Boston Activist Orgs Project Speculation

I am working with Annie on the Boston Activist Organizations Hackathon project. This project is being co-developed with Professor Karilyn Crockett from DUSP, grad student Meesh Zucker, and the following community partners: the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, the Boston Ujima Project, and the Center for Economic Democracy. Also involved are Ceasar McDowell’s Boston Community Learning Project, activist filmmaker Simeon Awosan, and the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

The plan is that these groups and individuals will be both the co-designers of, and the participants in, the hackathon. Due to the high number of stakeholders, there is a need to ensure everyone is on the same page and address conflicts as soon as possible.


  • Kinds of knowledge constructed:
    • Community activist history
    • Discursive and relational connections between struggles, between generations
    • Strategies for organizing
    • Strategies for teaching
    • Strategies for cooperative economics
  • Trustworthiness:
    • Produced out of collaboration between elders and youth in activist organizations and from affected populations 
    • Histories are always political, and this history is clear about its politics: to accurately portray the local struggles in the Boston area from the activist perspective
  • How shared:
    • Conversation and co-design, during the hackathon
    • Public display in the street, after the hackathon
    • Dissemination of documents and films


  • Driving the process:
    • desire to teach about history of housing struggles
    • Importance of cooperative economy to local community empowerment
    • Importance of learning from elders and across organizational bounds
  • Potential conflicts:
    • Different epistemologies, approaches between elders and youth
    • Multiple stakeholders with multiple interests: need to make sure everyone is heard and every stakeholder’s needs are attended to

Stakeholders and desired outcomes:

  • Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
    • Desired outcome: gathering oral histories and local knowledge
  • Boston Ujima Project
    • Desired outcome: gathering local history and examples of resident-led efforts to create tools for cooperative economic practices at the local scale
  • Activist Film Project/Simeon Awosan 
    • Desired outcome: Activists to view raw footage of Chuck Turner & Mel King, give feedback, and suggest additional content
  • Boston Community Learning Project/Ceasar McDowell
    • Desired outcome: Review and sort drop box file of notes and videos; gathering activist stories of Boston organizing to identify gaps and opportunities for public distribution
  • Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections
    • Desired outcome: public engagement with current archives and acquisition of new stories/content  
  • All stakeholders
    • Desired outcome: A way for residents and passersby to encounter the “archive” on the street, commemorating 50+ years of local activism, galvanizing support for future land battles and organizing efforts

MIT Design Workshop

In this post I will describe a workshop course that I took last semester. I am keeping the details relatively vague for purposes of anonymity.

The focus was designing safety interventions. In this course we went through a design process: define the problem, understand the users, ideate, prototype, present. This framing separates the “designer” from the “user” of the design—it is clearly design for, not design with. The designers were totally isolated from the user community, as the user research component (phase two—understand the user) basically just consisted of interviewing people about their general feelings on safety. An orientation towards innovation was a given, as there was no attempt to look for what is already working. The “problem definition” framing at the outset exemplifies this.

We were then told to develop “personas,” imaginary users who could generate some use cases for our designs. This is sort of the opposite of the design justice principle to “center the voices of those who are directly impacted,” as we actually centered our voices even when we were supposedly designing for others. Though we were meant to assign real responses from our interviewees to our invented personae, we were essentially instructed to speak for an imagined other. In the ideation and prototype stages, our reference point was our personae, not any real user.

Certainly the design process was done with the best of intentions, and to some extent, design justice principles #1 and #9 were followed. But I cannot see how any of the others were—somewhat troubling for an introduction to MIT’s design philosophies.

Hello from Ben!

Hello all! My name is Ben Silverman and I’m a first-year masters student in the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, doing research on the furry fandom and rave subcultures. I also work at the Active Archives Initiative, formerly known as HyperStudio. On the side, I like to make electronic music.

I am interested in issues of housing equity, gentrification, and activist archives. As such, I am quite excited by the project Sasha mentioned involving Karilyn Crockett from DUSP and the local organizations that protested the interstate highway system. I would love to work directly with these activist organizations in remixing and reanimating their archival materials—especially as housing justice is a struggle that continues to be pressing and vital around this country. Co-designing a project with a community organization involved in that struggle is an opportunity I do not want to miss.

That said, I am also open to working on other projects! I have never been involved in planning (or hacking) a hackathon before, and I look forward to finding out what that entails. In whichever project I work on, I hope to make use of my skills in web programming, data visualization, and/or audio/video editing.

My sense is that design factors into many disciplines and professions, and therefore I feel that design justice principles will be with me for the rest of my life. In this course, I look forward to putting those principles into action and understanding them on a practical level.