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Margaret E. Ikeda
Margaret E. Ikeda

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NYC Technologists Ring the Bells That Still Can Ring

Last night:

organized a meeting of NYC Tech for Good (Meetup) to address The Current Situation (i.e., the 2016 election outcome). This was a chance for the the NYC Tech community of devs (and Project Managers! and Data Scientists! Students! et al.) to pour out our hearts and put our heads together. Thanks to the organizers, including ClarifAI for providing pizza and refreshments and for the space.

I highly recommend reading Kevin Scott's notes (including numbered takeaway list and helpful links) over on Medium. It will give you a broader idea of what was said, whereas my notes are more narrowly focused on what interested me and may go slightly deeper into the subject.

Concerns were raised last night and this morning on the Meetup Event Discussion about not duplicating efforts already being made by groups like the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Obama/Eric Holder's post-presidency plans focusing on redistricting, but instead reaching out to existing organizations to see how we can help.

One person emphasized the importance of applying tech to areas where it hasn't been already applied (e.g., the ACLU and SPLC already have apps for people to report rights abuses) and mentioned environmentalism as an area not covered by tech; of note, it was a private homeowner in Flint who first discovered lead in their water.

The effects the election has had and will have on children was brought up. I'll echo Dan Metz on the urgency to fix NYC's foster care system. The state of this system that serves thousands of NYC's most vulnerable children and young adults is dire, and I think it qualifies as an area where tech is not yet involved but could have a major and direct impact.

Cryptography/encryption and how to organize under a surveillance state was mentioned several times with TOR, 2FA, Signal (all described in this Medium article) and VPN (Wiki) being held up as the current standards. "Encryption should be the standard."

My favorite quote of the night was "Just give me a repo; I don't care if it's on Github or Bitbucket." People are eager to start coding from a curated repo. There was also discussion of planning a hack night/hackathon. But we need to get Project Managers involved, who can turn how to satisfy the client into a list of actionable items, targets, and resources needed. Project Managers, get involved!

Becoming active in smaller, state and local government races was bought up several times, especially in preparation of getting voters excited for the next midterm elections in 2018. In 2018, 25 Democratic Senate seats will be voted on compared to only 8 Republican ones.

One idea was to reach out to people who voted for Obama in previous elections but didn't vote Democrat in 2016 to find out why (whether because of disinterest or voter suppression), then target this audience with a First 100 Days mailing list that tells them what the next President is doing that affects them directly.

Republicans also have ALEC to make cookie-cutter legislation for their causes (Last Week Tonight made a video about state legislatures & ALEC). Should Democrats have something similar and also look to organizations like the Tea Party and how they mobilized people for local races?

Getting involved in "meatspace" with existing organizations you care about was suggested; to that end I would like to recommend for volunteering opportunities locally and also echo a voice at the meeting the urged others to give their time and/or resources to Coalition for Queens (C4Q) which runs Access Code. As a current C4Q student, I can attest to our need for resources and volunteers, as well as the powerful impact the program can have on its students and diversity in tech as a whole., the US Digital Services, and CodeCorps were mentioned as resources to look into using. There was also a representative from Witness there who spoke out for prioritizing compassion and solidarity over trite empathy and pursuing actions that would build a strong personal sense of connection.

Those are my tech-related take-aways from the meeting (there were a lot more emotional and personal takeaways, which I'm happy to discuss somewhere else). The picture on this post is of the notes Ben Halpern took for things to do with the group as it goes on. Thanks to everyone who came or wanted to come and is researching what happened.

Tech can't fix everything, but we as technologists can "ring the bells that still can ring."

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