ownCloud and free software in the cloud: Meet Frank Karlitschek in Open Space Aarhus

I’m co-organizing this event, involving our hackerspace and the FSFE local group in Aarhus:

Frank Karlitschek, creator of ownCloud, will give a talk centering on ownCloud, free software in the enterprise and data protection in a post-Snowden world.

The talk will be followed by a discussion with the audience and a discussion panel consisting of:

  • Frank Karlitschek, Debian developer and creator of ownCloud
  • Christian Orellana, CEO of Cabo, a company that build enterprise clouds from free software
  • Carsten Agger, local group coordinator in Free Software Foundation Europe and software developer in Magenta, a company that specializes in free software mainly for the Danish public sector.

The event will take place in Open Space Aarhus on

Wednesday, October 1 at 18:00 hours

Do bring  a friend, this is going to be interesting!

 

Technoshamanism: Collaborating with the Pataxó

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One of the more important parts of the 1st Festival of Technoshamanism (previously covered here, here and here) was several points of collaboration with the local Pataxó Indians.

The Pataxó is an indigenous people of about 12,000 people who live in the extreme south of the Brazilian state of Bahia, mainly in the area between Porto Seguro and Caraíva. Traditionally, the Pataxó have lived near Monte Pascoal, in the aldeia or settlement (or “village”) called Barra Velha. In 1951, they suffered a devastating massacre at the hands of the Brazilian military police, who basically burned down the settlement and dispersed the Pataxó, who for many years hereafter often had to be  discreet about their heritage. In the 1980′s and 90′s the Pataxó started fighting for their lands and succesfully reclaimed several of their old settlements, among them the Aldeia Velha located in Arraial d’Ajuda and the area around Monte Pascoal near Caraíva. A retelling of the struggle of the Pataxó for their lands can be found here (in Portuguese).

Today, the Pataxó live in 29 aldeias mainly located in the area between Monte Pascoal and Porto Seguro. Their main source of income is agriculture and tradional craftmanship, and though they have made great advances, their claim to their lands is by no means secure. The area is home to vast financial interests in agrobusiness, who would love to be able to clear what remains of the Atlantic rain forest and plant high-yielding eucalyptus everywhere, and their relationship with the rest of society is still precarious, as craftmanship and tourism are a somewhat insecure financial foundation.

After the massacre, the Pataxó might have opted to simply integrate into Brazilian society, abandon their culture and adopt a more assimilated lifestyle as workers and farm hands. But many of them also recognize that if they fail to conserve their culture, they will disappear and become nothing more than a few thousand urban and rural poor – while if the do conserve their culture and remember who they are, they may yet conserve an incredibly rich historical and cultural heritage.

The collaboration between the Pataxó and the participants in the festival was  natural because the concept of technoshamanism is, as has been discussed, all about reconnecting with ancestral knowledge and a connection to nature. In fact, one of the reasons for selecting Arraial d’Ajuda as the location of the festival was that several of the activists behind the festival already had good relations with the Pataxó. One of those people is Regis “Bailux”, who lives in Arraial and founded the hacklab called “Bailux”. At the festival’s opening (pictured above) Regis explained how his life changed completely ten years ago, when he discovered free software. His passion for free software led him to create Bailux with weekly meetings around free software, and for years he has been working to bring free software and free technology to the Pataxó to enable them to connect to the new digital world. For the Pataxó, collaboration with and solidarity from social movements as well as from other independent people are important, as they may yet need all the support they can get in the struggle for their culture and their land.

As a European and a person from a very different culture, I was honoured to be invited as a friend and a guest of these wonderful people.

The village pajé, or medicine woman, in Aldeia Velha:

Scenes from a wedding and sports contest in Aldeia Velha on April 29, 2014:

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Captura de Tela 2014-05-14 às 14.00.51-1

Captura de Tela 2014-05-14 às 13.54.42-1

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Various snapshots from the village:

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sou indio pataxó

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Elections ’14: Not much to celebrate

The result of the Danish referendum on the European patent court and the unitary patent was, in spite of a rather intense campaign by Prosa, IT-Politisk Forening and Bitbureauet (and, to a lesser extent, our local FSFE group), a clear victory for the “yes” camp. In our defense, the other side had more money and were constantly pounding on the allegation that if the 0,3% of Danish companies that have patents would have to continue validating their patents simultaneously in Denmark, it would somehow destroy the economy. We were also told not to worry about software patents, since the rules explicitly forbid them and of course the European Patent Organization would never issue a software patent. The good news is that very few countries have yet ratified the new patent rules, and the general political squabble may yet mean that the unitary patent may in fact never become a reality. There’s still time to fight against software patents on the European level.

In other news, the nationalist and racist Danish People’s Party gained 26,7% of the votes and is now the largest political party in the country. This could be coupled with the similar victory for the Front National in France. Given our country’s history of xenophobic policies induced by the Danish People’s Party, my analysis of Denmark’s political future is this: “God help us all! Where’s my passport?”

Speaking against the European patent court

This afternoon, I will give a talk at Aarhus University School of Engineering, recommending a no in the upcoming referendum about Denmark’s accession to the unitary patent and the European patent court.

Our main motivation for working against the unitary patent is that the rules about software patents are very unclear, and given a closed-circuit patent-lawyer-only system as created by the European Patent Organization and the court in conjunction, we have every reason to fear the worst. I wrote more about this here.

Below, you can see one of the posters from our campaign. Basically it says that we have to vote NO to patent trolls, as the unitary patent risks creating a patent troll-friendly environment in Europe which did not previously exist.

A NO in the referendum will not immediately help the rest of Europe, but at least unitary patents won’t be valid in Denmark. And, if Denmark votes no because of software patents, and Ireland follows suit in a year’s time when they have their referendum, it may yet help us campaign to change things. And, hopefully, kill software patents (and bio-patents, but that’s another story) once and for all.

Mozilla sells out, adds DRM to Firefox

This is sad and a huge blow to the free software movement, I think.

I’ll just repeat the FSF’s press release, as I can stand by every word:

FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 — In response to Mozilla’s announcement that it is reluctantly adopting DRM in its Firefox Web browser, Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan made the following statement:

“Only a week after the International Day Against DRM, Mozilla has announced that it will partner with proprietary software company Adobe to implement support for Web-based Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in its Firefox browser, using Encrypted Media Extensions (EME).

The Free Software Foundation is deeply disappointed in Mozilla’s announcement. The decision compromises important principles in order to alleviate misguided fears about loss of browser marketshare. It allies Mozilla with a company hostile to the free software movement and to Mozilla’s own fundamental ideals.

Although Mozilla will not directly ship Adobe’s proprietary DRM plugin, it will, as an official feature, encourage Firefox users to install the plugin from Adobe when presented with media that requests DRM. We agree with Cory Doctorow that there is no meaningful distinction between ‘installing DRM’ and ‘installing code that installs DRM.’

We recognize that Mozilla is doing this reluctantly, and we trust these words coming from Mozilla much more than we do when they come from Microsoft or Amazon. At the same time, nearly everyone who implements DRM says they are forced to do it, and this lack of accountability is how the practice sustains itself. Mozilla’s announcement today unfortunately puts it — in this regard — in the same category as its proprietary competitors.

Unlike those proprietary competitors, Mozilla is going to great lengths to reduce some of the specific harms of DRM by attempting to ‘sandbox’ the plugin. But this approach cannot solve the fundamental ethical problems with proprietary software, or the issues that inevitably arise when proprietary software is installed on a user’s computer.

In the announcement, Mitchell Baker asserts that Mozilla’s hands were tied. But she then goes on to actively praise Adobe’s “value” and suggests that there is some kind of necessary balance between DRM and user freedom.

There is nothing necessary about DRM, and to hear Mozilla praising Adobe — the company who has been and continues to be a vicious opponent of the free software movement and the free Web — is shocking. With this partnership in place, we worry about Mozilla’s ability and willingness to criticize Adobe’s practices going forward.

We understand that Mozilla is afraid of losing users. Cory Doctorow points out that they have produced no evidence to substantiate this fear or made any effort to study the situation. More importantly, popularity is not an end in itself. This is especially true for the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit with an ethical mission. In the past, Mozilla has distinguished itself and achieved success by protecting the freedom of its users and explaining the importance of that freedom: including publishing Firefox’s source code, allowing others to make modifications to it, and sticking to Web standards in the face of attempts to impose proprietary extensions.

Today’s decision turns that calculus on its head, devoting Mozilla resources to delivering users to Adobe and hostile media distributors. In the process, Firefox is losing the identity which set it apart from its proprietary competitors — Internet Explorer and Chrome — both of which are implementing EME in an even worse fashion.

Undoubtedly, some number of users just want restricted media like Netflix to work in Firefox, and they will be upset if it doesn’t. This is unsurprising, since the majority of the world is not yet familiar with the ethical issues surrounding proprietary software. This debate was, and is, a high-profile opportunity to introduce these concepts to users and ask them to stand together in some tough decisions.

To see Mozilla compromise without making any public effort to rally users against this supposed “forced choice” is doubly disappointing. They should reverse this decision. But whether they do or do not, we call on them to join us by devoting as many of their extensive resources to permanently eliminating DRM as they are now devoting to supporting it. The FSF will have more to say and do on this in the coming days. For now, users who are concerned about this issue should:

  • Write to Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal and let him know that you oppose DRM. Mozilla made this decision in a misguided appeal to its userbase; it needs to hear in clear and reasoned terms from the users who feel this as a betrayal. Ask Mozilla what it is going to do to actually solve the DRM problem that has created this false forced choice.
  • Join our effort to stop EME approval at the W3C. While today’s announcement makes it even more obvious that W3C rejection of EME will not stop its implementation, it also makes it clear that W3C can fearlessly reject EME to send a message that DRM is not a part of the vision of a free Web.
  • Use a version of Firefox without the EME code: Since its source code is available under a license allowing anyone to modify and redistribute it under a different name, we expect versions without EME to be made available, and you should use those instead. We will list them in the Free Software Directory.
  • Donate to support the work of the Free Software Foundation and our Defective by Design campaign to actually end DRM. Until it’s completely gone, Mozilla and others will be constantly tempted to capitulate, and users will be pressured to continue using some proprietary software. If not us, give to another group fighting against digital restrictions.”

References

Participating in the 1st International Festival for Technoshamanism

This Monday, I’ll be boarding a plane for Brazil in order to attend the First International Festival of Technoshamanism, which will take place from April 23 to April 30 in Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia.

Which kind of raises the question: What is “technoshamanism”?

It can best be described as an attempt to unite science with religion, and to integrate the worldview of indigenous peoples like the South American Indians with modern technology. It is also about finding a new way for humanity in the era we could call the anthropocene, where not only indigenous people all over the world, but practically speaking all of us arfe threatened with impending destruction.

In that respect, and in integrating the indigenous worldview, technoshamanism is inspired by the perspecitvism introduced by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. This includes an epistemological inversion, where the split between living, conscious human beings and the “dead” Nature inherent in European thought is replaced with a more general view of the world, where animals and things can be considered “living” and “conscious” as well, albeit usually in another way. In that sense, Viveiros’ perspectivism could be considered a formalization and generalization of an Amerindian philosophy.

There’s a more comprehensive explanation available in an article by Brazilian writer and pshychologist Fabiane Borges, which was the basis of her presentation at Transmediale 2014 (in Berlin). I’ve translated this article to from Portuguese to English, and it’s now available as a PDF here.

Borges describes Viveiros’ perspectivism as follows:

The difference between the evolutionary and the Amerindian perspective is that the former believes that there is one nature and many cultures, while the latter thinks of it as many natures and one culture. For the Indian, the only culture that exists is human culture. Everything that exists is human. A stone, the moon, a river, a jaguar, the deceased – all of these are human, but they are dressed in different clothes, behave differently and have different views on reality. For the Indians, a meeting of shamans may mean the same thing as that of a congregation of tapirs in a mudhole – each group is performing its own rituals.

Of course, if we delve into the differences between groups, we will find different priorities for each species and a particular creation myth for each of them, but the important thing here is to understand that the human foundation shared by all beings also serves to connect them and keeps them in a state of constant communication. This understanding is very important: behind the nature of a stone lies a human culture which is also the basis for inter-species communication. (…)

The shaman is a kind of diplomat who has the ability to assume several of these points of view. He is able to contact all those different forms; he can change his clothes and visit the points of view of many different beings. There may be a pact between him and those beings, a mutual affinity but also a repulsion. He is able to leave his own point of view behind and see himself from the outside and see the Indians of his tribe from the point of view of the tree or of the birds, the moon, the stars, or any other object or material. This ability means that the shaman has a deeper insight into the nature of things than most Indians, because he has improved this technique by intense training. That is why his madness, his schizofrenia and his perceptual deviation is considered to be wisdom.

Such a worldview, however, doesn’t always match modern society very well. Borges discusses the French sociologist Bruno Latour and his distinction between “humans” and “earthbound”, where the “earthbound” are those who are more bound to our planet and its well-being, while the “humans” are more dedicated to human society, not least its financial aspects:

On one side we have the poor, dirty bums: lazy, retarded, subjectivist infantile hippies, losers, misfits, spiritualists, barbarians. On the other side the urban people, committed to modernity, growth, development, enrichment, security, productivity, objectivity, and expansionism. These opposed camps are, in spite of not being very clearly defined, disputing modes of existence and ways of relating to Earth and to Life itself.

The point here is, that in the overall economic management of our Western societies (or of all the world’s societies, if we want to tell the truth) the “earthbound” are losing or being neglected, while the “humans” are dominating; “financial responsibility” dictates constant “growth”, i.e., we must burn down the planet in order to preserve it. But if we want to survive in the long run, we might do worse than starting listening in earnest to the earthbound, or at least to the scientists from the IPCC.

Technoshamanism, by following this thread, becomes a kind of spiritual search for everything for which there is no room in the harsh realities of modern industrial societies. It thus becomes a philosophy of garbage – of all the things we routinely throw away: Madness, hallucinations, nonconformity, the compassion for the unemployed and the sick and the poor in general, if and when they are perceived as obstructive to the juggernaut of growth. This means that even though the refuses of society are not necessarily healthy, we are obliged to search for our lost humanity precisely on the garbage heap.

Borges summarizes this position as follows:

This is equivalent to saying that technoshamanism apart from arising directly from a transversal shamanism is also dirty and noiseocratic. It belongs in the garbage dump, is unclean. A significant part of what technoshamanism affirms originates in the leftovers of scientific thinking, from precarious laboratories, uncertain knowledge, hacking, electronic garbage, workarounds, cats, originates from the recycling of materials, from the duplication of already thoroughly tested scientific results.

To this we may add particular questions from social movements related to feminism, to the movements of queers, of blacks, for free software, of the landless, of indigenous people, of river communities, of homeless people and the unemployed among countless others who also perceive through their own noises, their own dissidency, their own garbage.

The last paragraph also tells us what this has to do with free software. In fact, the festival is arranged in close collaboration with the local hacklab Bailux, whose volunteers for several years now have been working with the Indians from the nearby Aldeia Velha to do things with free software; precisely, among other things, helping the Indians preserve their ancestral knowledge using free software. The Brazilian hacker bus, one of the “crown jewels” of a local hacker movement which is completely dedicated to political change through free software, will be driving down to the festival from São Paulo. So, while the overall political and philosophical ideas behind the festival are not related to free software as such, they have everything to do with a culture where free software is completely ingrained. And that, one might add, is not without its own significance.

Links:

FSFE in the news

I’ve been quoted in the Danish newspaper Arbejderen (“The Labourer”) under the headline “IT Employees Launch Campaign Against the Patent Court“. The campaign is  about the upcoming referendum on the Danish accession to the new EU-wide Unified Patent and the related Unified Patent Court. The work of the FSFE and especially our Fellowship group is mentioned.

It is very important to campaign for a “no” in this referendum, since the Unified Patent will make the current problems with software patents from the European Patent Office much worse. If Denmark votes no, its businesses will be at least partially shielded from European-wide enforcement of software patents. The campaign is organized by PROSA and the IT-Political Association of Denmark.

This is more relevant than ever, as the EPO now openly admits that “technical software” can be patented.

See this, and this.

The quote is:

Carsten Agger is active in the IT-Political Association of Denmark and in  Open Space Aarhus, an association of people interested in technology[1].

He is also a coordinator in the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) which fights for the right to develop and distribute software freely.

This Friday, the FSFE joined a campaign to ask all  candidates for the upcoming elections for the European Parliament to join a pact which states that free software is a common good which is worth fighting for.

If you want to read the rest of the article, I propose you use Google Translate, as I don’t have the time to translate all of it.

Tonight, there’s going to be a public meeting in Aarhus to launch the new campaign against software patents and the Unified Patent. I hope there’s going to be a lot of people and that we can get the “no”. That could also help get the movement against software patent going in all of Europe.

Our local group in Aarhus will contribute as much to the campaign as it can. The patent court and the referendum will be the subject of our next fellowship meeting on February 20.

Notes:

[1]: Also called a HACKERSPACE. That’s the term we prefer.

[2]: Actually, the original article states that the FSFE launched that campaign. This is wrong and is not what I told the journalist. APRIL has launched it, the FSFE and specifically our local group wants to join it. The journalist has now fixed this in the online edition.

Free software, technology and curiosity – celebrating 30 years of GNU

[ Celebrate 30 years of GNU! ]

On October 5, 2010, I gave a tech talk about free software at Open Space Aarhus, the only and at the time very new hackerspace in Aarhus. The talk was scheduled in celebration of Free Software Foundation’s 25th birthday the day before.

After giving the talk, I wrote a longish article from my notes, explaining free software from a non-programming but technical and scientific point of view. Today, I have published the article on my Danish-language blog in celebration of 30 years with the GNU project, and you’re free to read it and share it as you want.

Well, if you can read Danish, at any rate. If you want to get an impression of the article, you can try reading the Google Translated version. I can’t guarantee for its accuracy, though. But happy belated birthday to the GNU project, and especially to the rest of us who enjoy its fruits every day when we boot up our computer.

Link: Fri software, nysgerrighed og teknologi (Google translated).

Open Data – how to make it succeed, how to make it fail

This is a talk I gave on September 26th as part of an Ignite session for the hackathon Hack4DK. The hackathon was organized by the Danish Agency for Culture and was centered around recently released cultural heritage data. The talk was an Ignite talk, which means I had to talk exactly five minutes, accompanied by exactly twenty slides (PDF) which display for exactly fifteen seconds each.

Below, the actual speech I gave:

As you can read in the program for this event, I’m a software engineer at Magenta and a board member at Open Space Aarhus, our local community hackerspace. I am also an active Fellow of Free Software Foundation Europe.

This means that my background is in professional free software development AND in the hacker community around Open Space Aarhus. You might say that I represent a hacker’s point of view.

In free (or “open source”) software, the things you need to be able to do with a program are quickly described: You need to be legally entitled to USE, STUDY, CHANGE and DISTRIBUTE the software you work with. This enables sharing and user freedom and avoids expensive licensing.

In the hacker community, our slogan is, somewhat more playfully:

Build what you need, share what you build

AND

Be awesome (and have fun).

From both perspectives the requirements for open data are the same: We must be legally entitled to use them AND to share them – to distribute them ourselves.

If I am to build a free software app from your data, anyone must be allowed to use it, for any purpose. If people are to share what I build, it must be legal for them to do so. If not, my users might get sued.

This means that open data must always concede their users the following rights:

  • A free license, for instance the Creative Commons license used by Wikipedia
  • Redistribution and copying must be allowed
  • The data must be available in formats following open standards

Conversely, data are NOT open if they

  • have a license that limits commercial use in any way, or
  • don’t have a FREE license, or
  • if they don’t have any license at all, or
  • if they are only available in closed or patented formats.

Apps built on such data are not freely hackable and distributable as embodied e.g. in the Open Definition (http://opendefinition.org/okd/).

People from Wikipedia, from Creative Commons and from a plethora of excellent organizations have spoken at last year’s Hack4DK event, and everybody contributing to this year’s event should be aware of these things. But if I look at this year’s contributors of data, several present data with no license or with non-open licenses which are useless from an open data perspective.

One site affirms that its data are experimental and not to be used for commercial purposes. I wouldn’t dream of touching such data in an “open” context like a hackathon.

Worse, the data in question are apparently graphical renderings of maps that are hundreds of years old and thus in the public domain. So these contributors are not just offering data, they are simultaneously removing these data from the public domain and limiting their usefulness to the public.

On another site I find lots of nice and useful data – but, in many cases, no license!

I might claim good faith and use the data anyway, but if no license is given this implied permission could always be revoked and my customers might get sued. I do trust their good intentions, but I frankly think that someone who choose to call themselves “Open Data Aarhus” should know better than that.

And finally, an image offered for download by an art museum is accompanied by very hostile copyright language – which is also pointless, as that statue passed into the public domain centuries ago.

The point here is: If you want to open your data, don’t do it grudgingly. You don’t need hostile copyright language; what you do need is a nice and clear license allowing everybody to use, share, remix and distribute your data.

Cultural heritage data could play a very important part in a free and open society. The possibilities are virtually endless. But we must be free to use them.

Put your data out there under a clear, permissive and non-revokable license and allow users and businesses to share and redistribute them.

In that way a lot of very valuable knowledge and a lot of very valuable works of art may form the basis of many valuable contributions to our modern, digital culture.

Happy hacking! And thanks for having me here today.

I believe the organizers recorded the event on video, and I’ll post the video here as well when it’s available – which is, unfortunately, not just yet.

Denmark: New government, new opportunities for free software

Denmark had a general election on September 15th, and this led to the ouster of the right-of-centre coalition which has governed our country for ten years now. The next government will be a coalition between social democrats, a moderate leftist party (SF) and a centrist liberal parti (Det Radikale Venstre, which actually means “the Radical Left” – historical reasons, for they are traditionally a very moderate bunch). From a political perspective, this will hopefully mean the end of ten years of catering to the extreme, xenophobic right in the guise of the Danish People’s Party, whose leader Pia Kjærsgaard has easily (and alas!) and by far been the most powerful political figure in Denmark for these ten years. Denmark has passed legislation which is so unbelievably unpleasant and racist in its intent, that you would not believe it unless you’ve heard about it or been unfortunate enough to experience it.

But all that’s really off-topic for this blog. If you want, you can read all about it on Adventures and Japes, a brilliant blog written by an English school-teacher in a small town in Jutland. So, let’s continue where we left off: New government, new opportunities.

Denmark has not traditionally been a free software country. Rather, it has traditionally been solid Microsoft territory. Penetration of free software solutions is very low compared to many other countries, and under the present government, this has been supported by lobbyism from the larger vendors coupled with the government’s very “business-friendly” approach. There has been some debate about the possibility of saving money by going “open source”, and some (few) local authorities have been rolling out OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice and GNU/Linux. The values behind free software, which in my opinion is what makes the real difference, have been completely absent from the public debate.

But now, we have a new government, and in my opinion this represents a very interesting new opportunity for free software. The politicians behind the new government can’t be expected to act very differently in the realm of IT politics than their predecessors. The reason for this is that really understanding the issue requires either a level of technical insight or at least an interest in the subject which many politicians simply don’t have. One very important reason for this is that frankly, they have other very important subjects to think about. Like foreign policy, wars and a sinking economy. The only political party which has shown a real understanding of the issues behind free software is the leftist “Enhedslisten” (the “United List”, comparable e.g. to Izquerda Unida in Spain), and they will not be part of the new goverment.

The opportunity is that the new government consists of parties which are ostensibly progressive. Whereas the old government was simply set in their ways and completely out of reach on this subject, the new government can be expected to be genuinely interested in hearing new things. If we start telling their politicians about free software there is a real possibility this could lead to, not wholesale adoption (that is way too optimistic), but a real change in their attitude.

Maybe we should do something similar to what the French organization APRIL has done and send letters of education and pledges for politicians to sign to indicate they understand the issue of free software and will work for it. Like I wrote in my first post, I am currently working on a manuscript on free software which will hopefully be published as a book in 2012. I am thinking of sending an excerpt of this book to all relevant politicians and offer to send them the actual book free of charge. Another possibility might be to offer to give free talks to politicians from the new government parties, and from Enhedslisten, who will also be important. And to the opposition, for that matter, as they may be more interested in real issues now that they have lost their posts in government.

Does anyone have experience doing this kind of advocacy they would like to share? If so, feel free to add your opinion or advice in the comments section.