Since the marches that followed the Inauguration, the morose disbelief among those who didn’t vote for Trump has been almost entirely replaced by an energized, passionate commitment to action. This is awesome! The marches weren’t just fleeting demonstrations, they were awakenings: there are many of us, and collectively we can make an impact.
One thing I’ve seen a lot, particularly among friends in tech, are posts wondering how best to help. Should we donate money? Should we donate time? What else is there besides petition-signing? It’s easy to get overwhelmed when everyone is posting about an action, petition, march, or hackathon. (Squirrel!)
So, I’m writing this because I felt that way, but still managed to get myself pretty involved in some policy issue activism two years ago. In particular, I was able to put the skills that I use in my career to work on issues that mattered to me, and that was incredibly rewarding — making calls and knocking doors is great, but there is more out there.
You have skills that really matter.
If you can code, that’s valuable. If you’ve worked at a startup and made sales or marketing magic happen with zero budget, you are needed. Been part of the fundraising apparatus (VCs, looking at you)? Your skills and network are in demand.
There are some groups coming together that are specific to tech workers, and I’m going to give a shoutout to 3 efforts that I think have a lot of potential. (I plan to keep updating this list, so shoot me a note or leave a comment if you know of good groups to point people to)
Tech Talent for Campaigns is a new project to help connect talented tech industry folks with longer-term volunteer opportunities in political campaigns. Think of it like "Teach for America" but for helping out campaigns that need your skills (including analytics, performance marketing, customer success, inside sales). This is a great way for non-engineering startup people to put their skills to work.
Tech Solidarity is an initiative that is encouraging workers at larger tech companies to take action from the inside to effect change. I think this is an incredibly powerful idea; while I’m not sure to what extent the Facebook mutiny drove the change, Facebook is now taking the fake news problem more seriously. Employees really can be effective at raising concerns from the inside. Follow the Twitter account to be kept up to date on events in your city.
Data for Democracy is by and for data scientists and enthusiasts. “Our active projects are focused on understanding the behavior of online communities, election transparency, a USA dashboard (like KPIs for America), analysis on the extreme right, Medicare drug spending, and campaign spending (in support of work by ProPublica). These projects are all self-organized and community led.”
Pick 1–3 specific issues that you want to focus on.
There is a lot that’s wrong in the world right now, and a ton of different planks in the current administration’s platform that really suck. But there are 24 hours in a day and we have jobs and family responsibilities. You can’t personally fix everything, and you’ll burn out if you try. So to have the greatest impact and limit burnout, identify what’s most likely to keep you passionate and engaged and go after that.
I personally am planning to participate in a) efforts to reduce the spread of disinformation and propaganda on social networks, and b) assisting legislators who are working to pass evidence-based science and health-related policies at both a state and federal level. Other folks I know are targeting specific policy areas — immigration, housing, gun violence, preserving access to healthcare. Still others are focusing on specific people — getting particular individuals or particular types of candidates into office locally, or in the midterm elections.
Network, network, network
If you want to focus on a particular cause or policy issue, search Facebook Groups. It’s a very popular tool for coordinating collective action, and god knows we need more non-troll/non-extremist collective action groups to offset what currently exists out there.
You can also plug into your preferred political party’s local club, be that Democrat, Libertarian, Green, #NeverTrump conservative, etc — they’re all on Facebook. Get on Nextdoor to learn about or help with issues at a local level. You can even call your representative or look at state or federal bill trackers (or sites like POPVOX) to see if there’s legislation pending about topics you care about. Then contact the bill sponsor’s office to see if there’s anything you can do (here’s my story about that).
Put yourself out there, if you’re able to. If you find a group or cause that you’re passionate about, tell your friends about it. You’d be surprised at how many people will come out of the woodwork because they’re also looking to make a difference, even if your Facebook feed feels largely apolitical.
Take the biggest leap: run for office yourself
There are tons of groups popping up to help make running for office a reality for a more diverse set of people — some are looking to help minority candidates, others to help younger generations step up. If you are interested in this idea, even in passing, look over these resources. Most host regular webinars or have info packets to help aspiring candidates develop a sense of the process. A few do in-person trainings and camps.
She Should Run (women)
Emily’s List (pro-choice women)
314 Action (scientists, STEM professionals)
It would be great to see some really qualified candidates come out of the tech community; it currently isn’t a common path into politics and we need it to be. At a minimum, most of us would do a better job at understanding The Cyber.
Let’s get out there.
Hopefully some of this was useful. If you’ve found a helpful group for either tech-skills organizing or running for office that I should add to this list, please send it my way!