The Squaring of our Lives (Les Quadratures de nos Vies)
OpEd by Jérémie Zimmermann. 10 years after co-founding La Quadrature du Net, 4 years after leaving full-time coordination and representation to progressively take distance, Jérémie quits the organization today by resigning from his membership.
To my comrades of past, present and future adventures,
When we created La Quadrature du Net 10 years ago, we took on the crazy bet to create an action platform to contribute to defend fundamental freedoms online that would take the shape of a "non-structure". A bunch of friends behind a common banner, sharing ideas and certain forms of inspiration and experience, to learn together and invent striking and irreverent modes of action, to surprise and be where we were not expected. An adventure that early on provided visibility, support and recognition.
Right from the beginning our actions focused on legislative dossiers to document them before anything else, and with them the corruption of the political decision-making process and the influence of industrial lobbies. It was also to have a chance to carry concrete proposals to the highest levels. There is nothing to regret from these tactics, moreover it is clear that some of them still deserve to be carried out today, if only for their potential for political awakening.
This being said, quite a few of us got tired of documenting the corruption of legislative and political processes that echo in many other domains: environment, energy, finance, rampant militarization, food safety, etc. Topics about which many share the same unease when political actors renounce their power and their duties in order to give in to industrial groups and their interests, and on which many of us are left with no reason to be optimistic and thinking that there is "nothing we can do".
Right from the beginning as "five guys in a garage", our methods of action relied not on representation but on capacitation: providing means, tools and discourse enabling to understand in order to get mobilized and take part in these processes. On participating rather than consuming. We were as much "La Quadrature" as one active part of a myriad of actors, individuals and structures participating in our actions and relaying them, gravitating all around, often beyond borders. A few rare resounding victories along the way illustrated the explosive nature of such unpredictable, informal and ad-hoc networks of networks, when they emerge in the right conditions.
During more than 4 years we had neither office nor formal structure nor bank account, but a quick consensus process among a small number of trusted individuals and meager compensations for salaries. Precarious conditions carrying a certain form of violence in addition to the one inherent to our political fights, associated to very high standards we held ourselves to, leading us sometimes to make mistakes I bear a great share of responsibility for (I hope to have understood and learned from most... please contact me if you think it wasn't the case).
Five years ago, to accompany my inevitable burn-out leave, we made the rational choice of the institutionalisation of La Quadrature du Net, in order to make it evolve and survive in a sustainable way and as an attempt to protect its participants. I believe today that no one could have imagined then what this decision would bring in terms of changes that would radically alter our ways of organizing, dreaming, acting and living together.
After a progressive distancing, administrative processes finally got me out of La Quadrature. It seems to me that budgets, reports, and especially recruitment ("human resources"!), management and other more or less dehumanizing processes are the norm of every institutionalized structure, their essence. With them come the meetings, the forming of groups and sub-groups, controlled flows of information, internal conflicts, etc. A number of these constraints and problems probably existed already, and are maybe inherent to every group that evolves with time and its number of participants. I nevertheless think that they got amplified over time, appearing more and more as inevitable.
Anyway, what we witnessed as characteristics of these cold political, administrative or industrial institutions that we were fighting against became a growing part in our microscopic bunch, with their load of harsh feelings and pain... while in the meantime the structure would appear from the outside as better behaved, more predictable, more "presentable", more compatible with becoming a "good client" for the media, a "partner" for public authorities craving for the veneer of democracy.
It appears to me today that these institutional parameters and constraints are in reality a frame imposing organisational modes that considerably limit our human and tactical capacities. As I witnessed in many places along the years, sometimes the structure becomes a dominating priority for its members, to the point that its administration and continuation consumes an essential part of their life... Life which - with all its implications of differences, contradictions or even sometimes conflicts - is nevertheless the base we need to maintain a capacity to invent, take risks, but even more importantly to dream, to have fun and be ourselves. Without this it seems unthinkable to me that we could ever be the fulfilled actors of any deep form of change.
We are now facing challenges that were almost unthinkable 10 years ago; evoking them then would have made us sound like lunatics. The consolidation of data giants into empires, in collusion with military or intelligence agencies, pushes the infiltration of surveillance and control capitalism into all layers of our world, including the political, symbolic and affective ones. This corruption creeps in in resonance with the global rise of new forms of fascism imposing from on us deep self-questioning to upgrade our strategies, interconnect them beyond our horizons and (re)invent our modes of action.
Many of us conserve this hope that free/libre software - belonging to all as common good - along with decentralized services and communications - staying under our control - and end-to-end encryption - offering a potential haven of trust and intimacy - are the key to an ethical use of technology enabling everyone to understand, decide and organize by themselves. We must encourage the use of these technologies, take part in their development and promote them while asking ourselves questions about the hardware on which they run and its control.
Yet, we may also have to upgrade our thinking and acting upon these topics by considering first their political and ethical aspects, patiently deconstructing the blissful techno-optimism of the early 2000s and its vision of technology that could be "neutral", "apolitical", or justified by comfort or "fun" alone; to think and make techno-politics of resistance to oppression. This being said, it becomes clear to many of us that these aspects alone cannot suffice to contain the systemic problems the world is facing today.
I don't want to discourage anyone and I am glad that some of La Quadrature's actions exist as a part of the essential diversity of tactics. I respect the individuals who compose it along with their commitment. A number of them are and will remain, through all these shared experiences and the rest, my dear comrades.
I just want to remind everyone who followed and supported us, who contributed their energy, their presence, their strength and their intelligence, that the world is still one to invent and to (de/re)construct.
I wish us all to experiment with forms of life and organisation allowing us to find each other by affinity and where structures would be tools that we create or destroy overnight according to our needs; to invent means of action adapted to each moment, out of passion, joy, and for the lulz; to share knowledge and experience in all directions while respecting and fostering our diversities in order to learn from them; to regularly put all of this and ourselves in question, in a benevolent and positive way, in order to learn from our mistakes and the past.
I also wish us to live while liberating ourselves from the pressure of institutions and administrative or contractual constraints and to never let ourselves be crushed under the weight of structures that would have taken so much importance that we wouldn't even dare acting without them.
Thanks for all we shared, and for all we still have to invent, experiment and share together!