.
If we accept the Marxian idea that the very nature of politics is always in the interest of those acting, hackerspace politics are for now in the interest of white middle-class males.
The idea that somehow our hackerspace should conform to Marxist ideas is...well...Marxist. America's hackerspaces have been springing up from the basic tenants of capitalism and free market economic thinking. If there is enough demand for a good or service, than the market will react by creating a supply of said good or service. Clearly there is significant demand for spaces like ours, however it has nothing to do with politics.