Food solidarity mapping process and the risk of map surveillance

Over the last four months, COVID 19 has brought up to the surface many aspects of Latin American fragility and in the case of the Chilean context the curtain of economic development has fallen down even more. The social outbreak in October was already asking for dignity and revealing the lack of access to basic rights such as water, house and education. Now on the pandemic context a socio spatial segregation has revealed the large amount of families who live on daily sales at informal commerce on the street and today are not capable of bringing food to their homes.

As the situation is dramatic many community-based organisations have decided to solve this issue through their own capacities. This means that without state support, neighbours have organised ‘common pots’ to provide good quality food to families in need. Since May these pots began to articulate a solidarity network based on local territories and reaching out families closer to ‘neighbours board’ or ‘territorial assemblies’ formed after the October outbreak. 

Some organisations, based on social networks and websites, are somehow managing and spreading the information about these pots and how to donate money or food to keep running. LaOlladeChile and Nomashambre, are two examples of these initiatives that try to centralise on a virtual space donations and support. Twitter account have also assisted on information dissemination and the account LaOllaComun has been the one I have been involved since the beginning of this bottom-up effort. 

The method I have been using to update the map “Food solidarity initiatives” is based on a regular check on the accounts mentioned. La Olla de Chile for instance, updates the last new common pots on their website and provide the necessary information to complete fields of location, name, contacts and bank account information for donations. On this website people complete a form to include their common pots on the register, then the organisers check the information and request that all donations are cc to their email so they can identify pots with no donations for instance. Then I also check twitter accounts who might be sharing information of people with low access to internet and design tools to create the panflet. That way I have been trying to include as much varied amount of initiatives as possible and from other regions rather than only the capital, which normally concentrates more retweets and information sharing. Each time I update the map I inform all accounts from which I have based my scraping data process and they share it with their followers. This way the map reached in June 24th 8.000 views, revealing the high impact of the map and this large number of visits might be explained on the fact that it is permanently placed on the Nomashambre website and constantly shared by LaOllaCommun account and LaOlladeChile is mentioned on each update.

Last revision on the Food solidarity initiatives before restricting public access

Paloma Haumada, a sociologist who has been my mentor on this process of documentation and information sharing support, told me that the map was key for people to find their own territories and to donate locally. The map creates empathy for neighbours in nedd and brings closer that reality for people who is not suffering from hunger at the moment and are in the capacity to help. Another key aspect mentioned by Paloma has been the diversity of formant that this information had to be shared, asking me to take print screens of the data on a sheet format for people to look at it as a .jpg on their mobiles. Another impact that the map and the data collected has had was the data provision for the app “Parar la olla” which uses the information and complement it with other sources. On definitely, it is a chain of information sharing, mostly used by common pots organisers who are looking for sharing their bank account and mobile contact in order to receive donations. Locally they reach out families in need. This map is not reaching out people in hunger situation, they are reached in person and based on a neighbouring activity. People know each other.

On June 24th the map had to be put down because of a police surveillance suspicion. A twitter account informed be that on of the oldest common pot have had a car police outside their headquarters and they did not provide information regarding the reason why they were there, neither their names. Because of the risk that this action implies to the rest of the common pots I decided to transform the way that the information was graphically displayed on the map. I applied a Voronoi analysis and now each point was transformed to a polygon describing the spatial reach of a common pot and hiding their localisation. Even though twitter accounts and the websites mentioned were sharing the locations of the common pots, the way that their information is shared is completely different than the map. The ‘subject’s location is meaningless without the framework of a map, mental or otherwise, surveillance of a spatially flexible subject is inherently cartographic’ (Monmonier, 2003). Common pots are placed simultaneously on a map, which might be facilitating finding them for other reasons than for support. People meeting, as occurs in common pots, in the context of lock down, with a politically questioned government, decision making questioned by scientific community, does not provide community trust towards the police way of acting and their decision making. Common pots might be shut down since next Monday, as it was informed to one in the area of San Bernardo in Santiago, if not counts with the permission and a food delivery format. Common pots have emerged to sort out a basic issue cause by the pandemic and that the government has not had the territorial knowledge to understand the necessities of people suffering hunger. How are you going to be able to compel a curfew if you don’t have food for your kids?

New version of the map on Google my maps. Now all points are displayed as areas nearby.

This problematic regarding common pots legal permissions to occur reflects a critical social emergency situation and a whole analysis regarding the state decision making during the COVID crisis could be made, but that is another topic. Returning to the mapping action I can say that critical cartography and the idea of deconstructing the map posited by Harvey has never left us. A community map is a deconstructed map, and provide powerful data and democratic principles, plus a deep solidarity sense that can be evidenced in all the views that the map has had. However, a map also deals with deeply contested issues, such as surveillance and data privacy setting that cannot be ignored. For now, the solution has been to transform accurate locations to blurred areas, however with the constant increase of pots, those areas will continue decreasing, revealing a certain location or a reduced search area.

This and other topics regarding online communities’ issues will be posted on this blog. I have come to understand on the last week that I have started a process of online ethnography by participating on this accounts and mapping process of common pots in connection to all the mentioned twitter accounts and websites on a collaborative way. I will continue documenting and informing by this mean the trajectories of this social solidarity movement and milestones such as the current transformation of the map from a point-based visualisation towards areas covering the exact location.

Monmonier, M. (2003). The internet, cartographic surveillance, and location privacy’. In M. P. Peterson & A. International Cartographic (Eds.), Maps and the internet (First edition.. ed.). Amsterdam ; London: Amsterdam ; London : Elsevier.

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