ORGCon 2013: introduction to ORG – a volunteer’s view

At ORGCon 2013 I spoke on a panel introducing the Open Rights Group to people new to the organisation. I covered the community and volunteering aspects of the group. The text of my short talk is below the fold. I’ve peppered my notes with links to myriad ways people can get involved, so whether you’ve long been interested in digital rights or you’re only just starting to explore this arena, read on to find out what you can do.

I often say I’m a digital rights activist but really it was the Open Rights Group that helped me grow into that role. Before I started volunteering for ORG in 2006 I was just a geek with a healthy Internet addiction. Possibly some of us here today resemble that description.

When I stumbled across ORG I found a community of people who believe, as I believe, that the digital revolution should be for everyone, that it should empower everyone, and that it should harm no-one. I got sucked in – and then I got stuck in. And I found there’s plenty to do whatever your interests and skills.

I’ve run stalls at conferences and handed out flyers in the street. I’ve written copy for the website. I’ve written to every level of politician I can find an address for – I’ve even debated with my MP in the letters pages of my local newspaper. I’ve edited a digital-rights news feed and helped keep spam off our wiki. These are not big achievements but they felt important, like I was part of something larger that was taking positive action to help change the digital world for the better.

I now sit on the ORG supporters council, which helps the staff at ORG towers keep in touch with members and volunteers, and vice versa.

I also run ORG Sheffield, which is a social meet-up / discussion group / activist cell in my local area, and we get together every month with maybe a speaker or two, maybe a hot topic to debate, or maybe to do something more active like a hack day, a demonstration or taking part in a campaign on a particular issue. There’s always beer, food, good company and lively debate – I very much enjoy it. I’ll be speaking more this afternoon about local groups and how to get one going in your area.

What opportunities are there to get involved with ORG as a volunteer today?

  • If you enjoy writing or have a bit of a journalistic bent then you can contribute to the ‘Zine.
  • If your interest lies in cataloguing, curating, and wrangling information¬† you can get stuck into our wiki, helping to make sense of the issues we care about and the positions our politicians take on them.
  • If you’re a people person or you have a knack for organising things – or if you just want to meet like-minded people to discuss digital rights – why not start or join a local group in your area?
  • If matters of law or policy interest you, and you want to keep up with the latest digital-rights news, definitely join the ORG-discuss mailing list. We often need help writing responses to government policy, so if your area of expertise crosses over with ORGs interests, contributing your knowledge would be a really useful way to help. If your keen there are also opportunities to lobby politicians on ORG’s issues. We recently sent a volunteer to Brussels to take part in the data protection debate happening in Europe currently, for example.
  • If you’re a software person – a coder, tester, analyst, UX designer, dev-ops engineer or anything like that, we have a dozen interesting bits of software we could really do with building, so join the ORG-tech mailing list and get stuck in. we plan to start running hack days soon too.

What other ways can people get involved with ORG? Please leave me a comment if I’ve missed something out!