Our Organizing Director, Lisa Conn, spoke last week about political advocacy at Collaborate, a conference bringing together the nation’s leading innovators, startups, and entrepreneurs for engaging conversations. Learn more about Collaborate here. Read on as Lisa explains the role of grassroots advocacy on the political process and how tech is trying to close the government feedback loop.
I often hear skeptics claim that tech and politics do not (and should not) mix. Tech is fast, efficient, and innovative, while government is slow, overly bureaucratic, and wasteful. But in reality, our democracy parallels the start-up model more than you might initially suspect.
As the Director of National Organizing at FWD.us, I work alongside both successful entrepreneurs and leading policy makers. And from my experience, what do these two groups most share in common? A strong emphasis on feedback.
Think about it. When entrepreneurs build a product, they continually test user feedback, learn from their assumptions, and then improve the product. Likewise, when representatives make decisions, they turn to feedback loops of their own: elections, town halls, petitions, in-person meetings to understand what policies their “users” want. This is advocacy, and it’s a tragically-overlooked force for change.
The problem today is that too few people take advantage of government feedback loops. Most of the general population only engages in the political process during high-profile presidential elections, if at all. That’s every four years. I can’t imagine a startup being successful if it only received feedback every four years, so why should we expect this of our government?
Luckily, there is a clear solution. We need to provide our government with smart feedback, more often. And it’s my belief that the tech community a group celebrated for being bold, innovative, and solutions-oriented is well-positioned to make this happen.
Now, as newcomers to advocacy, tech doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, I think one of the oldest models is the most promising community organizing. Just look at any major social movement in modern history: civil rights, women’s suffrage, even President Obama’s campaigns. Each of these movements depended upon the efforts of people who organized communities in a way that continually produced new leaders.
At its core, community organizing is about uniting people around shared values. It grows influence by training volunteers, who then go out and mobilize their own community of supporters, and so on. It’s effective, scalable, and iterative, all qualities that go hand-in-hand with the tech mentality.
Back in 2012, I witnessed community organizing’s power first-hand as a Regional Field Director for the Obama campaign in South Florida. My team was expected to turn out over 300,000 voters and register 50,000 new voters in only ten months. So what did we do? We cultivated fearless leaders among our initial group of volunteers, taught them everything we knew about organizing, and watched as they brought more new leaders into the fold. This process continued, neighbor-by-neighbor, until Election Day when we won the state, and the election.
Replace those volunteers with entrepreneurs and leaders within the tech community, and you get a rough sketch of how FWD.us operates. Our national membership is comprised of people from the tech community who are passionate about being part of the political debate. In turn, these innovators inspire others within the community to lend their skills to improving our advocacy, thereby democratizing the feedback mechanisms of government.
The intersection between tech and politics is still evolving, meaning the possibilities for a new and improved landscape are limitless. Imagine a democracy that people have access to. Imagine representatives who are held more accountable to their citizens. Now imagine a tech community unified around making this vision a reality.
Read more insights from Collaborate speakers and attendees on their blog.