Riseup.net was born out of the WTO protests in Seattle. Or, the original Riseup people had the moxy and pluck to start Riseup after being inspired during those protests. Or something like that. It’s hard to remember the exact time and place that folks turned from talking about creating internet tools for activists to acting on it. If you go to mail.riseup.net, you will see our name cut out from a huge sun puppet that marched all over Seattle in 1999.
Riseup wasn’t the first project of its kind, and it won’t be the last, and from the very beginning we were talking and learning from other collectives doing similar work. When you are strange, i.e. computer geeks with radical politics, it’s important to have friends who understand your geek-speak and your anarcho-heart. For a couple of years, Riseup was run off of one box in one house, and it made a lot of noise and was ‘just as reliable as hotmail’ (that’s what it said on our website.) We were providing email for a handful of people, and all of them knew someone who knew us.
Then we had a couple of boxes in a couple of friend’s basements. This led to many a midnight run to go fix these computers. We even got into a car wreck at 1 AM on one such jaunt. In those days, Riseup needed tons of work to keep going, and we didn’t know if it was worth all the hassle. We were volunteering full-time for the project, and it could seem pretty bleak, especially at 1 AM, sitting inside a totaled car. Slow and steady wins the race! Social change doesn’t happen overnight, and we are in it for the long haul.
Eventually, we found a secure, temperature controlled, rat-proof lair for all of our computers. This was around the time when our collective grew bigger and stronger, and more people joined up and brought their smarts and hearts to the project.
We now have legal knowledge, media savvy, and education chops to go along with our battletested hacking skills. We provide lots of email and lists, and are always working to make everything way more secure. We practice all kinds of mutual aid with other tech collectives worldwide. We are working on Crabgrass, a social organizing platform built on free software, because we think “myface” sites are pathetically limiting and insecure, and they sell us out short just to make a quick-click buck.
So this is our story, at least one of them, and maybe why it’s interesting is because some people had an idea and made something new and useful in the world. Riseup has never been well funded, or had a lot of people involved in it, so if we can make something, so can you. And you, and you, and you, and before you know it, maybe things will start to get better.