What are we doing here?

Or: Why I Joined Data For Democracy

This was initially meant to be a simple post about the lessons I have learned as a Data for Democracy project lead, but when I sat down to write it, something else came bursting forth. I guess sometimes we write what we have to write, rather than what we want to write.

When I read D4D’s inaugural post, on the first day of its existence, I immediately rushed to join. I felt that I had to do something! I was slowly collapsing under the weight of a social media-fueled panic. What had happened to me? I never even used to read the news.

At the time, many of us were feeling this surge of motivation. Our community was not sure what we were doing, but we knew we had to do something. Despite our different backgrounds and experiences, at the heart of it, we all joined D4D for the same reason. We needed to be around other people who were willing to fight to create a world we want to live in — a world we can be proud of. We needed to take some sort of action, to convince ourselves that things could eventually improve — even if we didn’t know exactly what that action should be.

Well, after a few weeks, I am happy to report that doing something is indeed better than doing nothing.

Some of us have learned a hard lesson over the past year. We forgot how fortunate we are, and we let our guard down. We know we have to correct this, and we may have forgotten how. But now is our chance to learn. Now is the time to take responsibility for the world we live in.

The fact is, it does not really matter what we’re building here at D4D. What matters most is that we are building anything at all. The most important thing we are building is a connection with each other, and through this community, we can continue to learn and grow.

While this might sound like it’s pushing a particular political agenda, it is not. In order to be successful, our community needs people who represent a diverse spectrum of backgrounds, political affiliations, opinions, and geographic locations. The core premise of our community is that we can use information to make better decisions and improve our communities, and our greatest hope is to make this a process by everyone, for everyone.

I believe Howard Zinn captured this spirit best when he wrote:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Over the past couple of months in this community, I’ve learned that people are truly amazing. I knew this already — at least, I had a sort of general idea that it was true — but I never had that reality brought home to me quite like this. In these uncertain times, you may doubt whether this is true, but I assure you: it is. I experience this fact firsthand every day as a part of D4D. Playing a small part in this community of passionate people is more enjoyable and more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. And this is why I urge you not to let the cynics and naysayers get you down. There are more of us out there than we realize. We just need to find each other. So what are you waiting for?

Whether you choose to explore Data for Democracy or some other passion you’ve put off for far too long, I encourage everyone to take that step, no matter how small, to find your own meaning and be the change you want to see.