Look out, honey, ’cause I’m using technology
Ain’t got time to make no apology
Soul radiation in the dead of night
Love in the middle of a firefight.
Has 2022 been a weird year for you? That’s OK, things are getting way weirder and scarier for everyone — and, historically, for some more than others. If history ended in 1991 (ahem), then we’re perpetually living in its epilogue with no recourse or possibility of justice. Apocalyptic vibes much?
In her terrifyingly prescient MaddAddam Trilogy, speculative fiction writer Margaret Atwood introduces the term, ‘fallow state’:
“Fallow state, the Gardeners would say. They used that diagnosis for a wide range of conditions, from depression to post-traumatic stress to being permanently stoned. The theory was that while in a Fallow state you were gathering and conserving strength, nourishing yourself through meditation, sending invisible rootlets out into the universe.”
In a world of vectorial succubi worse than capitalism, where a badly scripted Bond supervillain with a phallic rocket fixation welcomes fascists to networks which ought to be commons based and peer produced…
…where 80-hour work weeks and bunking in the office are the new normal… who wouldn’t want to “quiet quit” or just flat-out quit and move on? We have to rebel, we have to dance and, as much as we’re able, also rest, gather and conserve strength.
Energy has been unfolding gradually but steadily within DisCO this year. We consciously chose to go on low power mode for a while and prioritize reproductive work and relationality over productivist showiness. 2022 has been marked by extraordinary encounters, serendipitous dialogue and a wider sampling of what the DisCOverse needs to become. Join us for our recap of 2022 as we’re headed in the next orbit. You are cordially invited to come along.
Pump up the Volume — on Listening and Learning
After a period of rest and rescoping, with the indispensable help of our partners, One Project and Open Collective, the DisCO team held a kick-off meeting in late March. We agreed on a revised streamlined working method and maintained our fundamental rhythms of weekly team calls and daily communication. We have since held three more in-person meetings for longer, in-depth conversations about overall mission, vision and priorities, and to plan events; we invited collaborator Ela Kagel of Supermarkt, Berlin to a meeting to discuss the Berlin-based community around DisCO and plan an event and workshop. We initiated the co-design of the proposed African Regional DisCO Network with our colleague Brian Tinoota, heading this section of the project from his home base in Zimbabwe. We also met with our freelance collaborator/potential long-term team member, Kadallah Burrowes, in order to negotiate and envision our strategic and creative collaboration for this year and beyond.
We advanced in building strong, long-term alliances with collaborative partners including the following organizations and projects, each with specific relevance and alignment with DisCO values and missions: Greenpeace International, as a key strategic partner in their Alternative Futures campaign; artist collectives Sporobole and Repaire, bringing DisCO practices and governance to the municipally supported arts sector in Quebec Province (Canada), Circles UBI working with their crypto financial design and UBI to complement existing DisCO value streams, work with Leap Collective in examining the inherent colonial and patriarchal power structures of philanthropy (more about that topic here); Regen Network starting a collaboration in making their materials more accessible and deepening their understanding of the commons; MIT’s Open Collectives and CareHaus projects on DisCO governance for disenfranchised communities in Baltimore, MD, using DisCO to connect and strengthen local economies.
So far, we have hosted or co-hosted several events internationally and participated in many others. We arranged the first in-person Spanish DisCO presentation at EthicHub, Madrid (Spain) and we hosted a workshop at Newspeak House, London (UK). We co-hosted the 6th annual Envisioning Free Space event in Amsterdam (NL) with a full day DisCOThon full of dance, poetry and speculative economic fictions. We participated in events including Regens Unite!; IOT Week Dublin; EU Commission for the European Innovation Area Summit; participated on a panel at the Iklectik Art Lab Festival; took part in the Radical Friends book launch event (the book includes an interview with the DisCO C.A.T.). We attended in-person meetings with: CRAIC (Creative Coops Hackney, site visit and seminar), Institute for the Future of Work, Furtherfield, Ethic Hub, MediaLab Matadero. We hosted an in-person DisCO Journey bespoke workshop for the team of SODAA (London, UK) and participated in online events: Blockchain Socialist Interview; Urban Commons lecture series; Daata.art Twitter live interview.
We also traveled to the US and Canada for in-person events, workshops and meetings towards deeper collaborations in Quebec City (Sporobole, Repaire); Montreal (Chantier de l’économie sociale) Boston (MIT, Sensorica) and Baltimore, MD (Greenmount Coop). This trip led to a road documentary currently being edited (see trailer above). DisCO coop member Sara Escribano taught an in-person course on DisCO to the Youth Initiative Program (YIP) in early October.
African Network lead Brian Tinoota represented DisCO at The AfricaOSH Summit in Cameroon and the Frontiers Symposia on Ethiopia, and introduced the model at an online workshop organized by Njombe Innovation Academy called BUNI Learning Spaces, while Sara spoke about DisCO in a debate panel as part of Ibiza’s CREATEC YOUNG student-focused programme, a month of conferences and events exploring potential intersections between art and technology.
DisCO Journeying with the Seasons
While all of this was taking place, we also had a slower than expected response to our initial iteration of the DisCO Journey. The DisCO Journey is a 7 step peer-learning process for DisCOs to clarify their values, methodologies and governance. The Journey also strengthens ties between DisCOs and informs the direction of the overall DisCO project through continued community input. To respond and course correct, we’re retooling the Journey for better uptake and accessibility. The DisCO Journey is the cornerstone of the DisCO.coop’s current focus and working directions, and the ideas we’re analyzing now, incorporating feedback from our meetings and discussions with a wide variety of communities, on- and offline, is an important process that will result in greater quality. We kept up consistent team communication and evaluation of direct and indirect feedback from the prototyping cohort in the DisCO Journey, to analyze the rate of participation, follow-through and accessibility; we gathered feedback in live workshops and Q&As (including during online events). These findings are being used to co-design the launch of a fully-tooled DisCO Journey in 2023. We have also invited specific feedback from close allies. In addition, we’ve formulated a list of things we’re in the process of exploring and learning at the moment – our own “learning journey” is ongoing.
We reprioritized greater outreach and network building of actual DisCO participation at this earlier stage, while gathering more DisCO Journey participant feedback (e.g. about needs we could not anticipate on behalf of other groups) for the development stages — rather than build tech and other resources without community input. We are also using new narrative-analytical tools and educational/cohort-based approaches as a result of DisCO co-founder Ann Marie Utratel‘s concurrent participation in the Rhizome Fellowship (Culture Hack Labs), as well as a number of other valuable and related learning journeys (eg. Ayni School’s Social Movements/ Movement Ecology course; Advaya’s Rewilding Mythology course; KAOSPILOT’s Learning Arches Design, Earth Activists (Starhawk)’s Social Permaculture course, among others).
We have raised awareness amongst public authorities internationally about the potential of incentivising DisCO-oriented collective entrepreneurship with the EU Parliament (see link above), Quebec Province Chantier, UKRI and through conversation with top public officers, and the city of Amsterdam (EFS event).
Seven Permeable Paths in a Pluriverse of Destinations
During our outreach trips on 3 continents (Europe, US/Canada and various African countries), we considered what might be the best outcomes to achieve for the new solar cycle. Our intentions are to be:
- True to the vision and desired learnings discussed with the community, incorporating adaptations or limitations to ideas discussed at the beginning of the year
- True to the nature and ideals of DisCO as inclusive, caring and visionary
- True to ourselves, this team, our capacities and sensitivities
We’ve identified seven focal directions to explore in 2023. They are:
1: New DisCO Website
We are building a new website with aesthetics and functionality meeting the level of our papers and workshops. This is meant to increase our visibility, enhance our resources, attract more groups to the DisCO Journey and make DisCO resources more accessible. The website will feature cross-links with a new DisCO Wiki for more detailed resources.
2: DisCO Journey Platform & Cohort
We’re actively developing 3 DisCO Journey options (Quick Start; Self-Paced; Cohort [longer term, facilitated, hosted]). We are currently adapting a FLOSS Moodle backend to the DisCO imaginary, closely tying it with our other online resources (wiki, Loomio group, Matrix server, etc).
This year, we’ve been successful with events and community outreach (to our great delight). We need more visual elements (infographics, but also documentary videos). To this end, we have already shot video during visits and workshops. The first of these will be the US/CAN mini-documentary. We see this as a key element because videos can feature real, established communities rather than only the team talking about DisCO; they demonstrate a level of variety and gender/race diversity not often represented in these projects; video as a format is more watchable and fun, not as academic or alienating.
4: DisCO Pink Paper
The development of a Beta DisCO Deck was an important part of our initial 2022 goals, but we have had neither the staff or budget to attempt this. In truth, any tech platform will need a lot more funding to be even minimally feasible and not just abandonware. For us it’s key to coalesce a multi-constituent design community first with a well articulated, pluri-economic vision, and attend to their needs, and include them in the whole process. For this, we spoke before about a separate but tightly interrelated DisCOtech coding collective. Prior to that, an option in line with our current strengths would be to write and reflect about the kinds of technologies we see as aligned with DisCO Principles (including those of Design Justice Network, Feminist Tech Principles and others). Now, with Kadallah Burrowes on the team and the feedback from DJ participants and others, we can finally approach writing the DisCO Pink Paper as a proposal on the tech we want to see created, and as a provocation on technology. Clear articulation of this vision can generate interest for the funding to develop it — like a traditional White Paper, and also directly address and simultaneously critique different tech ambitions in the wild.
5: Fundraising and Sustainability
Fundraising is key for us to achieve our objectives. In short, we need more committed members, not rush team building (having a slower relationship/trust building DisCO ‘dating process’, as we’re undergoing with our latest team member Kadallah Burrowes). It’s also care work for ourselves (see direction 7 below). We aim to co-design our fundraising with other collectives to strengthen our core mission and common goals. It’s also key to note that we wouldn’t be fundraising for the core team only, but given sufficient resources, also for DisCOlarships, a sister ‘DisCOTech’ DisCO, for underprivileged LABS to participate in the Journey, and to also fund projects ourselves. For this we need a clear DisCO.coop vis-a-vis DisCO beneficiaries budget and a transparent pitch we can take to several funders to achieve a common goal. Here we again want to thank our partners at One Project and Open Collective for being so supportive and open to our radical ideas and challenges. Want to chip in? You can do so here.
‘Network’ here refers to our partnership work with other organizations (not funders), and with the communities we reach out to. Some orgs may choose to partake in the DisCO Journey, some may not, but the network is growing and highly valuable. This also includes work in social media and community building in the African Network. This kind of outreach also amplifies the four productive directions (Website, DJ, Films and Pink Paper) and will be done in conjunction with major, amplifying allies (Greenpeace, Regens United, etc). It will also be good to share our in-progress and future videos to see this network embodied with real people and voices.
7: Care is Core
Instead of inflexibly centering on the productive aspects of our work without regard to real human needs, processes and community input, we’ve done well in taking time to heal from the stressful, rushed, insufficient work of recent years and instead, to work more mindfully and from the heart. What has transpired this year feels more honestly centered around care work and more future proof. We are better prepared than ever to concentrate on productive work because we are healthier, haven’t burnt out, and have taken the time to listen to our communities and their various needs, treating them as co-creators not recipients. We can offer this care-oriented ethos to develop it actively as a Principle, but also core component of the DisCO Journey learning.
We Can’t DisCO, if DisCO is Without You
Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.
David Fleming, Energy and the Common Purpose
In the spirit of play, we also describe DisCO as an Economic LARP (Live Action Role Playing Game). Play becomes economic reality when, to paraphrase David Graeber, value isn’t so much about who appropriates surplus value (the working class! The precariat!) but co-determining what value actually is and making our way there. This co-determination takes shape as the lore of the game: the agreements and structures of these economic alternatives. Referring to the David Fleming quote above, each DisCO creates its own game and rules, but always starting from their interpretation of the Seven DisCO Principles with an eye towards federation and compatibility with other DisCOs.
If you want to learn more about DisCO, check out our two publications: If I Only Had a Heart: a DisCO Manifesto (2019) and Groove is in the Heart, the DisCO Elements (2021), our website, socials and other resources.
Our own approach to building DisCO structures and tools is informed by the DisCO principles. Coming soon to DisCO will be a new, revamped website to make the model more instantly accessible with FAQs, media resources, Governance Modeling tools and an updated DisCO Journey. In the near future we want to facilitate hack-a-thons, dance parties, collaborative and remote art making, mail-art, contemplative computing and techno-spiritual practices.
As a practice-oriented framework aimed at small groups wanting to federate and make some noise together, DisCO derives its power from all participating communities who may want to dress up as DisCOs, while maintaining and boosting their own original aims and desires.
To close, we have an appeal. DisCO needs more DisCOs. Please come visit DisCO.coop to learn more and share with others who you think may find a good fit with our immodest proposals. If your group is ready, we invite you to dream, dance, and co-develop the tools to build economic counterpower together.
Are you down for the care and the work we need to escape from an Elon-methane-fueled cyberpunk apocalypse? Good, then begin an affectionate epistolary relationship with our new Cooperative, Distributed Powermonger: the DisCO CAT .