From a Free Software Movement to a Free Safety Movement

By Micha Cárdenas, 10 July 2013
Image: Jovan Wolfe in Autonets hoodie designed by Micha Cárdenas and Ben Klunker

This is a call to all feminist hackers, anti-racist coders, gender hackers, genderchangers, queer and trans hackers, political hackers, dancers, movement makers, poets, performers, anti-violence activists and networked activists to come together to help stop violence against queer and trans* people, people of color, disabled people and women

Many forms of daily violence: sexual, gender, racial, ableist and state-sponsored (committed by police) are only increasing. As global warming, neoliberalism, and neocolonialism continue, more and more people are subject to violence on a daily basis due to social instability. This is a call to people to acknowledge that the Internet era has not brought more safety but less. This is a call to say we need more people hacking safety, where hacking involves a creative use of the imagination to solve a problem. Why do we have better software to share pictures of lunch than we do to keep each other safe?


These solutions can take all forms from technological ones to social to combinations of technological and social. To think about ending violence with technology we need to think broadly about what violence means and what technology is: movement is a technology, gender is a technology, language is a technology, code is a technology. We need more collaboration between hackers, activists and artists to end violence. We need networked devices which people can use to call on their personal networks for help, games to teach people to not rape, mechanisms for bystanders to step in and stop violence, discrete ways for people in private situations to call for help when violence occurs in their homes.

I started the project Local Autonomy Networks two years ago to create wearable electronics to prevent sexual and gender violence against queer and trans* people of color. In those two years I have made prototypes of devices including dresses, hoodies and bracelets which have wireless transmitters in them and can be used to call for help. Some of these devices can detect proximity of other devices. I have been working towards adding GPS units so that the call for help can be accompanied with the location. But, I am only one person. This problem is much much bigger than me.

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I am an artist, hacker, activist, writer. I am not a business person or an engineer. I have also spent much of the last two years doing workshops and performances with people in different cities to build the social agreements necessary for us to keep each other safe in a world where police often cause more violence, if they even show up. In some of the cities I work in people have told me repeatedly that they will not call the police because they won’t ever show up. Anti-violence activists have also told me that it is common that queer and trans people and people of color know not to call the police because they inflict more violence in most cases.

I am shifting my role in this from building electronics to building the infrastructure for a network of networks, for people to be able to contribute and think together and discuss this problem together. Lots of people. The free software movement has been incredibly successful since it was begun thirty years ago. What we need now is a movement for free safety, a movement of people who want to figure out how to make transformative justice happen in increasingly networked societies, a movement that will develop networks for safety that don’t rely on the corporations and police that daily perpetuate violence on our communities, a movement of people who will agree to keep each other safe from unjust forms of violence.

This needs to happen in a distributed way, and can’t depend on me. Everywhere I have gone in the past two years throughout the Americas and in Europe, people have told me: we need this here. Violence is a problem that is happening everywhere and is getting worse. So please join me and help build this movement and send me and everyone else an email. Or tweet about it. Or Facebook about it. There are many ways of using existing technologies such as Circle Of 6Foursquare and Group Me for safety.


What is important to me is that solutions need to be affordable. There is already a huge industry of safety products and if safety is something that only certain people can afford and clearly that is an unjust situation. So we must make these solutions affordable.

What is also crucial in this movement is to develop safety solutions that maintain people’s privacy. Solutions which can be exploited by law enforcement to surveille people do not make them more safe but less.

What is most important to me in this movement is to center the needs of the most affected groups of people: transgender women of color are the number one targets of hate crimes, sex workers are often subject to violence, disabled people are also subject to violence on the daily basis and can benefit uniquely from networks of communication and support.

I have set up a wiki at to help start this conversation and I will start putting in detailed documentation of the prototypes I have made and the workshops I have facilitated. This is a call for you to take up this project in your own city, talk to others about how to build networks, technological or not, of safety and support for survivors of violence.

To join this discussion, you have lots of options!

Post a comment at


sign up for the discussion mailing list here:


Email movement at autonets d0t org for a wiki editing account


come to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and participate in my two sessions

Wearable Electronics and Building Autonets

Movements that Keep Us Safe: Autonets

Please help spread the word about this movement. My hope is that it will grow and spread and we will see a coming together of many activists applying media and technical skills to the problem of daily violence around the world in a multitude of ways, sharing skills and knowledge and reducing the harm that people experience daily.

For updates, check back at

If you can provide a translation of this document, please email movement at autonets d0t org.