Post

Disobedience Award FAQ

The Noun Project

by Stacie Slotnick

March 27, 2017

Media Lab Director Joi Ito on how the award came to be:

“You don’t change the world by doing what you’re told. The American civil rights movement wouldn't have happened without civil disobedience. India would not have achieved independence without the pacifist but firm disobedience of Gandhi and his followers. The Boston Tea Party, which we celebrate here in New England, was also quite disobedient.

There is a difficult line–sometimes obvious only in retrospect–between disobedience that helps society and disobedience that doesn't. I'm not encouraging people to break the law or be disobedient just for the sake of being disobedient, but sometimes we have to go to first principles and consider whether the laws or rules are fair, and whether we should question them.

I like to think of the Media Lab as ‘disobedience robust.’ The robustness of the model of the Lab is in part due to the way disobedience and disagreement exist and are manifested in a healthy, creative, and respectful way. I believe that being ‘disobedience robust’ is an essential element of any healthy democracy and of any open society that continues to self correct and innovate.”

Frequently asked questions about the Disobedience Award

  1. Who is eligible for the award?
  2. What does “no strings attached” mean?
  3. Can I nominate myself?
  4. Who will select the winner?
  5. Isn’t this award an endorsement, implicit or otherwise, of illegal activity?
  6. How do you define “responsible”?
  7. How is this award funded?
  8. When will the winner be announced?
  9. Will this be an annual award?
  10. Is this award a response to/an expression of defiance to the Trump administration?
  11. What about Aaron Swartz?
  12. What do you hope or envision the winner will do with the money?
  13. Who are examples of people who might win the prize if they were alive today?
  14. In case of a group win (Arab Spring, the Department of Energy heads who refused to name staffers who worked on climate change programs, Black Lives Matter), how would the award be distributed?
  15. Who do I contact with questions?
  1. Who is eligible for the award?

    The Disobedience Award is open to any living person or group who is or has engaged in acts of responsible, principled, ethical disobedience to authority, with the goal of benefitting society. It is a global award, open to all fields, such as science, politics, civics, law, journalism, medicine, human rights, and innovation. The award does not endorse acts of violence, terrorism, or reckless or dangerous behavior. The key principle behind the award is positive social impact.

  2. What does “no strings attached” mean?

    We will not dictate in any way how the winner uses the money.

  3. Can I nominate myself?

    No. The nomination form is designed for nominating third-party individuals or groups. 

  4. Who will select the winner?

    A panel of judges led by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito. The panel will be multidisciplinary, and will include experts in civics and law, human rights activists, academics, and scientists.

  5. Isn’t this award an endorsement, implicit or otherwise, of illegal activity?

    No. And we held many, many meetings with lawyers, activists, and faculty members–people with experience in this space–on how to best present this award. This included members of the ACLU, Martha Minow (Dean of the Harvard Law School), and others we deemed to be the most credible and experienced with non-violent, ethical disobedience.

    We will not reward illegal behavior for its own sake, nor will we consider any people or groups whose activities pose a danger to the public. Our goal is to recognize a person, or group, taking responsibility for their actions, and in so doing may put themselves at risk of persecution.

  6. How do you define “responsible”?

    Anything aimed at nonviolently and ethically challenging our norms, rules, or laws to benefit society. Proper scientific method and correct attention to safeguards during research are the top priority.

    Disobedience is a fundamental tenet of unhindered scientific and humanistic inquiry. Examples of this include the work of Galileo, Gandhi, and Rachel Carson. 

  7. How is this award funded?

    The award is funded by Reid Hoffman, a member of the Media Lab’s advisory council and co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.

  8. When will the winner be announced?

    The winner will be announced at the Media Lab’s summer event on July 21. More details will be announced later this spring.

  9. Will this be an annual award?

    This first prize is a test. If the test goes well and we are happy with both the process and the impact that the prize has, we hope to repeat it.

  10. Is this award a response to/an expression of defiance to the Trump administration?

    No. This award has been in the planning stages for a long time, and was announced at the Media Lab’s Forbidden Research event in July of 2016. Moreover, we are seeking global nominations, and are particularly looking for nominations of unsung heroes doing difficult and important work that goes unrecognized.

    As Lab Director Joi Ito has stated, “This isn't an award that we just came up with. We designed and announced it last year, before President Trump was elected. I think the award may have been different under President Obama because we’re now seeing a wider range of people who are resisting, dissenting, and disobeying. Disobedience is on the minds of many more people. But disobedience is always important, regardless of who is in power.”

  11. What about Aaron Swartz?

    “Aaron's use of MIT's network and the administration's reaction preceded my time at MIT, and Joi's time at MIT. That said, we were both friends with him, and we grieve his death. We hosted a memorial for Aaron at the Media Lab that involved his father, his partner and some of his most important mentors. For me, Aaron is someone who is firmly in my mind as we work on designing it, both in terms of identifying people who are engaged in pro-social disobedience and in terms of helping people understand and cope with the consequences of disobedience.” –Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab

    The Disobedience Prize was conceived while planning last year’s Forbidden Research conference. That very theme was inspired, in part, by Aaron Swartz and the excessive application of laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

  12. What do you hope or envision the winner will do with the money?

    We're looking for people who have long-term involvement in politics, science, the arts and social causes, so it's likely that the prize will help support those ongoing efforts. But, like the MacArthur award, we are not attaching any specific conditions. We are, however, offering our help from the Media Lab if we can find ways to productively cooperate on a recipient's efforts.

  13. Who are examples of people who might win the prize if they were alive today?

    Martin Luther King Jr., Nicolaus Copernicus, Sojourner Truth, and Carlos Juan Finlay are just a few examples. Please see our timeline for more.

  14. In case of a group win (Arab Spring, the Department of Energy heads who refused to name staffers who worked on climate change programs, Black Lives Matter), how would the award be distributed?

    In such a case, an individual or key group within the broader movement would be identified.

  15. Who do I contact with questions?

    If you have questions not answered here, email us at disobedience-award@media.mit.edu.