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The journey begins with a single step: climb the freedom ladder

by Greg Farough Contributions Published on Jul 08, 2021 02:18 PM

A person sits behind a computer hosting an online meeting for the freedom ladder

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is the most uncompromising nonprofit leader working for software freedom. For years, people have described the FSF's community of staff, volunteers, and contributors as being the "lighthouse" others use to find their way to software freedom, and we take that responsibility seriously. Swapping out one set of programs you use for another set may not seem like that much of a challenge, but those who bend over backwards to avoid nonfree software even in the form of nonfree JavaScript can tell you how many roadblocks there are along the way to software freedom; a cursory examination of the programs the average person depends on can show how deeply nonfree software has seeped into daily life.

We will never stop aiming to be that "lighthouse." At the same time, we recognize that a stance like ours can sometimes be a deterrent to people making important incremental improvements in their practices. For years, we've been holding the principled finish line, and we'll continue to do so. Now, we're developing a clear set of steps to help support individuals in making the step-by-step improvements that they can. By supporting them in taking a step at a time, we're confident that we can help bring more people to a fully free setup than ever before. We're calling this campaign the "freedom ladder," and we need your support to help others begin climbing it.

In the free software community, we sometimes use the term "throwing over the wall" to describe when a person or group releases a program as free software, but doesn't provide any insight into its development. While this is absolutely better than releasing the software as proprietary, it forgoes opportunities for engagement and collaboration. We don't want our advocacy to be this way, and want to involve you as much as we can. From the first day that we began formulating the concept, we knew that we were going to need the help of the community in getting it right. Each of the fourteen members on the FSF staff came to free software in a different way, and we are all still at different places on the freedom ladder. While comparing our experiences has been instructive, we know that it's nowhere near exhaustive. Maybe you've already "arrived" at the combination of a fully free operating system and BIOS, or maybe you're still on Windows but have started to use LibreOffice. Either way, we need your participation.

Each step someone takes to freedom is an important one. The first free program someone uses or installs, even on a proprietary operating system, can put them on a lifelong journey, and our new campaign should be a tool to guide that journey.

We're asking for your participation in defining the steps on the freedom ladder we've formulated so far on the LibrePlanet wiki, and could use your participation and suggestions in getting the structure right. Striking the balance between our rigorous standards for freedom and the steps people are able to take amidst all the other pressures of their lives can be difficult, which is why we need you to help weigh in: suggesting ways we can help make this process easier for users while at the same time encouraging them to insist on full freedom, and challenging themselves to keep moving forward.

Making sure that each of these steps is in the right sequence, advises the right actions, and encourages further freedom is vital. That's why we're hosting a series of community meetings on our Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel to focus on each of these steps, and gather feedback from our supporters on how we can effectively advocate for them.

These meetings will be at our new IRC home, the #fsf channel of the network:

We're very excited about it, but the freedom ladder is just one way the FSF campaigns team "fights for the users." Just in the last few weeks, we've seen some further encroachments on user freedom on the part of Microsoft, which will soon culminate in the release of Windows 11. At the same time, the threat of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) only continues to grow as streaming services maintain their dominance, and unjust laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) remain in effect.

We're very close to reaching our summer fundraising goal of USD 50,000 before July 16. Any financial contribution you can make goes to help the campaigns team spread the message of free software. For only $10 a month ($5 if you are a student), you can join us as an FSF associate member. Bringing new members to the community is a core part of the fight for software freedom, and helps us build a foundation of committed activists for years to come.

Spreading the word is just as important: please take a moment to publicly bring attention to the need for free software! Use the hashtag #UserFreedom, and share this message and others to help us build even further support.

The campaigns team may be small, but our focus is wide. The team works full-time (and often beyond!) to combat every threat to user freedom that we can. We know there are many we haven't been able to take on as yet, which is why we need your support to be able to continue this valuable work. It's our body of supporters that keeps the team's message strong. We look forward to working with supporters like you to design a system that everyone can follow with confidence, steadily improving their lives, and climbing towards the goal of full software freedom without compromising principles.

Thank you for providing your share of the dedication and enthusiasm that keeps our movement going forward.

Illustration Copyright © 2021 Free Software Foundation, Inc., licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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