In our new Zoom ecosystem, it's been exciting to attend conferences I wouldn't have been able to attend in "real" life. Most of my social life exists online during this pandemic, especially with Maryland's heat wave. When I'm not glued to my computer, I'm walking around in the cooler hours of the day in Baltimore, hoping I'll run into people, but usually finding solitude in hidden gardens instead.
I sat down outside the other day with some zines that I had ordered from the Allied Media Project, whose conference is coming up tomorrow. AMP "cultivates media for liberation" and is "a network of people and projects, rooted in Detroit and connected to hundreds of other places across the globe." In partnership with Detroit Community Technology Project and the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, they published two beautiful zines under the name "Opening Data."
The zine is the quintessential medium for a grassroots publication. Cheap, efficient, and kind of funky, it gets unusual messages out in print to the people. This past week, I attended DC Zinefest online, usually an in person favorite of mine. The Zoom event included a whirlwind presentation that told a 50-year history of the DC punk scene through zines. There was also a delightful art book workshop with Diasporan Savant Press who talked about creating communities of sobriety through zines for Black nonbinary folks. So basically, zines are for cool people.
Opening Data speaks to a scene as alternative as punk or Black/TGNC/sober. In a world where big data is for tech normies, and often quite harmful/biased, these zines promote an alternative community-oriented vision for data. The first issue opens by presenting the City of Detroit's Open Data Portal Initiative as a site for collaboration between the people and the government. However, as Kat Hartman points out later in the zine,
"Unfortunately, even when data is open, it still often remains highly abstract and difficult to translate into action on a human scale."
Hartman, and other contributing writers to Opening Data Volume 1 argue that people are the experts of their own communities and have knowledge typical researchers do not,
"While "expert-driven" research does indeed impact the world, the majority of the world never sees it. There is a resulting passivity on the part of many people when research is done to them rather than by them."
The zine overall serves as a primer for community members to get more data literate and comfortable with doing research instead of leaving it to the "experts." The first issue includes everything from a square and detailed explanation of when to use which kind of data file (which was very helpful to me in my struggle to learn Tableau) to an exploration of how data impacted retail redlining in Detroit. Like any good piece of community organizing, it asks questions that encourage readers to envision a better future.
I'll be writing about Volume 2 of Opening Data following the Allied Media Conference. You can buy both zines in AMP's online store.