Government Opinion Society

Reflections from Ross: How Rough Will it Get?

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Photos by Simone Ross

It’s now been over two months since Donald J. Trump–real estate developer, reality TV persona, and “deal maker without peer” (according to his bio, which he should update, on trump.com) won the Presidency of the United States of America.  Proof indeed that in America, any citizen can become President.

Though I am hopeful about the role of tech in a Trump presidency (or any presidency for that matter), I’ve had a deep sense of foreboding since his first appointments were announced.  He has appointed the most outspoken foes of much of what Techonomy has stood for: technological openness, net neutrality, social progress, civil society, equality, environmental sustainability.  The “American Carnage” speech certainly didn’t help, and now as a result of Trump’s executive order on immigration, even legal residents and those with visas have been denied entry into the country.

On the Saturday after the inauguration I saw a ray of light.  I’m going to try and keep sight of it.  What did it?  The Women’s March…or to be more accurate – the marches.  Hundreds of marches and millions of people (men, women and children) around the world.  By many accounts this was one of the largest marches in US history (and since size matters for President Trump, it got under his wafer-thin skin).  The march was a much needed reminder of the good and great in people, and that small-minded narrowness will lose out in the end.

Was the Women’s March the start of a new movement or the evolution of existing, long-standing movements? I have no idea, but it’s as significant an indicator as was the vote for Brexit and the election of Trump that our social fabric is being ripped apart.  So now what?

Ethnographer (and Techonomist) Kate Krontiris has been doing research with Google on what motivates what she calls “interested bystanders” to take civic action.  I imagine that a very large percentage of the people who marched fall into that category.  So how do we keep them engaged, and keep them taking action…all the way to the 2018 mid-terms?   (Kate at Techonomy 2013 on Civic Innovation.)

Elected officials care about getting re-elected.  If you let them know you’re unhappy and they risk losing your vote, perhaps you can influence their policy decisions.  Don’t know what their positions are?  Check out POPVOX, a civic engagement platform and infrastructure that tracks real-time legislative data and connects you to government. (Here’s POPVOX CEO Marci Harris at Techonomy 2014.)  Or give your legislators a call.  Here’s a New York Times article from November on why that’s a good idea.  And here’s a link to The65, which includes calling scripts for a bunch of issues.

What if more people who were really representative of their communities ran for office?  Here are some organizations working on that:  Emily’s List (Democractic, pro-choice women),  Victory Fund (LGBT), She Should Run (non-partisan).

Don’t forget the mid-terms.  They are as important as the presidential election. TurboVote, an online service created by Democracy Works, has disrupted (to use a favoured tech industry word) voter registration.  With partnerships ranging from universities to Snapchat, they not only help you register, they send you reminders.

And I’ll finish with Backchannel’s Jessi Hempel at Techonomy 2015 on Tech and Empathy.  We need to get better at connecting with and listening to those further removed from our bubbles. We need to figure out how to ensure that the benefits of tech and globalization are more evenly distributed.  We need to actively participate.  If we don’t, things are going to get much worse.

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