“ProgCode is Democratizing Democracy” — kind of a bold claim coming from a group you’ve probably never heard of. So who are we, where did we come from and exactly how is ProgCode working to achieve such lofty aspirations? Fair questions from an empirically driven audience! So first, a little history.
When the 2016 Presidential Primary season kicked off the Spring of 2015, 3,000 volunteer technologists who called themselves Coders for Sanders, formed a decentralized non-hierarchical online community which helped boost Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign and permanently disrupted politics-as-usual by empowering a tech coalition which:
- Built and launched 84 open source applications, for no charge to the campaign
- Raised $280 million from 8 million individual donors averaging $27 each
- Mobilized over 13 million primary votes for Bernie Sanders
One of the earliest Coders for Sanders contributors was Rapi Castillo. A student of political movements, Rapi recognized the significance of the achievements of tech activists in that historic moment. Beyond the promise of removing money’s influence in politics, he saw an opportunity for open source activists to radically change the democratic landscape and empower governance by the people.
On July 22, 2016, before the DNC Convention in Philly, a core group of Sanders volunteers founded Progressive Coders Network. A lot has changed since then! Rapi has since moved on to his next exciting project, helping lead Progressive HackNight in New York City. Last Spring, ProgCode became a 501(c)(4) non-profit, non-partisan social good organization.
ProgCode continues to foster a rich creative environment based on reciprocity and the simple notion that everyday people empowered to work for good can, and do, create change. Centering cultural values of autonomy, transparency, radical inclusion and community consent has stabilized the network and allowed the community to embrace the chaos of rapid change during periods of growth and transformation, through nimble processes which inspire others.
In the ProgCode Slack, 1,400 tech and non-tech activists are collaborating, organizing and building open source tech in a transparent, non-hierarchical community whose mission is to remove the influence of big money in politics and empower the grassroots.
Overcoming Challenges and Advancing Progress
It is difficult to quantify the extent to which manufactured Dem v. GOP othering and the schism between left and center wings of the progressive movement contributed to 2016 and 2017 conservative victories. In activist spaces like ProgCode — where progressives refused to succumb to partisan bickering and chose instead to unite behind issues-based causes — 2017 was a proving ground that confounded efforts to downplay (as populism or cult-of-personality) the global mass mobilization of people inspired by the Sanders campaign’s successful rebuke of big money in politics.
We’ve seen, time after time after time, when partisan buzzwords are stripped from the language of polls and surveys, the majority of Americans agree on progressive issues. Undeterred by contrived sectarianism and distractions meant to divide, ProgCode volunteers find a welcoming, supportive environment providing a workspace filled with like-minded people turning ideas into the web and mobile applications used by activists to tackle challenges and advance economic, environmental, racial and social justice — in spite of a toxic political atmosphere.
ProgCode volunteer staff members have consulted with and advised network partners who successfully launched projects, such as:
- Larry Williams, Jr. who, on Labor Day, launched UnionBase — the first-of-its-kind social networking platform for labor organizing.
- Viktor Lidholt, who last year quit his job at Google in Silicon Valley to build and launch Newsvoice, a crowd-sourced news platform which separates news stories from the monetary interests which finance them.
- Lauren Holmes, whose four-woman team launched Buoy-Up, winning Product Hunt’s “Best Charity & Giving for a Chrome application” award last year.
- George A. Polisner, who not-so-quietly quit his executive position at Oracle to build and launch Civ.Works this year. The Guardian recently named Civ.Works one of ten tech innovations to get excited about in 2018.
ProgCode volunteer members consulted on, analyzed, tested and/or developed low-to-no cost open source tech tools which mobilized recent progressive groups such as the resistance at Standing Rock, the global Women’s March, ACLU People Power, and Indivisible. ProgCode volunteer teams collaborated with organizers’ efforts to work for net neutrality and Australia’s successful postal ballot initiative for marriage equality. Our members have contributed to projects collecting and analyzing data which successfully bolstered legislative challenges to end gerrymandering. We even helped build tech tools to aid activist groups fighting for immigrant rights and advancing state-level ballot initiatives for universal healthcare. You can help sponsor our work on important causes like these, by becoming a recurring donor.
Technical Backbone of The Global Progressive Movement
The impact of ProgCode contributions has been an example to leaders of progressive movements around the world. ProgCode founders formed relationships with members of the Green Party in Germany, the Pirate Party in Iceland, Podemos in Spain and the U.K. Labour Party. The open collaboration and sharing of knowledge by ProgCode members inspired Momentum to topple a conservative majority in the U.K. because, in the words of Jeremy Corbyn, “People want a country run for the many, not the few.”
ProgCode Mission: Proof of Concept
Over an 18 month period which has seen this country divided by toxic partisan media, labels and buzzwords, the ProgCode community rose above to make progress in the face of the conservative agenda. Last year, ProgCode members were fortunate to work alongside volunteers from MoveOn.org, refining and testing Spoke, a peer-to-peer texting app which the organization used to successfully defend the Affordable Care Act in September. MoveOn inherited the project from Bernie 2016 developers in early Spring. By using Spoke, MoveOn was able to shave off a big chunk of budgeted resources and scale Spoke for its 2017 action campaigns. In a generous show of gratitude to the open source community, MoveOn CTO Ann Lewis and its open source development team, brought the popular application to ProgCode, where community members continually test, fine-tune, customize and install the application to help other progressive organizations meet 2018 goals.
Spoke’s development team brilliantly implemented La Vesha Parker’s accessible contributions process to reduce the open source intimidation factor and help developers of all skill and experience levels easily submit meaningful contributions to open source projects. In doing so, they empowered grassroots organizations with little-to-no budget for designated technical teams, to deploy those tools and win progressive, issues-based campaigns. Spoke has been installed and used by orgs like GetUp!, Color of Change and Fight for the Future, who are making progressive change in unlikely era which finds activists fighting to overcome damaging capitalist policies of austerity and oppression.
A Home for Open Source Technology
ProgCode has earned a reputation for providing the skilled support needed to take mission-aligned projects from ideation to implementation. Whether new open source tech is created within the network, or onboarded from hackathons and civic tech meetups in the broader progressive tech community, ProgCode provides a rich, collaborative environment where great ideas can be built and prepared for launch.
ProgCode provides non-coding organizers of progressive issues-based campaigns the tech assistance they need to access white-label open source tools like peer-to-peer texting apps, auto-dialers, digital-to-postal mail tools, online maps and events calendars. Volunteer members help grassroots organizers integrate these tools to implement improved digital outreach strategies and achieve their goals. When creators of open source tech move on to other work, they increasingly turn to ProgCode for help maintaining and sustaining their code base while those tools are used by grassroots organizers in ongoing campaigns.
ProgCode is also a supportive environment for high school students, recent coding bootcamp graduates and junior level freelancers looking to broaden their skills by collaborating with more senior developers. By working alongside CTOs and executives of major progressive organizations such as ActBlueCivics, Common Cause, MoveOn, the Virginia Chapter of NAACP, New Media Ventures, and People Demanding Action, tech and non-tech graduates alike can apply newly acquired skills to real life tech solutions in that magic space where activism and tech intersect, building resumes in the process. As a direct result of relationships they’ve built while engaged in volunteer work, many ProgCode members have gone on to secure full-time, paid positions which allow them to sustain their desire to code for positive social change.
If you’re starting to see why so many people are convinced, here’s another opportunity for you to become a small dollar contributor to help ProgCode sustain its mission!
We Can’t Do It Without YOU
Until now, ProgCode has been wholly self-funded by personal time and monetary contributions of dedicated co-founding volunteers. If you see the promise of the work we are doing and believe it’s important, we ask you — progressive technicians, activists and grassroots organizers — to contribute small recurring donations to help us hire support teams to manage community operations, provide member services and the technical support necessary to sustain ProgCode in the long term, and help us level-up so we may offer even more beneficial, cost-effective member services to support mission-aligned grassroots organizations.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. Please help ensure ProgCode will continue to serve as the technical backbone of the progressive movement until we work ourselves out of the need to exist, by accomplishing our mission to remove the influence of big money in politics by empowering the grassroots. If you have more time than money, we get that, too — and we invite you to bring your tech, project management, outreach and organizing skills to ProgCode’s Slack. Thank you for helping us spread the word to progressives in your networks!
This is it, your last chance to become a recurring monthly donor!
Progressive Coders Network is a 501(c)(4) non-profit social good organization. Donations made to Progressive Coders Network are not tax deductible.
Originally published at medium.com on January 17, 2018.