Open Source Is How We Save Democracy

Updated on January 18, 2019
Heather Travar profile image

Attorney. Unaffiliated politically. Hoping to spread some enlightenment and inspire critical thinking with a strong dose of analysis.

What is open source?

Open source is a community more than a thing. It is the process in which software developers and system administrators share the code they create and allow others to re-use it, modify it, and even profit from it. There are different licenses which may be granted, but the bottom line is that a developer gives code to the world.

The most important thing open source does is to mobilize communities of developers and thinkers. Instead of waiting for a CEO or a banker or a senator to tell us what scraps we may receive, the community creates what people want and need. And why not? There's no reason to rely on people at the top, who we falsely believe are smarter, harder working, or are just magically better than us. We are all capable and, as a community, we possess great abilities.

Github

Github is one platform for sharing open source code. In my account, I have some short, original scripts and code others allowed me to use.
Github is one platform for sharing open source code. In my account, I have some short, original scripts and code others allowed me to use. | Source

Why Give it Away for Free?

Why would any developer work hard in their off hours and just give away their code for free? Because the open source community believes in sharing things that better everyone, especially when many people would not have access to those things otherwise.

For example, as a programming student, I could not have possibly afforded a subscription to RedHat, which I needed to learn system administration. Fortunately, RedHat offers not one, but two free operating systems. Why? Because RedHat is built on Linux, a free operating system that runs most of the world. (What runs on or is based on Linux? Your refrigerator. Your Android phone. Your Apple computer. Your really expensive iPhone.) Rather than just make a profit based on a completely free operating system, RedHat gives back to the community by offering these two completely free operating systems.

As a result, not only does RedHat contribute to the community, but it also receives, in return, professional code. That's right. Developers work on the code for free and RedHat then uses it in the business to make a profit. Crazy?

Yes, it sounds crazy until you realize that everyone benefits.

On the other hand, I was unable to learn anything about Apple's operating system. Apple provided neither free Apple computers to the school nor free virtual machines. So how did we learn about system administration on Apple computers? We looked at pictures in a book.

In other words, if you want to learn system administration for Apple, you must first cough up the money to buy one of their phones or computers because that's the only way to practice on their operating system.

Who Cares if a Student has to Buy an Apple Computer?

Typically, students can't afford a lot, either because they're young or because they're older and juggling tuition and a mortgage. Either way, for students to learn, it's important for communities to contribute to their learning experience.

When Apple refuses to do that, Apple is saying that only people with money can learn how to program and run Apple products.

Apple is saying that only certain people are entitled to opportunities. Not exactly a shining example of democracy.

What does Apple have to do with Democracy?

Not only is it more than slightly annoying that Apple is built on a free product, Linux, yet refuses to help students learn for free, but it hurts democracy.

When I volunteered on the Bernie Sanders campaign, we connected largely through technology. Without technology, I would never have joined the campaign effort in another state or assisted a volunteer in a different part of the country.

Technology is how we can begin to reintroduce democracy to the United States. But no one can do that if every piece of software costs hundreds of dollars.

We can do it, however, if people create quality software and distribute it for free.

RedHat and Open Source

Read more about open source.
Read more about open source. | Source

Capitalism will Fall

Capitalism will fall, corporations will go bankrupt. We can't have people just giving things away for free. Right?

Wrong.

That's the beauty of capitalism. Creativity can find new, ethical ways to make money.

RedHat is a prime example. Their code is built, to a significant degree, on work freely contributed by developers. Redhat gives back to the community and manages to make money via its subscription service. So, yes, it can work. And, no, capitalism will not fall.

Exactly How Does This Save Democracy?

First, by opening resources to the public, we enable more people to learn and produce an income. If you're worried about making rent, you don't have the bandwidth to join your citizens advisory council. Opening resources enables more people to participate in the democratic process.

Second, by sharing resources, we multiply exponentially our ability to create new technology which we can share in political campaigns and in government's daily operations. For example, we currently have only two competitive political parties. The danger of a dictatorship is ever present as a result. But with open source, the possibility that a viable third, fourth or even fifth party could tackle government becomes more likely because millionaire contributions to a party are no longer needed in order to have the best technology.

Third - and this is the really important part - we awaken to the fact that we, the people, can run political campaigns, citizen advisory groups, and run for political positions, even if we don't play golf at the country club every Sunday.

Money has become a requirement to running for office and participating in government. But if the community bands together and shares ideas and information freely, this will no longer be the case. The likelihood that people will be represented by a peer who understands and cares about their needs then increases.

We, the People

Democracy is not voting at the polls alone. In fact, if you first got involved in the 2016 Presidential Election at the polls, your vote was extremely ineffective and irrelevant. Many decisions were made for you before you ever got to the polls. Being involved early and at a grassroots level makes all the difference.

Did Bernie win the election? No. He didn't even win the primary. But he ran his campaign like an open source community and his supporters continue to mobilize in support of issues even years after the primary.

Open source is about participation in your community. No, you don't have to learn programming or system administration. The point is that we begin to change our mindset that only certain people deserve certain opportunities. When people realize that, together, they can create and do, they will create and do in political campaigns, in the daily life of government, and in the oversight of government.

Open source provides some of the practical services we need and, most importantly, the ideology that we, the people, are the ones who run the government.

This is how open source will save democracy.

To learn more about open source, read this article from OpenSource.com.

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