Review 2005

Suw Charman

How's this?

The brief for this post was to write about the moment when I succeeded in doing something I've always wanted to do this year, and I have to admit that in some ways it's hard to decide what that should be. So many really good things have happened this year and in many ways it really has been the culmination of years of hard work and fuck-ups.

(You are, ultimately, the sum of your fuck-ups. Only through fuck-ups do you truly learn anything, only through making a right pig's breakfast of something do you find out who you are, what you're made of, and how not to screw things up next time. Success is for wimps - vive la fuck-up!)

On the other hand, it's pretty damn easy. Lots has happened, but there's one thing that really stands head and shoulders above everything else.

Earlier in the year, I went over to San Francisco for the Supernova conference. Whilst I was there, I decided that it'd be great to take the opportunity to have lunch with the EFF's Danny O'Brien, someone that I was pretty in awe of. I'm not quite sure why, other than that he once gave a talk that had quite an impact on me.

By the time I met Danny for lunch I had decided that, now that my life was a bit more under control and I was keeping myself busy with real paying work, it was about time I started doing something constructive with my spare time. Not that I really had any spare time, mind, but I'd make some in order to volunteer for the EFF. I had this idea that I could use my journalistic and blogging skills to help them improve their communications, and so Danny sat patiently whilst I outlined my plans in, quite likely, excruciating detail.

When I finished, Danny glanced at his sushi, then at me, and said "Fancy doing something in London?"

I think I may have nodded my head vigourously, or said "Yeah, sure!" or made some other expression of interest and enthusiasm. However it was that I agreed, I had no idea then that by the end of the year I would be the Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a new digital rights campaigning group in the UK.


Danny and I aren't alone in ORG - we're joined by a group of the savviest activists in the UK who are helping us organise things, and supported by over 1000 people, each pledging to donate £5 per month.

Possibly luckily, I didn't realise when I got involved in ORG just how much work is required to set up a new NGO, how challenging it would be, or how much I would enjoy it. I have a 'to do' list as long as your arm, and it's hard sometimes to balance the demands of ORG with the need to earn money to live off, but I'm doing my best and I think I'm really getting somewhere.

Maybe it's growing up on a literary diet of sci-fi and fantasy, but I've always been someone who looked at the way the world was, felt it really should be better, and tried to find a way to make it so. I never really considered myself the activist type - 'activists' being generally painted by the media as nutcases who burn down holiday homes or break into labs and release white mice into the wild. But with ORG, I'm seeing a side to activism that's rarely shown on TV or in the newspapers. The digital rights activists I've met are passionate, intelligent, well-informed, and willing to work their arses off to make life better for people who really, in general, won't ever notice that their rights were being abused.

I am really proud of what we have achieved so far with ORG, and what we have planned for the future. I'm proud to be a digital rights activist. And I'm grateful to be doing something I've always wanted to do.

Suw Charman writes Chocolate and Vodka

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

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