Spacedog » Blog

Open Source Activism

08 August 2017
Oakland, California

I have been building software tools for activism for just over a decade. My first projects as an undergraduate at MIT building robots of resistance didn’t end up successful, and in fact almost killed me. But those early attempts were formative to my understanding of how we can shape our technology to produce a better and more just world, not just in search of scale and profit.

Ten years later, I’ve worked on websites for dozens of online organizing and political groups, helped hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Libyans register and vote, and designed systems to connect almost a million calls to Congress. I am interested in scaling impact and distributing innovation, and my journey leads me to believe that open source code and a culture of sharing is a critical to that success.

I learned to program through online tutorials, following clues in message boards and following in the footsteps of generous leaders. While there are more ways to learn to code than ever before, the ends to which we apply our skills are still focused on developing apps and chasing dreams of building unicorn businesses. But there are so many problems that need addressing, and solving them might not make a ton of money. How do we convince budding technologists to apply themselves to democratic ends?

Despite the cumulative billions of dollars spent in the last elections and the outpouring of outrage after the results, our best advocacy tools are still available to mostly large organizations and dedicated to raising money, most of which gets spent on TV ad buys. There are bright spots, like the no/low cost model of ActionNetwork, open APIs like OSDI, and tools which build on them like Affinity.Works and ControlShift. But the majority of big tools are closed source, not interoperable, and difficult to adapt to the new realities of a mobile-first population and distributed organizing.

Today I am launching to provide an alternative model. We work in the open; all our code and roadmaps are on GitHub. All our tools are open source: you can download and run them yourself, or pay us a reasonable fee to do it for you. If you want a specific new feature, we can build it and then release it to everyone, so that the movement always owns the best version of our tools. Our pricing is transparent, and ensures that we can continue to work sustainably, not in search of 100x returns.

We have CallPower, which connects constituents to their representatives in the US, Canada and Europe, and can scale to 100k calls per day. TextPower engages your members to take real world action through conversational messaging via SMS, Facebook, or other channels. And we are developing DialPower, a distributed and volunteer-friendly tool for members to call through a universe of contacts to get out the vote, conduct surveys, and connect across communities.

If you want to help, I am looking for partners, funders, designers and campaigners to work with and accelerate our progress. This is distinct from other strictly volunteer efforts like ProgCode and Ragtag, in that it is my primary livelihood and I do need to make enough money to feed the dog. But the code belongs to the movement, not to me. Progressives believe that we do better together than alone, and I think our technology should reflect that value. Join me and let’s get to work.

Cross-posted from Medium

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