The Automotive Free Clinic is starting a right to repair campaign in Alabama in coalition with a number of different organizations. Modern equipment such as passenger vehicles, semi trucks, and farm equipment are controlled electronically by proprietary software. Often, this software is not made available to the public, meaning that only dealerships and authorized repair shops can repair certain aspects of the equipment. As a strategy for freed market anarchists, right to repair offers a number of opportunities including the building of populist campaigns, challenging intellectual property, expanding the market and eliminating monopolies, and maybe most important, solving a practical problem.
Right to repair legislation has been introduced in Alabama by Republicans. For them, they see it as helping small businesses such as independent repair shops and farmers. It is also popular among environmentalists because it lengthens the time to obsolescence on equipment. As I have always said, the most environmentally friendly car is the one that’s never been built. Getting the most value out of equipment is both an environmental and economic issue. The opportunity for a populist coalition has never been more pronounced than in right to repair.
Right to repair also expands the market by allowing independent equipment repair shops to expand their services and compete with the big guys, which is good for consumers as the competition will drive down costs. It helps break up monopolies created by intellectual property. I’ll return to this in a minute.
This campaign also solves a very simple problem: that individuals and independent businesses cannot repair customers’ or their own equipment.
Finally, and this is of utmost importance for theoretical anarchists, it challenges the hegemony of intellectual property rights. It is a contest between real property, the equipment the farmer or consumer owns, and intellectual property, the code the manufacturer owns. It asks the question – which property is primary, real or intellectual? Does the ownership of ideas trump the ownership of real shit? This law has been passed in Massachusetts and is currently tied up in court over these issues.
Engagement with the state is a tricky endeavor; I have done it more than once and I have been burned more than once. However, I believe this legislation is different. I believe it’s a winner. In Alabama, the bill has already been introduced by a Republican legislator who recently passed. It’s popular because it helps farmers, independent repair shops, and just regular folks who want to work on their own shit. But, it will be challenged by the big guys who want to defend their monopoly.
I haven’t always done this, but I do think that it’s wise to proceed this way. Use conventional channels initially. Approach a policy non-profit to see if they’ll help with connections to sympathetic policy-makers. Set the process in motion and be patient, it may take a while.
Meanwhile, build a coalition of like-minded groups which could include anything ranging from farm groups to small town chambers of commerce to environmentalists. Use these groups to initially put out very positive messaging about helping the little guy. Don’t jump straight to confrontational organizing. There is a time and place for such things and that time and place is when all other avenues are exhausted.
I cannot stress enough the importance of NOT pushing an ideological agenda. We are against intellectual property. We don’t need to lecture people about the minutiae of anarchist theory. Most of these people don’t care. Focus on solving a practical problem that is consistent with our values and go for a big win that really helps people and our values will be revealed in the praxis. Working with people of different persuasions will do more for the anarchist cause than a million think pieces. People in Alabama know I’m an anarchist, but they trust me not because of my values, but because I’m honest and I deal with people fairly. Relationships matter more than ideology. Sorry for the preaching.
Anarchists often get caught up in the world of ideas, but right to repair gives us a chance to engage practically and I’d encourage all of us to get involved.