Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: June 2014 (page 1 of 2)

On the Knight News Challenge

Jillian York at Civic Media

This is me giving a short talk about the project at the Knight/MIT Civic Media event in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Screenshot from Ramzi Jaber.

I’m really excited to say that a project I’ve been working on for two years, OnlineCensorship.org (currently in alpha), is one of this year’s Knight News Challenge winners, along with an incredible set of projects. The project came about in late 2011, on my first trip to Palestine. I remember it clearly; I was chatting over a lunch of chicken and rice with Ramzi Jaber—whose Visualizing Palestine is making waves—about Facebook censoring Palestinian content, and he mentioned that he owned the domain OnlineCensorship.org. I don’t remember the rest of that day’s conversation, but emails between us starting in January 2012 show the project making rapid progress – we built it, found some great advisers to help and worked on iterating the questions. The only thing we didn’t have was money.

For awhile, we worked closely with Rebecca MacKinnon to try to get funded, but as her project, Ranking Digital Rights (also a News Challenge winner!) got off the ground, and efforts at funding OC.org failed, the project went dormant for some time.

Willow Brugh illustrates (literally) why this project is important.

Willow Brugh illustrates (literally) why this project is important.

Now, I’m thrilled to say that Ramzi and I are ready to move it forward. The project will now be housed within EFF and will benefit from our vast expertise, with Visualizing Impact working alongside us, contributing their particular expertise to the design end of things. We’re actively seeking additional advisers (email me!) and will be sharing more about our timeline starting in September.

Thank you so much to the Knight Foundation, EFF, Visualizing Impact, and many friends for your incredible support!

Further reading:

On Father’s Day

I miss my own father desperately.  Sometimes everything’s fine, for months even, as I go about my independent life just as I did when he still walked this earth.  Other times—like when I accidentally dial his old mobile number and someone else picks up—not so much.  Sometimes it’s the art of hiding my pain, other times it’s the reality of moving onward.

But this father’s day, as I think about my own lost dad, a tweet from a friend reminded me about all the dads—those I know and those I don’t—”separated from their kids by injustice.”  Injustice comes in many forms: There are those dads separated from their families by borders and those separated by forces within their own families.  And then there are those separated by prison barriers, some put behind bars by unjust laws, families torn apart.  I’m no expert on the broader topic, and there are plenty of other reports making the rounds today. Instead, I want to focus on the political prisoners whose cases I know well and follow closely, those separated from their families and communities because of what their governments fear.


Alaa and Khaled, January 2012.

When Khaled was born, his father, Alaa, was in prison.  Just a month before that, he’d sat in my living room, opening packages filled with books and toys that he and his wife, Manal, had shipped to my house from Amazon.  When I took this photo, Khaled was still tiny, smaller than I’d personally ever seen a newborn, and Alaa had only been out of jail for a few weeks.

Earlier this year, as Khaled grew, Alaa went to jail once more, this time on unjust charges under an unjust law meant to stem the rising tide of protests.  Once again, he was released into the waiting arms of a loving family, his son now two years old.

This week he was arrested once again, after being sentenced to 15 years in absentia.  There will be an appeal, but in the meantime father and son are separated once again.

A father, a son, a letter

Separated only by Sudan, Ethiopia sits southeast of Egypt and there, another father marks his days in prison.  Eskinder Nega, imprisoned under Ethiopia’s absurd anti-terror law, penned a letter to his son earlier this year.  In it, he wrote:

I have reluctantly become an absent father because I ache for what the French in the late 18th century expressed in three simple words: liberté, egalité, fraternité. Before the advent of my son in my life, I was a nonchalant prisoner of conscience on at least seven occasions. The blithe was hardly unnoticed by my incarcerators.

The desire to shelter one’s children—or to not have any in the first place—can be strong for an activist whose life is filled with risks.  When Bassem Youssef took his show off the air, citing risks to his family’s safety, many were quick to judge, calling him a coward.  But when the potential risk involves separation from family—or worse—who are we to judge?  On the flip side, neither should we judge when the risk is deemed worth taking.

Khaled, and Eskinder’s young son, will not grow up without fathers.  The world will keep fighting for justice and for their respective release, but no matter what happens, these two young boys will grow up with heroes.


I hate that this is the third post I’ve written with this title. I wrote about Alaa’s most recent arrest yesterday. Please share, change your avatar, spread widely.

Many many thanks to my colleague Hugh D’Andrade for putting these together.







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