Looking back, going forward: what a year it’s been!

21 December 2020

Looking Back


Stepping out: one path ends, another begins for Siko

To say that the 2020 revolution around the sun has been a wild and difficult ride feels like the understatement of our lifetimes. We’ve all been through so much this past year, including the complex intersections of the multiple pandemics of Covid-19, racism, patriarchy and climate change, personal and family ups and downs as we’ve tried to cope with it all, and so much more.

For the Whose Knowledge? team, we’re also saying goodbye to our co-founder Siko Bouterse as co-director of Whose Knowledge?, but not as our friend and ally.

As Siko says, the particular shape of this wild and difficult 2020 ride has included “a move, 3 hospitalizations and an emergency-style birth of the trickster baby Coyote Bouterse, and the climate crisis coming right to our doorstep in the form of a 100-year wildfire that swept my mountain community in ways I’ve never before lived through.” For Siko, all this has meant that as she thought about coming back to Whose Knowledge? from maternity leave, she uncovered that her journey on this particular path as co-director was coming to an end: “It was not a decision I took lightly, because it’s been an honor to be part of Whose Knowledge’s beginnings, and to have walked this path with the team for the past 4 glorious years. Now, as the climate crisis accelerates in our world, in all its many forms, and feeling the full weight of ushering a second little person through it, I find myself needing to build some extra cushion in my life from somewhere. It’s time to create a new space for whatever work it is that I’m meant to do next, and I have come to understand that this space can be made through an exit from my role in Whose Knowledge. I look forward to remaining a friend and ally to the organization, while stepping out of the co-leadership team. (Because, like Hotel California, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…!)”

All of us at Whose Knowledge? have been committed to making this a feminist transition of love, generosity and grace (doing our best to embody our principles all the way through)! We have laughed, cried, and celebrated with Siko, and spent time sharing memories and reflections of our time together. We asked Siko to do a special “looking back” for this final newsletter of 2020, from the crazy dream we began to create in 2016.

Siko’s highlights of the last four years:

I’ve had the great privilege of making so many memories over these past 4 years! Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Traveling in the spring of 2017 to Sarajevo to begin co-conspiring with Okvir, and then to the Barona Reservation near San Diego to begin co-conspiring with members of the Kumeyaay Nation. In both spaces, we exchanged ideas about history and knowledge, Wikipedia, open licenses, and so much more. And at Barona we also video-conferenced in some of our friends from Equality Labs to share their experiences from the Dalit community in India with the Kumeyaay community in North America. It was such an incredible act of trust and generosity to be invited into these communities and be so warmly hosted by folks we had only recently met. Some of the resulting friendships are life-long.
  • Writing “Our Stories, Our Knowledges” in 4 days with friends from all 3 of those communities one and a half years later. The days were long, the deadlines were painful, but the laughs were many. 🙂
  • Organizing the “What is Knowledge?” Art Show at Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town with artists from South Africa and around the world. The art that people submitted was so deeply moving and meaningful, and we got to meet many of the artists in person. The art space became a sort of open club house, where artists and folks from marginalized communities who attended Wikimania after our Decolonizing the Internet Event came and decompressed together.
  • Swapping clothes with Anasuya at Mozfest 2017, and telling one of the hardest stories of my life with Adele at Creative Commons 2019 Global Summit. Each was a performance that required us to unearth unseen parts of ourselves in a new way.
  • Going through submissions for our upcoming State of the Internet’s Languages Report. So many experiences and stories of every shape and texture make up our (not yet fully) multilingual internet, and each one has been a gem to unwrap.

Throughout my time at Whose Knowledge?, it is people and their stories – whether shared over delicious dinners, or in early morning video calls, or through images or writing or song – that have changed my life forever. I carry these as precious gifts into the next journey. Thank you.



Fighting invisibility at the intersections of two global pandemics: COVID-19 and anti-Blackness

The collective but differently experienced COVID pandemic of this year and the generations long pandemic of anti-Blackness, exemplified by the George Floyd institutional murder in May, have been extraordinary “brutal gifts” for us as individuals, as a team, and for our communities. They are obviously deeply interrelated in many ways, and we have embodied the intersections. We have had to deal with Covid-related illness and the structural dis-ease that we feel as mostly a team of black and brown women who have faced multiple forms of racism for a very long time.

At the same time, these brutal gifts offer us the opportunities to continue expanding the critical conversations we have been leading and supporting around marginalizations, and the deep inequities caused by the intersections of capitalism, colonization, patriarchy and more. There is a “great unravelling” of our systems and structures that offer us the possibilities of new ways of imagining and designing our futures, if we can only transform the leadership of our entrenched institutions. For us at WK? in particular, it pushes us even further in our quest to be radically honest and true to our feminist, anti-colonial, anti-racist politics and values, and to center our knowledge justice work in practice, rather than gestures and statements that are not rooted in actions and accountability. We emphasised this in our anti-racist statement in June, and in our responses to the solidarity statements by the Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons, who used our work as exemplars.

As we shared this impactful collective experience in many different and challenging ways across the world, it became evident that not all people fighting COVID-19 were receiving equal acknowledgement, appreciation, and visibility. Once again, women’s faces, stories and contributions from the frontlines, especially those of black, brown, indigenous, and trans women, were often missing from online content. This comes from deeply rooted structural systems of discrimination and privilege, whether patriarchy, racism, homophobia, classism or their intersections. That’s why the theme of the third edition of #VisibleWikiWomen campaign focused on highlighting health workers and care-givers, sanitation and transport workers, emergency and food services, farmers, activists, scientists, policy-makers, and more. We celebrated women in the critical infrastructures of care, and we continued to mark the many #womenofcolors who are disproportionately represented but rarely acknowledged in these infrastructures.

Our partners and communities came through once again and together, we achieved a remarkable feat: we uploaded over 3000 images to Wikimedia Commons. This year felt extra-special considering that all physical events and spaces that usually create opportunities for our partners to meet, photograph and upload images of women to Commons and Wikipedia, were cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19. In addition to the amazing partners who have embraced the campaign year after year, we were honored to have these new partners joining us in 2020.

Running an online campaign in the middle of a pandemic also pushed us to get (even more!) creative and try new ways of engaging partners and first-time participants. We organized and hosted our first online edit-a-thon in partnership with Take Back The Tech from (APC) and #SheTransformsTech from World Pulse. During this multi-day and bilingual (English and Spanish) event, we spent a lovely virtual time sharing our best tips and tricks on how to upload images to Wikimedia Commons with 20 amazing participants. To read more about the campaign, what we learned and experienced during this edition, you can read our final campaign blog post in English and Spanish.

We’re really looking forward to #VisibleWikiWomen 2021. We can’t wait to collaborate with our long-time partners and welcome new partners who will join us for the first time in 2021. In the meantime, we wish you and yours health, safety, and the joys and justice of visibility!



And we never stopped creating: glimpses of what we heard, said, and wrote

Despite all that the year brought us, we and our friends also got so much done! Here are some highlights of conversations and creations throughout the year in different forms and spaces, and with different communities:

  • Podcast interview: Cecilia Tuyuc and the right of indigenous languages and their people to live on the Internet. In this episode, Cecilia – a Guatemalan teacher and language activist – talks about the digital platforms her communities are using to share Mayan languages, and what are the cultural, technical and socio-economic barriers to create and promote these languages online.
  • Radio/Podcast interview: Week Program on First Voices Indigenous Radio and Podcast episode. Tiokasin Ghosthorse holds a conversation with Whose Knowledge? co-directors and co-founders Adele Godoy Vrana and Anasuya Sengupta about indigenous values and knowledge, and how these connect with technology and the internet.
  • Endnote speech: Decolonising the British Library in 3 (Un) Easy Steps! (02:43:00). Anasuya ends the 8th BL Labs symposium by exploring notions of epistemic injustice, and offering some decolonising practices that might move us from metaphor to the ongoing (and never complete) transformation of our organisations and ourselves.
  • Book Chapter: Exploring Origins as a Decolonizing Practice. Co-authored by Adele Godoy Vrana and Siko Bouterse, published in the book “Open at the Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education”. In this chapter, Siko and Adele looked back at their ancestors and family trajectories and explored the intersections of race, colonization, and knowledge (in)justice in a powerful, healing conversation.
  • Book Chapter: Toward a Wikipedia For and From Us All. Co-authored by Adele Godoy Vrana, Anasuya Sengupta, and Siko Bouterse, published in the MIT Press book “Wikipedia@20: Stories of an Incomplete Revolution”. Marking Wikipedia’s 20th anniversary (in January 2021), Adele, Anasuya and Siko deconstruct the myths of Wikipedia that allow misogyny, racism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression to flourish alongside an inspiring model of peer production. They offer paths forward drawing from their experiences as Whose Knowledge? co-founders, and Wikimedians and Wikipedians-in-progress.
  • Essay: Whose Knowledge Is Online? Practices of Epistemic Justice for a Digital New Deal. Co-authored by Azar Causevic and Anasuya Sengupta, published in the Digital New Deal essay series by The Just Net Coalition and IT for Change. In this essay, Az and Anasuya present their understanding of epistemic injustice and offer possible practices towards epistemic justice.
  • Twitter thread: Thanksgiving statement. A call to Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area tech companies, who live, work and profit from traditional Lisjan Ohlone territory, to give thanks by paying the Shuumi land tax.

Find even more on our media page.



Going Forward


Dreaming of a multilingual internet: the State of the Internet’s Languages Report

In our Decolonize the Internet’s Languages 2019 gathering, we reflected deeply around the internet not being multilingual enough to reflect the full depth and breadth of humanity, and how most online knowledge today is created and accessible only through European colonial languages. We also shared initial findings for our State of the Internet’s Language Report, a project that we felt affirmed taking on after listening to the powerful insights participants brought into this event.

Together with our research partners at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and Oxford Internet Institute (OII), as well as many generous volunteers, we are planning to publish the State of the Internet’s Languages Report in early 2021. We had hoped to have it out this year, but 2020 needed us to be slow and spacious for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Our report will include baseline research with both numbers and stories, looking at online multilinguality from a variety of perspectives and contexts: we will have a look at the language geography of Google Maps and of Wikipedia, as well as dive into the interface language supported by widely-used websites and mobile apps. Similarly, we will present experiences and stories about how different people and communities around the globe experience online multilinguality, and which are the initiatives they are undertaking to bring their languages online.

The State of the Internet’s Languages Report is intended to raise awareness and help prioritize future actions around online multilinguality. Once the report is published, we’ll be working with communities and partners from around the world, to prioritize and support actions that address these critical gaps in the internet’s languages.

Stay tuned for the release!



Reflecting on going forward: the futures we want to build

Alongside exciting new research like the State of the Languages report mentioned above, we will continue to expand our team and our work in 2021. With the support of our communities and funders, we will be hiring an Africa-based campaign coordinator for this coming #VisibleWikiWomen in which we hope to mark and celebrate inspiring “Feminist Realities”. We will be strengthening our existing programs, by working on Decolonizing (Digital) Archives, and exploring the possibilities of the “people’s archival cloud” first mooted by our friends in the Decolonizing the Internet 2018 convening. In addition, we are planning some entirely new initiatives, such as “Honouring Our Guardians”, in which we will center indigenous women’s leadership and ways of knowing in the current climate justice conversations.

So while 2020 has been really hard on all of us, we are ending the year with gratitude for the brutal gifts it has given us. We have a renewed and even greater clarity of our mission and vision: our work around knowledge justice and decolonizing the internet is critical to our communities and the world, and the leadership of marginalized communities is essential to the imagination and design of better futures for us all. We look forward to a year in which we can together dream and build worlds (and internets) for and from us all.

See you in 2021!

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