"Just don't buy it": Consumer choices in free software activism


Movement activism often focuses on economic decisions. Buy this
ethically made product; don't buy that one made by a company that
funds terrible things. In free software, we encourage people to
boycott (for example) Microsoft, and to instead support companies who
sell machines with GNU/Linux.

It's an intuitive idea that, as individuals wanting to make the world
better, we should use our willingness to spend or not spend money to
reward those who do right and punish those who do wrong. Throughout
history, this has sometimes been effective. But how effective? Can it
be dangerous?

There is a danger of *reducing* activism and social change strategy to
these decisions. We see this in the free software movement, when some
activist campaigns aimed at persuading people to stop using
proprietary software are met with responses like, "If you don't like
Apple products, just don't buy them. Help make free products that are
better than theirs. Why campaign against them?" or "How can you
criticize proprietary software but still drive a car that has it?"

As an advocate, have you ever heard these responses, or felt like a
hypocrite, or stumbled trying to explain to others why the situation
is more complicated than "just don't buy it"?

How do we form a holistic movement strategy for advancing user freedom
that takes consumer activism as far as possible, without
overprioritizing it?

I hope those interested in effectively fighting for user freedom will
join me as I share thoughts formed from 16 years of experience working
on the Free Software Foundation's advocacy efforts, against the
backdrop of some highlights from the history of other social

Ballroom H
Saturday, March 9, 2019 - 16:30 to 17:30