Reflections from a Tor Meeting Newbie
When I joined the the Tor Project in July as Fundraising Director, I quickly learned that most questions I had about Tor—what it does, its history, what makes up the greater ecosystem, even detailed notes from all past meetings—can be found online. The beauty of an open source culture became apparent to me immediately. I learned this month at my first meeting in Mexico City that there is one aspect of Tor that can not be encapsulated in documentation—the people.
I heard many voices at the meeting reflect on how the Tor Project has grown and changed in positive ways over the past few years. Without a doubt, this is a testament to the quality of the people working on Tor and the values we share. These values—knowledge, engagement, inclusivity, collaboration, and fluidity—were apparent throughout my five days in Mexico.
The people of Tor—staff, volunteers, friends, and community partners—are not only knowledgeable about privacy and security, they are citizens of the world and are eager to talk about philosophy, politics, and the ways in which people interact with systems and power. Without exception, the attendees of every session I went to were attentive and engaged.
The people of Tor are intentional about making everyone feel welcome and valued. From adherence to pronouns to making sessions accessible to non-English speakers, these efforts to enhance accessibility could be seen and felt everywhere. Each session began with a reminder to make space for all types of people to speak and be heard. Although I was meeting most of the attendees for the first time, I was welcomed with open arms and never once felt excluded.
This meeting was inspirational in its engagement of local attendees on the public days. Many sessions were led in English and Spanish, including the State of the Onion address. Members of Tor teams, including myself, talked about what they’d been up to and what was on the horizon, and we took questions from the group. The questions were intimate and thoughtful, and this opening session set an inclusive and collaborative tone for the public days.
I have never witnessed collaboration be so effective and efficient. People who have been working on Tor since the very beginning shared a space at the table with community members and people who were just hired. Roadmaps were created and new ideas were hatched.
I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand the structure of the meeting when I viewed the meeting wiki beforehand. I quickly realized the loose structure was by design and facilitated a space where new sessions could be added as the value became apparent. Content collisions were worked out on the spot with session leads happy to accomodate the people that wanted to attend their session. People flowed in and out of sessions and small meetings seamlessly.
Everyone I met was genuinely happy to be there. Old friends and new laughed, shared stories, and during the midweek party, we toasted mezcal and compared dance moves. People also connected through games of Mario Kart and Magic the Gathering.
All of these values coalesce around the ultimate goal of Tor—making the world a better place. Essential human rights cannot be achieved without private and safe access to the internet. The work we do at Tor saves lives. Meeting our Tor community in Mexico City energized me and made me proud of the small part I play in this essential work.
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Sarah is the Fundraising Director at the Tor Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization developing software for privacy and freedom online. We can do the work we do because of your support.