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Civic Hall Beta Member: Tim Karr, Free Press

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, January 14 2015

Tim Karr hanging out at Civic Hall

This month Civic Hall, the new home for civic tech in New York City, opened its doors to beta members like Tim Karr, of Free Press. Beta members are people working in the civic tech space who have been invited to try out Civic Hall for the month of January: to work in the space and see what it is like, and in turn provide feedback to the Civic Hall team. We caught up with Karr to ask him about his work and find out what he hopes to see and do here at Civic Hall. This interview has been edited for clarity. Stay tuned for more member profiles!

So, Tim, who are you and what brings you to Civic Hall?

I've been in the Personal Democracy Forum orbit since the beginning. Free Press has worked on the issue of net neutrality for nearly ten years, which was a big feature of early PDF conferences.

My title is Senior Director of Strategy for Free Press. We're a million-member not-for-profit organization that advocates for everyone's rights to connect and communicate. More specifically, that means that in the last ten years (we're a little over ten years old) we've worked on issues like protecting net neutrality and online privacy, and standing up for the rights of journalists and so-called citizen journalists. We were very involved in the copyright battles that resulted in the defeat of PIPA and SOPA legislation.

Free Press is based in Washington, D.C. and western Massachusetts. I'm the sole New York representative, which for me has meant running Free Press New York from my dining room table in Hoboken, New Jersey. Which has its benefits but it also has some problems. Mainly, I don't get to regularly interact with a broader community of like-minded advocates in the greater New York region.

What are some things about Civic Hall you're really excited about?

The work that Free Press does is really about movement organizing...our work is always done through collaboration—with other advocacy organizations, businesses, individuals. So Civic Hall, hopefully, will help with that sort of outreach. It seems like there's a mix of start-up businesses and not-for-profit organizations, technologists who are civically-minded. Building relationships across all of those communities is important to our work.

I'm very interested in the events space. Free Press organizes conferences, panels and related events on issues related to Internet and Press freedom. The events space is something we think we could use.

It's also important for me to have a regular routine. Working in NYC I often do media appearances. A lot of studios are nearby, which is convenient. I often have people visiting from overseas and it'll be nice to host them in the conference room and not have to contend with meetings in noisy restaurants or coffee shops. And as a writer (Karr regularly contributes to Huffington Post, Bill Moyers.com and other outlets), it's also a good place for interviewing sources for stories.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I was really excited when I first heard about this because I do a fair amount of international travel for my work. In Europe I've noticed a well-established tradition of using common space, and increasingly using common space to work on technology issues. I know Civic Hall is not designed as a hackerspace, as such, but I still like that it's drawing from the same well of ideas...I think we've lost that notion [of the commons] here in the United States.

Sure, sure. Out of curiosity, what are some of the spaces you most admire?

Metalab in Vienna, c-base and Raumfahrtagentur in Berlin, and hackerspace Brussels. There are also multiple civil society groups based in a squatter space called Metelkova City, in Slovenia.