My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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8/02/2016

Procomuns refugee fund talk

This is a slightly extended write up of a lightning talk entitled "Creating a fair market and a fund for refugees" which I gave at procomuns.net in Barcelona, March 2016
When a person arrives in a new place, seen from a P2P perspective of a node, a network  of relationships and connections to people and concepts so beautifully depicted in the myth of Indra's net. When people move around then, they are a mix of slowly fading and recombining connections to experience, knowledge, and culture, plus their long distance relationships. If not cultivated these connections to the past fade, as new connections or knowledge are gained in the new setting.

I am Ale and I work at FairCoop, where we are working to create an alternative economic system that is more democratic, ecological and... fair! 

I arrived in Europe as a child, a refugee of the Pinochet dictatorship, in 1974; we were some of the first to leave Chile and there was no official structure there to welcome us. Instead, we were welcomed by an assortment of miner unions, academic friends and neighbours in Scotland, where my parents were able to complete their studies in humanities which had so damned them in the eyes of the dictatorship, and then found work soon after. The solidarity we found there still overwhelms me sometimes.

Here is the Catalan Integral Cooperative's site: http://cooperativa.cat/ - FairCoop's origins lie there in a way: a regional cooperative and legal structures that allow for smaller cooperative groups to do their activities.

Early on when designing a more ethical counterpart to Bitcoin and its POW algorithm, we were discovered by the P2P Foundation who have supported and written about us a lot: http://p2pfoundation.net/Faircoin

So I arrived as an exile to the UK. We were some of the first to leave and were helped by Roberto Kozak, who comes across as a very corageous figure with a kind of Schindler's list role, who was working for what later became the IOM - International Organisation on Migration. Kozak recently died and was conferred an honorary Chilean citizenship. His help consisted in a deal with the Chilean secret services and authorities. We would be allowed to seek the documentation needed in order to leave the country, in exchange for a stamp on our passports that said "sin retorno". No return.

But a little while later, many more refugees began arriving to the uk. The government began to find its own solutions, asking for documentation, putting people in hotels(thankfully this is long before Tony Blair decided to poodle Bush's militarisation push and start using prisons and private security corporations), and generally finding centralised solutions to the "problem", and later on, they even denied us the right to work. Luckily, by then we had European citizenship and managed to avoid the problems that today's refugees now face. Even organisations like the IOM are now puppets of the shock doctrine which has now spread across the world where it can be found today in the EU.

When the Spanish civil war happened, Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet and diplomat, managed to secure a boat that carried civil war refugees to chilean ports along the atlantic sea, stopping first at my father's home town of Arica, where people waited to cheer and take them in; and this was repeated at each port further south, despite the ongoing crisis that was hitting their exports at the time. They contributed in hundreds of ways and there's a strong cooperativist current in Valparaiso now recognised as coming directly from that input. They even say the man who inspired president Allende to pursue a political career was an spanish ex-civil war refugee of anarchist persuasion. 

Similarly in Palestine, during the Armenian genocide, an entire neighbourhood was once cleared voluntarily to make way for incoming refugees. 

Both these acts came from solidarity but also because they valued the actual capabilities offered by these people: artisans, workers, thinkers, people who through their pain had also gained wisdom and strength.

We are not victims and “refugee” doesn't mean we are inept people who need to be taught, (actually the entire refugee convention was explained outwardly as a humanitarian issue, but internally it was accepted that it was to be able to get intelligent people from across post war borders and across the growing cold war divides between east and west). 

Like in the feminist talk at procomuns.net (just before my lightning talk) this is also a clear example of an area of the commons that isn't being valued: the long distance connections we all might carry with our places of birth or origin, or where we have some kind of connection or have passed through somehow. I once interviewed some Azerbaijani failed asylum seekers who were in Section 4 status under the United Kingdom immigration act - they were destined for deportation, but as Christians, the EU kept them from being returned to a place where they were now deemed unsafe due to EU human rights law. The couple were confined to their house, and the only currency they had access to was government vouchers allowing them to buy at places like McDonalds or Pret a Porter, and the husband said he felt like all his knowledge and connections, all his culture and language was slowly melting away. I asked - what, if anything gives you hope or happiness... and they both smiled and pointed to the tomatoes they were growing out in the garden. ( https://archive.org/details/Section4_201603 9-13m in)

Enter FairCoop
So at FairCoop we asked ourselves: how do you find a way around these laws that in so many countries force people to not be able to make use of their intelligence, abilities, experience and contacts, especially at a time when so many more refugees are arriving?

(aerial view of Zataari)
Not all countries have this ban, but for example at Zataari refugee camp no-one is allowed to work, and it's a controversial subject to even mention this. It creates several black markets, and permanent precariety.

So we tried to just sidestep it all: what if we don't use official currencies, or mainstream processes where most of the budget is typically spent on legal protection against the giants who keep the status quo going? What if we came up with our own ethical system and even our own definition of what a refugee is (make a chart showing all migrants, economic migrants, asylum seekers, then a tiny circle in the middle representing those with accepted refugee status). What if the people who normally get sued to bits for challenging the system didn't have any money to begin with?

Coopfunding
Social movements now have 2 novel ways to access funds: one is crowdfunding - but refugees don't tend to have access to bank accounts - another is through 'alt currencies': we decide where we put our money and even how this money is organised. So we've started a fund for self organised, DIY refugee centred initiatives, that allow us to create separate economies - beyond the black markets  and grey areas where refugee economies usually exist, that we can shape as a common tool, rather than be shaped by market forces of mafias, people traffickers or state oppression. With Coopfunding anyone can start a campaign - we don't charge fees, it's aimed at the common good, and is cooperatively run. Now that our credit card payments go through BetaBank, the German cooperative bank, you don't need a bank account in order to start a campaign there.

A p2p ERP for cooperative work
One of the tools we are developing at FairCoop is the Open Collaboration Platform or OCP, a fork of the NRP used in Sensorica for peer to peer process management in creating sensors. Instead, our OCP is a system that lets you map your cooperative project and add it to an ecosystem of projects all using FairCoin.  We have been collaborating on this with http://mikorizal.org/.

FairMarket
This brings us to FairMarket, which of course is the central marketplace for FairCoop members to buy and sell; in fact one does not have to have had any dealings with FairCoop before to interact with the market; to buy it is sufficient only to have some Faircoins (which can be bought at www.getfaircoin.net)and to sell one only has to apply for an account https://market.fair.coop/web/signup and have a Faircoin wallet address in which to receive funds.

These low barriers to entry, plus the fact that almost any good or service, including non-physical informational or downloadable goods, can be bought and sold using the platform, mean that people who are excluded by the current system, such as refugees, economic migrants or stateless people who are unable to open bank accounts (and thus unable to participate in online commerce) can, as long as they have a means of accessing the internet, start taking advantage of this worldwide platform to participate in an alternative economy which could potentially be both a lifeline, and a way out of the trap in which the incumbent system has placed them.

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