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A free software filled weekend in Bellingham

by Donald Robertson III Contributions Published on Jun 15, 2017 12:31 PM
John Sullivan, Molly de Blanc, and I recently descended upon Bellingham, WA for a weekend of free software talks and outreach at Linuxfest Northwest.

Over the weekend of May 6th & 7th, the FSF invaded Bellingham, WA, for the annual Linuxfest 1 Northwest conference. Several of our crew had talks accepted at the conference, which draws over 1500 attendees each year. FSF executive director John Sullivan gave a talk addressing claims that the GNU General Public License (GPL) is in decline (hint: there's no evidence this is true), Molly de Blanc (who has since joined our staff as a campaigns manager) gave a talk on ageism in free software, FSF board member Benjamin Mako Hill participated on a panel with the American Civil Liberties Union, and I talked about GPL compliance for devices and the Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program. Sullivan also had the chance to be interviewed on Bryan Lunduke's show the "Lunduke Hour."

The weekend kicked off with a meetup on Friday night. We try to schedule social gatherings at all the events we attend to catch up with local FSF members and friends. It was a smaller group at this weekend's meetup, but it's still fun to catch up as well as meet new people. We actually had one attendee drive two hours just to come check out the gathering. They had only learned about free software recently and were excited to go to their first event. If you want to be notified when events like this are happening in your area, make sure to be signed up for the Free Software Supporter and share your location.

We also had a table in the expo hall, operated by a large group of wonderful volunteers. We don't always have the resources to have staff at all the free software conferences that happen all around the world, so we often rely on volunteers to help table at events. I may be a bit biased, but I think the Northwest crew of volunteers is simply one of the best, and I always enjoy catching up with them at events like this. Tabling may not seem like a terribly important thing, but it makes a huge difference for our mission. Many people become FSF associate members for the first time thanks to the efforts of volunteers at expo halls, and for some people, coming to a conference like this is their annual reminder to renew their membership. Even when their membership is up-to-date, many members decide to donate more after catching up with other activists at these events. Since the FSF gets the overwhelming majority of its budget from our membership program and individual donors, tabling at an event provides a substantial boost to the work we're able to do. Sales at the expo hall of merchandise from the GNU Press Shop also help a lot. Seeing a baby GNU in person can often tip the scales in favor of adoption. Our volunteers in Bellingham had great success, and lots of people were able to support the FSF as a result.

One of the great things about tabling beyond the fundraising is simply the chance to meet new people and make new friends. Given that my talk was on RYF, I was excited to meet and chat with several past and future applicants about the program. I also got to meet and hang out with several members of the FSF Compliance Lab Team. I work with those volunteers via IRC all year, so it was great to be able to catch up in person.

The talks we gave were all well-received, we raised a good amount of funds for the FSF, and had a great time catching up with old friends and making some new ones. If you want to join in on the fun at upcoming events, here's what you can do:

1. Because this conference is such a great place to meet free software activists, it really is unfortunate that its name does not give due credit to the work of the hackers in the GNU Project — we hope that in the future they'll join SeaGL and become a GNU/Linux Fest.

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