Archive for May, 2012

You’re never too old for Wikipedia

"Woman and Man" by Irene Lynch / oil stick on rubbed oil on prepared canvas" / approximately 8 feet x 6 feet / hangs unframed / c. 1983

Meet Irene.

Irene contributed $5,000 to Wikimania 2012, joining the likes of Google and WikiHow in sponsoring the international gathering of individuals who work in support of free global access to the sum of human knowledge. But unlike other Wikimania sponsors, Irene is not an internet company, non-profit organization, or philanthropic foundation. Irene is a 78-year-old private individual from New Jersey who describes herself as a “peace seeker, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.”

“My donation to Wikimedia Foundation was inspired by the very mission it espouses,” Irene says. “Without responsible freedom to learn and act, we cannot heal, we cannot grow in a truly healthful fashion.”

Irene is more than just a great grandmother who loves Wikipedia. She also describes herself as a storyteller and an artist.

Poem by Irene Lynch

“My life is my story,” she says. “There are times when I’ve speculated that I could have been born either in one of the Kansas City, MO public libraries, or the Nelson Art Gallery.  My mother spent so much time in them that I learned to read about four, and the arts became my passion.”

Irene cultivated her passion for culture and art through painting (see left), as well as through reading and writing poetry (she says her favorite poem is Ulysses by Tennyson). But it was her continuous pursuit of knowledge that she channeled into her love of the world’s largest encyclopedia.

“I so deeply appreciate what you’ve done for so many over the years!” Irene says of Wikipedia. “As a non-academic scholar and artist, you have sent in wonderful directions in my search for truth & justice, and human compassion.”

Irene will be attending Wikimania 2012 this July, joining an estimated 1000 domestic and international attendees. While on Wikipedia, she’s just one of over 450 million unique visitors, in Wikimania, she’s truly one in a million.

“It is an imperfect humanity we all share, and it is my hope to share conversations with like folks at this conference in DC,” she says. At 78, Irene is further proof that you’re truly never too old to keep learning and to fall in love with Wikipedia.

Everyone at Wikimedia DC thanks Irene for her gracious contribution and we all look forward to welcoming her to Washington, DC, this July.

Nicholas Michael Bashour, President, Wikimedia District of Columbia

Note: if you would like to leave a note for Irene, leave a comment, and Wikimedia DC will forward it to her.

Travel Discounts to Wikimania: Train & Airline Travel

Wikimania 2012 will take place in Washington, DC, July 10-15

Wikimedia District of Columbia is pleased to announce that we have obtained a travel discount on Amtrak for travel to Wikimania 2012 in Washington, DC, this July. Amtrak offers a 10% discount off the lowest available rail fare to Washington, DC between July 07, 2012 – July 18, 2012. This offer is not valid on the Auto Train and Acela service. Offer valid with Sleepers, Business Class or First Class seats with payment of the full applicable accommodation charges. Fare is valid on Amtrak Regional all departures seven days a week, except for holiday blackouts, which do not affect Wikimania dates.

Amtrak joins United Airlines and SkyTeam Global Meetings in offering travel discounts to Wikimania attendees. A discount of up to 13% is available for travel to and from Washington, DC-area airport between July 9, 2012 and July 18, 2012 on United Airlines, Continental Airlines or and flights operated by other airlines and branded United Express and Continental Express, and United codeshare flights operated by Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways. A discount of up to 10% is provided off published airfare for travel to and from Washington, DC-area airports between Monday, July 2, 2012 and Saturday, July 21, 2012 by Delta Airlines, Air France, Aeroloft, KLM, Alitalia, and Korean Air.

To obtain travel discount codes, please contact WikimaniaTravel[at]

Internet Freedom & Global Knowledge: Where do we go from here?

More than three months after the SOPA/PIPA protests, a big question still remains for the global Internet community: where do we go from here? The Wikimedia/Wikipedia community, which was divided over the decision to black out the English Wikipedia globally in January, faces a different but related question: have we done enough, and should we remain neutral moving forward? To help answer at least the first question, last week Wikimedia District of Columbia (Wikimedia DC), in partnership with the Washington European Society and the Estonian Embassy in Washington, hosted the inaugural event of the Embassy Outreach Initiative, “Internet Freedom & Open Government: an International Conversation.”

From L to R, Danny Weitzner, Chairman Marko Mihkelson, Ian Schuler, and Rebecca MacKinnon (CC-BY-SA)

The event, hosted at the Estonian Embassy, featured a discussion with Danny Weitzner, Deputy CTO for Internet Policy at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; Chairman Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament; Ian Schuler, Senior Manager for Internet Freedom Programs at the US State Department; and Rebecca MacKinnon, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board. Adam Kushner, Deputy Editor of the National Journal, moderated the discussion.

The conversation on Internet freedom highlighted several global issues and programs, such as the State Department’s $76 million effort to support worldwide Internet freedom programs, but two significant points emerged that have a particular significance to the Wikimedia community’s goal of global free access to knowledge. The first was an assertion by both Weitzner and MacKinnon that what we can do on the internet today is not a product of random forces or serendipitous actions, but was the result of hard work, of conscious domestic and international policy decisions, and of global efforts by public and private groups to create the environment in which the current Internet culture exists. This is the same assertion that was at the heart of Sue Gardner’s statement on the eve of the January 18 Wikipedia blackout: that “although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not.”

The global dialogue on Internet freedom did not start on January 18, and it’s far from being over. There is no doubt that Internet freedom will always be a central component to the mission of providing free access to global knowledge. One has to only look toward the Uzbek Wikipedia, which was blocked in Uzbekistan for no good reason, to see an example of how attacking Internet freedom can impede our global vision and goals.

The second significant point from the discussion at the embassy was the perhaps deserved criticism that the Internet community has been largely reactive when it comes to Internet freedom, and it needs alternatively become more proactive and use its power constructively to influence or advocate for suitable alternatives. Stopping SOPA/PIPA and hindering the progress of ACTA did not solve the problems that they were designed to address, and there are already talks of what needs to be done next. The Internet community as a whole, and the Wikimedia community in particular, needs to figure out how it wants to shape the global conversation. We need to, as a movement, decide what role want to play in this dialogue or we run the risk of possibly facing another SOPA not too far down the road. But we also need to be careful to avoid sidelining or disenfranchising those in the movement who are not comfortable with (or legally restricted from) advocacy.

One thing to keep in mind is that promoting advocacy and facilitating dialogue are two different things. We don’t need to advocate for a particular viewpoint or policy to facilitate constructive dialogue about the issue as a whole, if that’s the role we want to play. Sometimes simply being present and making the decision makers aware of our existence and our needs makes a significant difference. SOPA, and particularly ACTA burst onto the scene after years of closed-door negotiations, and that’s part of the reason why the response to them was so intense. Many of the policymakers drafting them had no idea what the needs of the Internet community was, or even how the Internet works, because the Internet community was never a part of that conversation and these policymakers did not even think that the community’s opinion mattered. These policies, and way they developed, would have been radically different had we made our presence, needs, and significance known earlier.

Initiatives at Wikimedia DC, like the upcoming Open Government Project, are designed to do just that— to facilitate dialogue and allow the community to be an active participant, both online and offline, so that our needs are not ignored or misrepresented in the future. We at Wikimedia DC will always work toward the goal of empowering individuals across the globe through access to knowledge, and Washington, DC, is a great place for us to make an impact. After all, it was here where President James Madison wrote that “a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Nicholas Michael Bashour, President, Wikimedia District of Columbia

Note: The statements in this post are simply my own and do not represent the opinions of the Board of Directors as a whole