Free as in Liberation

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Part of the 40 Years of Open Series

Since the 1980s, one of the celebratory facets of open source software has been that it was “free.” This exciting “free”-ness has long been described as both free “as in speech” – ie open source code is free to reuse as the user wishes and free “as in beer” – it is available without charge. This spectrum has long been evoked by OSS advocates as both the bookends of possible meanings of free and the framing of its radical potential.

This event will explore the possible connections and tangible distance between open source code and freedom as liberation. Speakers foreground the Black radical tradition and deliberate what an open ecosystem that conceived of and prioritized “freedom” in this way would require. The discussion invites listeners to identify the ways in which a specific, libertarian worldview constructing open source as free as in speech or beer has foreclosed possibility in how technological innovation asks us to relate to each other. We are hosting a conversation of Black thinkers and workers across the tech ecosystem (broadly construed!) that delineates the stakes and promise for open workers in prioritizing the work of getting free.


Adrienne Williams began as a community organizer focused on labor and education. The last few years, she’s transitioned into the role of writer and researcher. She is a Public Voices Fellow on Technology in the Public Interest with the OpEd Project in partnership with The MacArthur Foundation. Her goal is to have invisible issues and communities seen, heard and treated with humanity. She is also a research fellow at the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR) as well as Just Tech. Her belief is that policy and law is necessary, but the current unequal deployment of policy and law is destroying us.

Shawné Michaelain Holloway  is a Chicago-based new media artist and poet. Known for her noisy experimental electronics and performance practice, Holloway shapes the rhetorics of computer programming and sadomasochism into tools for exposing structures of power. She has spoken and exhibited work internationally since 2012 in spaces like Performance Space New York, The New Museum, The Kitchen, The Time-Based Art Festival at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), The Knockdown Center, and the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf. SHAWNÉ is currently Assistant Professor of Video/New Media in the Kinetic Imaging department at Virginia Commonwealth University︎︎︎ and has served as the Digital Developer and Technology Manager with Black Lunch Table’s archives team from 2022-23. In addition to her work in the arts, she is an open source software advocate, 1/2 of electronics duo BONE LATTICE︎︎︎, and a bodybuilder.

Peace Ossom is a medical librarian and health educator with a focus on data use and preservation as well as health information communication. Her research and endeavors focus on metascience, library advocacy, and DEIA. She has served in many roles, including front-end and back-end services in law, public, academic, and, of course, medical libraries. She has been awarded highest honors from the Medical Library Association and her alma mater Texas Woman’s University for her research and impact. She is also an active educator, teaching in an undergraduate public health program and a graduate information studies program.