Freedom Walk: A walk to claim, ensure and preserve freedom
by Anoop John
Free software had remained a technological and an economic issue in the state of Kerala and it had been very successful in being so. A team of four people decided to take the fundamental principle of the freedom behind free software and take this message of freedom to the masses in Kerala. They decided to project free software as an empowering agent to change the lives of people and in solving social, environmental and technological issues. They wanted to take free software and the freedom behind it to the common man in Kerala.
For doing this they decided to follow the Gandhian concept of walking, and walk they did. The quartet -- Anoop John, Cherry George Mathew, Prasad S. R. and Sooraj K. -- decided to walk from one end of Kerala to the other end, covering 1200+ kilometers, and preach this message directly to people. They also decided to follow a simple lifestyle -- no posh food, no paid stays, eating from small hotels and utilizing only public places to rest and stay. They decided to start on the birthday of Gandhiji -- Oct 2 -- from Kasargode and end at Trivandrum on Nov 14 -- the birthday of another great Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
The free software community in Kerala embraced this walk and successfully organized 49 formal functions including seminars, public meetings, formal receptions and media interactions during this journey. This was on top of the very large and uncounted number of interactions they had on their way with people they met on the roads. The smallest formal functions would have been ones where 10-15 people attended (e.g., Agricultural University, Padanakkadu) whereas the largest ones would have been ones where 500+ people attended (e.g., Reception at Baselious College, Kottayam, Reception at BCM College, Kottayam). The median attendance would have been around 30 per meeting. Mass media in Kerala also liked this campaign for its novelty and its message and covered the walk end to end. A detailed list of all the formal programs conducted by the freedom walkers is at http://www.freedomwalk.in/content/freedom-walk-list-of-conducted-programs.
More than half of the formal functions, 28 to be exact, were conducted in educational institutions where the freedom-walkers conveyed the message of freedom and exhorted the students to embrace this freedom. In some places they had the opportunity to address the entire institution including teaching, non-teaching staff, and students, e.g., Vocational Higher Secondary School, Irimpanam; whereas in some places they addressed only faculty members, e.g., Agricultural University, Padanakkadu; NUALS,Cochin. These occasions were also utilized to convey to these students that the Freedom Walkers were following the Gandhian principle of "being the change they wished to see in the world." We can hope that the determination and the will of the freedom-walkers would very likely have inspired at least a few in their audiences to take very strong and life-changing decisions around these ideas.
The meetings generally had 3 sessions: a) message about being the change we wished to see in the world, b) introduction to the concept of freedom in software, its underlying philosophies and how free software can change our world, c) how people can join the movement, how they can get help, how they can contribute to the movement and through this how they can build careers in free software.
The formal functions were also used as a means to get connections established between the educational institution and the local free software communities. Messages about the existence and the activities of local free software users groups were given with instructions on how to join and participate in these communities.
The walk, zig-zagging across Kerala to cover all the fourteen districts, also effectively brought together the local communities in these districts around a common need to organize and participate in the Freedom Walk. This has resulted in better networking between these communities as has been evident from the cross-list involvement of free software users in the FSUG mailing lists in Kerala.
The campaign was very novel in terms of the origin (non-governmental and purely community based), in terms of the organization (totally owned and distributively organized by free software communities locally), and in terms of the physical involvement (that of walking for 44 days). The quartet has photo-documented (with around 8000 photos) their complete journey and they have also blogged on a daily basis during these days. The blog and photos are available at http://www.freedomwalk.in. Freedom Walk concluded on the 14th of November at a public function organized by the free software users group Trivandrum and chaired by the IT Secretary of the Government of Kerala.