DREAMtech: Skill Sharing, Networked Collaboration, and People Power in the Dreamer Movement

DREAMtech: Skill Sharing, Networked Collaboration, and People Power in the Dreamer Movement

From November 30 to December 2 of 2012, the national organization for undocumented “Dreamers” United We DREAM (UWD), held a congress in Kansas City, Missouri in order to determine the next steps for the Dreamer Movement. The event was held at Kansas City’s enormous convention center located in the Downtown Area. The theme of the congress was “Dream Warriors,” in order to acknowledge the hard work and struggle among Dreamers in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. With over 600 attendees, the UWD congress was a mix of Dreamer veterans, who have been organizing in the movement for years, and their documented allies. But most importantly, the event welcomed a new generation of undocumented youth from all over the nation (and world) who would carry the Dreamer Movement forward. There were several different components to the congress: welcoming events that outlined the purpose of the congress, countless workshops on a variety of issues related to the movement, discussions about how to frame the struggle moving forward, and elections for new leadership in UWD. The main reason for my attendance, however, was DREAMtech, a proposed national network of tech-activists and media makers in the Dreamer Movement that would harness shared learning and collaborative creation in order to crowdsource skills in the movement. In partnership with UWD tech-activist Celso Mireles, we held the first ever DREAMtech information session during an informal lunch meeting.

Using an SMS alert system to disseminate updates and relevant information to Congress attendees, Celso Mireles sent out the following message on the morning of December 2: “UWD Online Team & our MIT partners invite you for a DREAM Tech lunch to talk about technology use in the movement. Text ‘Dream Tech’ to 877877 for the location.” Close to 15 people attended the info session. Despite the challenges of a slow public internet connection and the lack of a projector, Celso and I were able to introduce participants to the idea of DREAMtech and keep them engaged. Celso began by remarking on the great work that Dreamers across the country have been doing in terms of technology use and media creation: the use of Twitter for updates, Facebook for outreach, Youtube/video projects, online webinars around Deferred Action, and even the SMS alert system being used at the congress. However, Celso also underscored the challenge of accessing new media and technology in the Dreamer Movement due to a general lack of monetary resources, citing how the software development of “apps” costs tens of thousands of dollars.

While the movement may generally lack monetary funds, largely because of the limited work opportunities granted to undocumented immigrants, the strengths and abundances of the movement were constantly reiterated. Specifically, the sheer people power of literally tens of thousands of Dreamers across the nation is its greatest advantage. Taking this power into consideration, I highlighted how other movements used crowdsourced collaboration in order to do amazing things with media. First, I mentioned Occupy Wall Street and the collaborative approach through websites like Occupy Together and Occupy Research. I specifically discussed the working spaces of “hackathons” and how they permitted networked collaboration across geographic space in order to create projects and meet specific needs of the movement. I also covered recent hackathons among “Hurricane Hackers” at MIT, which used and created media platforms as a means of aiding in crisis response. Furthermore, I explained how such spaces could be inclusive of varying degrees of experience and technological resources, citing how hackathons were not only for “hackers” and how even low-tech cell phones could be used to make profound change. The DREAMtech participants were engaged by the examples I showed, providing much commentary and feedback, and we then moved on to hear opinions about the proposed network.

In general, people reiterated that the Dreamer Movement could greatly benefit from a collaborative network like DREAMtech, especially considering four major factors: the massive number of Dreamers around the nation, the dispersed nature of the movement across geography, a general lack of monetary resources, and the tech-savviness of Dreamers. Celso and I moved the conversation forward by asking people about their experience with technology and media. Our quick “show of hands” survey of the room reaffirmed both the need and “perfect fit” of DREAMtech in the movement. There was a wide range of experience in the room, from people who had little experience but wanted to get involved, to online organizers who used social media, to IT people and computer programmers. Following our closing remarks and the sharing of Twitter “handles” on a sheet of butcher paper, Celso and I distributed a survey to participants. Celso and I were impressed that the majority of participants were able to complete the online survey using only their cell phones, which speaks to the power of mobile technology. Some of the survery results can be seen below. Finally, we promised to keep in touch with those present at the meeting, and Celso and others at MIT held the first DREAMtech Google “hangout” in December.