About the EDIN Project

The EDIN Project:

Fighting for Economic Democracy in the New Information Age

When people express fears about the Information Superhighway, they usually speak of a world of "information haves" versus "havenots" as if making sure everyone has equal access to Nickolodeon or On-line Home Shopping is the deepest worry. If we take t he metaphor of "highways" seriously, though, we can look back and see that the greatest damage of the concrete highway system was not the split between those who owned cars versus those who did not, but rather the broader social impacts of suburbanization , urban renewal and the destruction of inner-city mixed class neighborhoods. In the same way, the danger of the emerging “Information Superhighway” is not that individuals will be denied access to it but that it will lock out information from entire commu nities and create a system of "intellectual suburbanization." Poor communities will be converted into passive consumers of elite-produced culture, so only the rich will be able to make their voices heard in public discourse. This is particularly a danger because today, few community groups are in cyberspace. As a result, they are not gaining the experience they need to understand what is worth fighting for in the coming public battle over the shape of the information economy. In the next two years, if these groups do not gain the experience and the empowerment they need, the “Information Superhighway” will become a new means of disenfranchisement that endangers our democracy. The Economic Democracy Inofrmation Network (EDIN) Project is an attempt to ensure that community groups are not paved over by the “Information Superhighway.” We are seeking funding in the following areas: Bringing Community Voices to Cyberspace Because most community organizations can't afford to put their information online, their voices are being shut out. The EDIN Project makes sure those voices are heard online by putting their work online for free. Our work with groups ranging from the Los Angeles Manufacturning Action Project (organizing low-wage workers in manufacturing) to the University Conversion Project (to create nationwide resources for campus activists and newpapers) and progressive magazines such as Crossroads are the reason PC Computing Magazine called the EDIN Project one of 29 "Highlights" of the Information Superhighway. Over the next year, we will continue to help groups ranging from the Center for Ethics and Economic Policy to the Teamsters get grassroots voices on the Net at a time when it is growing fast. We've also been at the center of one of the most important fights for justice in California. We broke new ground by helping to organize the fight against Proposition 187 online, using electronic mailing lists and Internet server sites to help organizations across the country map out strategy and coordinate events at a speed that would otherwise have been impossible. The NATION cited this online work as helping activists "lead organizing into the next century." This followed our key support of single-payer health care advocates in creating an on-line archive of health care information , including national info and documents from the 186 campaign.. This year, we will expand our work against the Right's across-the-board attack on working people in California. We will help groups such as the Applied Research Center, the American Friends Service Committee, the Violence Prevention Coalition, and the California Budget Project put information and analysis online on "three strikes", the California anti-affirmative action initiative, and the California budget crisis. Through our Race and the California Economy Project, we will use online resources to coordinate work between the recently-formed Bay Area cross-campus faculty coalition and community groups around these struggles. This way, the work by individual groups--research on the fiscal impact of “three strikes,” sample petitions for resisting the impmentation of Proposition 187, and talking points on the need for affirmative action--are available to groups throughout California. Our work will not only strengthen each of these individual fights, but also tackle one of the central problems facing these movements: helping people see the links between the issues. For example, our online materials will be organized so at the click of a button, someone reading about buget cuts in education could see how the high cost of building prisons was forcing major cuts in education. In doing so, we hope to give people the tools to understand how the disperate pieces of the crisis we face all fit together--and how to fight back against the whole onslaught and not feel overwhelmed. Training for Access Recognizing that the best information in the world on-line is useless if community groups do not have the skills to access the on-line world, the EDIN Project has mounted a broad training program with community organizations in the Bay Area. We have conducted individual computer training for, among others, the Center for Ethics & Economic Policy, the Teamsters, the Los Angeles Manufacturing Project, and the SEIU Western Regional office. We are committed to ongoing direct trainings for community organizations across Northern California Beyond individual trainings, the EDIN Project has helped sponsor a series of group training sessions for community organizations. In February, in association with the Applied Research Center, we oversaw a training conference for sixty community and environmental group leaders on getting on-line and on how to coordinate such on-line work with community-based research work. In December, we brought together thirty Bay Area labor leaders in a similar training in association with UCB's Labor Center to discuss how to use access to face the challenges to labor in the 1990s. In the Spring of 1995, we will be working on a series of trainings with Environmental Justice organizations in association with the Applied Research Center. We plan a number of other group trainings that will also further dialogue around the political issues facing community organizations in the information age. We are also committed to developing written materials and electronic tools to further assist community organizations with which we may not have a chance for direct contact. In 1994 we wrote a pamphlet "Activism On-Line: Getting from Here to There" that discussed both the technical and organizational issues facing community groups that go on-line and distributed copies across thr country. Beyond training people in how to access on-line information, we have worked actively to train organizations in how to make their organization's information available on the Internet. We are developing an extensive set of software tools to make it easier for community groups to convert their own materials into forms that can be put on-line. The simpler and cheaper we can make the tools, the more diversity of voices will be promoted in the on-line world. Communities On-Line The EDIN Project can provide our services to the community because we are located at one of the few public spaces in cyberspace: the University. But corporations and the Right are pressing to privatize or fence off what little public space is left. If this "range war" in cyberspace is lost, most community groups won't be able to afford to put their views online--or at least not on real estate where anyone will notice. The only way to stop this range war is to go on the offensive: to begin a campaign of squatting on public cyberspace before it is taken away forever. The EDIN Project will bundle together an easy-to-use package of computer programs and pamphlets so that faculty and students at other colleges can put community information online at their college without being computer wizards. We will build on the work we have done with community groups around 187, 184, and other Right-wing attacks on California as well as the groups we have worked with through the California Network for a New Economy, a statewide coalition of over 80 environmental, labor, inner city, and other organizations, including groups such as Citizens for a Better Environment, the Center for Economic Conversion, and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. Through these organizations, we will work with regional and national community networks to find local academic partners for Communities Online and to provide support and train community-based trainers. By coordinating these online organizing drives, we will create a virtual public space that builds on the strengths of diverse community groups around the country while creating a coherent system that is easy to use--public space that will be hard to get rid of once it is dug in. Helping People Empower Themselves: Economic Literacy Online We are in the midst of a period of profound economic crisis, a time when most Americans are earning less and feeling insecure about their future. And yet few people feel they truly understand this New Economic Order, so they are locked out as effectively as if they were denied the right to vote. Taking advantage of the new ways of approaching information facilitated by on-line access, the EDIN Project will create on-line tools that give community groups the power to educate themselves, at their own pace, on key economic and social issues. For example, we will develop software programs which will automatically modify on-line documents and link them to online glossaries. In this way, if a refugee advocate was reading an online article that refered to the impact of the peso's deflation on Mexican immigration, they could, by clicking on the word "deflation", read a quick definition and from there check out an article by the Center for Ethics and Economic Policy about the world of currency exchange or a pamphlet by Mexican community organizers about the effect of the peso's deflation on workers in Hermesillio. By giving ordinary citizens and community groups the ability to learn about economics starting from issues that matter to them and starting from their level of economic literacy, this project will turn cyberspace from an interesting hi-tech toy to a tool for self-empowerment. Public Policy And The Information Economy When newspapers and politicians talk about the Information Superhighway, they focus on its effect on individuals and they assume the government should play a limited role. This is a recipe for disaster. Trying to "deregulate" this industry without focusing on what's really going on is likely to be as effective as "deregulating" the S&Ls was. This year, we will continue our work on developing policy for promoting democracy and economic justice in the online world. In the past year, we helped California Assemblyman Tom Bates convene a working group of community members and develop goals around getting state government information on-line. CCER staffers wrote the initial drafts of AB 2451 which in 1994 was the legislative focus of debate on on-line access. While it did not pass last year, it gained significant legislative support and we will continue to advocate for maximum access to state government information. One of our key projects has been our collaboration with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in working to make local government information available to the public on-line. Starting initially as public advocates at ABAG meetings for the fullest access to local government information, CCER has become the key technical consultant for ABAG working with cities to develop government information on-line. Beyond assisting individual cities, we are working to develop standards to integrate government information on a regional level for maximum usefulness for community organizations. Through our network of community organizations, we will keep the pressure on cities to put key local information on-line, from police brutality statistics to prompt notice of the environmental impacts of development. During the next year, we will convene a network of community, union and computer activists to develop a strong voice in California for democratic access to this new technology. We will also begin a new project to study the impact of the Information Superhighway on the Bay Area economy and democracy and how to make sure that "non-tech" workers are not left out of a "Silicon Valley" economy. In all of our policy work, we will highlight the crucial role that the government plays in the Information Superhighway. Government essentially built most of cyberspace, and it will continue to do so through such issues as copyright--which is an attempt to define exactly counts as "property" in cyberspace. We need to learn how to use this crucial government intervention as a leverage point for ensuring that cyberspace serves all people. Center for Community Economic Research 2412 Ellsworth St. #14 Berkeley, CA 94705 (510) 486-1275