Defiance: agenda


MIT Student Activism Poster Collection, 1968-1973. Courtesy MIT Museum.

Courtesy MIT Museum

by Stacie Slotnick

July 7, 2017

8:00am Breakfast and registration

9:00 Opening

9:15 The (Nonviolent) Struggle is Real: Jamila Raqib
As executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution, Jamila Raqib has worked with legendary political scientist Gene Sharp for more than 15 years. Last year, on a mission to organize decades’ worth of historic documents, she stumbled upon an incredible find in his East Boston home: a box containing correspondence between Albert Einstein and the 25-year-old Sharp, who was in prison at the time for refusing conscription into the Korean War. Written in the last two years of Einstein’s life, the letters show how they grappled with the profound challenges of the twentieth century: war and violence, totalitarianism, the degradation of civil liberties, and attacks on academic freedom. It is evident that the McCarthyism of the era weighed heavily on Einstein’s mind as he offered steadfast support to Sharp and addressed the “conflict between political obligation and moral conscience.”

It is impossible to understand our world today without recognizing the power of defiance—the human capacity and willingness to defy societies, institutions, and governments. Creating a more free, just, and less-violent world requires us to anchor these acts of defiance in wider strategies for empowerment and resistance. How do we move from individual acts of courageous, creative defiance to lasting, fundamental change? 

9:45 Introduction: Ethan Zuckerman and Joi Ito

10:00 Rebel Scientists: G. Pascal Zachary
Dissent, disagreement, and disobedience have deep roots in the engineering and scientific communities, providing both the foundation and impetus for gains, advances, and progress in the construction of techno-scientific knowledge. Much techno-scientific practice remains consensual and friendly to conventional, “official” sources of state authority, disciplinary norms, and civil prestige. However, notable acts of defiance by techno-scientists, both within their disciplinary communities and in the wider world, deliver vital sources of support to healthy democracies and represent an important pillar for intellectual freedom.

10:30 Break

10:45 Pirate in the Empire: Julia Reda
Julia Reda is the sole Pirate among the 751 Parliamentarians representing the people of Europe. Her constituency is the Internet, and her task is to disrupt decades of copyright expansion policies. Her power doesn’t lie in her single vote, but in her seat at the table: It enables her dual role as a laser-focused topical expert internally, and a loud, pan-European campaigner externally. Breaking with conventions and stepping on toes with her work, she exerts 
an outsized influence on EU Internet policy, as third parties attest. It’s a model she hopes other activist politicians will follow.

11:15 The Heat Enlisting the Street: Ed You
How do we protect the interests of both scientists and the public when biotechnology—much of which is inherently collaborative and open—continually outpaces policy? Edward You will address these tensions and discuss the ongoing conversation between science and law enforcement.

11:45 Justice in the Judiciary: Adam Foss
The Evolution of Prosecution: We live in an era where we spend billions every year on technology to solve minor inconveniences for the “haves.” But in the justice system, we continue to use the same tools we have used since its inception, with particular impact on the “have nots.” This talk will look at the levers we have yet to pull to stem the tide of mass incarceration and to achieve better outcomes for all of us.

12:15pm Lunch

1:00 The Conspiracy Trap: Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen has dedicated much of her career to covering conspiracy theories and autocracies. Her books include Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot; The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy; and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. She regularly contributes to The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, and Slate.  

1:30 Defiance in the Digital Age: Esra’a Al Shafei
Please note: this talk will not be webcast. Archived video will be available online at a later date.
Repressive sociopolitical climates present both obstacles and opportunities for progressive discourse, requiring novel ways to circumvent censorship and preserve anonymity while expressing dissent through subversive, often artistic, means. This talk will explore creative approaches to social justice advocacy in the Middle East that defer to the region’s unique cultural contexts, and to the role of new technology in forging these efforts. 

2:00 Define American: Jose Antonio Vargas
Jose Antonio Vargas is founder and CEO of Define American, a leading nonprofit media advocacy organization that uses storytelling to humanize the conversation around immigration, citizenship, and identity in a changing America. He also established #EmergingUS, the first media property known to have been owned by an undocumented immigrant. As a creator and curator of stories, Vargas produces the annual Define American Film Festival, a traveling event that showcases films and panels focused on America’s changing demographics. He is the author of The New York Times Magazine essay “My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant,” and the TIME cover story, “Not Legal Not Leaving.” He produced and directed Documented, which was nominated for the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary, and the Emmy-nominated television special White People. His awards include a Public Service Award from the National Council of La Raza; the Salem Award from the Salem Award Foundation; and the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA.

2:30 Break

2:45 Defying Faith: Father Eric Salobir, Maria Zuber, Jonathan Zittrain
In 1979, as a way to “dispel the mistrust. . .between science and faith,” Pope John Paul II honored the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birth and called for a commission to discuss the Catholic Church’s treatment of Galileo Galilei during the Renaissance. Jonathan Zittrain will facilitate a conversation between Maria Zuber (science) and Father Eric Salobir (faith). Expect a wide-ranging discussion about the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious faith, the role religious institutions can play in disseminating scientific information, and how disobedience and defiance can contribute to both.

3:45 Disobedience Award
Disobedience Award objectives are to build awareness and support of disobedience-robust work being done around the world, and to promote role models for younger people. With this award, we honor work that impacts society in positive ways, and is consistent with a set of key principles, including nonviolence, creativity, courage, and responsibility for one’s actions. 

4:00 Defiance: A panel discussion with the Media Lab Disobedience Award winner and finalists

5:00 Closing remarks: Jamila Raqib

5:15 Evening reception