I’ve been busy lately so its been a little while. Most of you might know, that I’ve been part of the Labor Hackerspace in Bochum since a few years and part of the managing board most of this time. I’ve been doing alot of organisational work like comunication with our landlord, the neighbours, craftspeople and suppliers. I’ve been taking care that our stocks of Club Mate, and alot of other caffeine containing drinks, were never depleted. Doing all this work, caring for the people and doing some hacking and other tech work there over a long time made me feel part of a great project and putting alot of effort and time in it. The space I will be remembering has been a great place, full of live, creativity and inspiration, I’ve never seen as much enthusiasm and unity, all working for one goal, as there.
But times change, and after all this time, there were a few changes which made me step down from my post and leave the space a few weeks ago. In fact there were a few more people leaving which had been part of the crew running this space for years, but I will concentrate on the facts which affected me here, because this would go beyond the scope of this blog post. I’m writing this text after I have found easy and comfort at home and the time to think about all that happened. This text is not inteded to be a “rant” targeting the people which were part of the post. My intention is to tell a story from which you, who might be running a hackerspace yourself, can learn and try to prevent several trends I will be telling about.
I first noticed a change in our spacea bout one year ago shortly before the Labortage in 2009. Some people started to undermine the work I did, which was at that time trying to get a sponsoring deal with the local ISP. I wanted get a highspeed fiberwire uplink for streaming high quality video and audio in both directions to make it possible to join the talks given in the lab, virtually, from places and hackerspaces all over the world. At this time, I was working on all teams in the lab, org, administration, tech support and all the work between the groups to keep them talking to each other. I didn’t know at that time why they started attacking what I build, but today I think it was some kind of domination play. There were rumors at that time, that I am far to “powerful” in the space and had a way too big self-confidence because I had influence on anything and because of the early election shortly after I joined. At that time I didn’t really think about it and felt hurt and stopped the efforts in that direction. Shortly after and a few discussions later, my access to several systems vanished and again, I thought “hey, I don’t have to invest time if you don’t want me to” and the some more of my administration work died. My projects were a central database and member management service for a central login for all labor-related services and a kvm qemu based virtualisation, which should have refunded the big root server the space couldn’t really afford. After I left the admin team without a word and backed down, there was a little time of quiet before it started over again.
At this time I have to mention the following two things:
- Don’t back down without fully investigating situations like this, because there will be alot of hidden anger going on after this, by you and the other people. Later I got knowledge of a meeting during this time, where they brought alot of false accusations agains me, nobody told me, until now. This wouldn’t have been possible if I had done more about this. For me it ended in a constant level of anger because they kept deleting my work and declare it untrue afterwards. Proving it my logs wouldn’t help, they are roots
- Alot of people were treated the same way, and backed off like me, so a single person could get more and more power himself. According to the Hackerspaces Design Patterns there must never be a leadership of a single person. Be aware of that problem. Always talk open, so all people can listen or there will be space for machinations.
At this point I have to get into greater detail so anyone can understand the context: In my opinion, a hackerspace, is a place where the collective technical work, knowledge and exchange should be the main topic. For that purpose there should be as many shared facilities like in all big hackerspaces. When people started leaving because they didn’t like how things were going, some people stood up because they noticed the change and were ignored. I made the mistake to underestimate the problem and so they left too. At that point the influence of the people who didn’t want “hacking” any more at the hackerspace and loved to use the space as a place to live, meet and party had grown much stronger. This is another thing the hackerspace design patterns warn of.
There are two graphs indicating the common option of the people at the lab which werecreated by Jiffies (@theJiff) on the basis of the logs from “problem solving meetings” that took place last month. I decided against puting the logs itself here because I don’t want any names included in this.
At the point where I noticed that I had to change a few things, the democratic made decisions often succeeded only because the people that were caring for the space were coming to the montly decision-making-meeting called the “bootstrap”. As I kept enforcing things throug the bootstrap, like not-sleeping over more than one or two days, or having a hardware-based router which anybody could access, the pressure on me grew stronger. There was a girl sleeping over since over 3 weeks, there were people having their servers running for weeks in the space, while co
mplaining about power-saving and nobody was interested in keeping the space clean at all. (See the pics I took a few days before I left.) Also there were people from a completely different political spectrum, not technical at all, fighting all day about political ideology. There were few people left to fight with me for the labor to be a hackerspace again, there was no hacking left at all. There had been an event, where I had to protect a member of the space from being kicked out for false pretences, which weekened my position again.
The end came quickly and dirty. At some day, they started to insult people I liked most there for beeing a problem in the hackerspace, and as I heard this I decided to give up the efforts I did since more than a year. I realized that the space was not any more, and wouldn’t ever be again, the place I had loved so much. I started to end up with my work, give some issues to others and only tried to finish the work I had told I would do. At that time I kept beeing angry because all those things, like the rest of the managing board fearing to stand up for the things on which they agreed with me because they wanted to be reelected to write it down in their CV, and all the people not caring about the problems, and all the people that left instead of making the space big again. Beeing under great pressure and beeing angry and all those things can make you ill, and thats what I spent the last 2 months with. So I left Bochum and traveled to Bonn to live with my parents and get well again and do the rest of my study for this semester. During this period there were several meetings I could not attend to. But at the moment I read the logs, the people meeting were writing, I decided to leave the space and the work left immediately.
There were accusations I couldn’t even laugh about, like I would be blackmailing the people who like me in leaving the lab, and me beeing manipulative or even personal stuff like two girls claiming having had an affair with me. They call me a hacker, brainhacking is one of the things im doing but I think its nothing that should be needed in a space full of hackers. Even if I had, and I definately didn’t have, it wouldn’t be a thing to discuss in a meeting about changing the hackerspace, especially not if I’m not taking part of this. Today I think one of them wanted to get back her ex-boyfriend who hates me. I won’t go into greater detail this time. Be aware of personal problems in your hackerspace and keep those people both out until they have sorted out the problem.
I’m writing this text looking back to the whole story and my fazit is a good one: Its good for both sides I left, I’m alot more calm now and healthy and they will be more happy in their group now. Sometimes its time for a split. I wish only the best to the Labor and I’m greatful for all the good years and all I learned and experienced there. Hackerspaces are a really nice concept and I will join others in the future for sure! In german you say “etwas an den Nagel hängen”, I did exactly this when I build some kind of monument in my flat which reminds me of the really good past of the labor and many things I experienced there and I will add new stuff every time I do new hackerspaces concerned stuff.
In the end, the last sentence, I want to say something about friends and friendship: I had a lot of good friends there and I lost some of them. But those situations show you who your real friends are. There were some that never asked me and just fed on what they told them, some of them even never told me the reason why they don’t like me anymore. Some of them just say I would be making the world look like I want it to be. Saying I don’t care wouldn’t be true, some of them were important to me, but obviously they don’t think about friendship like I do. Such moments are in a way great, I now know again that my best friends are still with me and know about words like “Truth”, “Honor” and “loyality”.