Netroots 2013: Bringing together progressives and technology in Silicon Valley

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending Netroots Nation. For the first time, this convention was in our backyard, San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. SVYD took advantage of this and hosted a great after party at Mosaic that featured many local elected officials as co-hosts & co-sponsors. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet progressives from all over the country and share ideas to improve our communities. Netroots offered panels, training sessions, meet and greets, and special keynote speeches relating to technology and the progressive movement. Many of these panels were recorded and are available online. I strongly recommend everyone to view them.


The first panel I sat in was The New Netroots: Getting the Web We Want. Leading this panel was Timothy Karr, from Free Press. Other panelists were Ellery Roberts Biddle from Global Voices, Rainey Reitman from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and Katherine Maher from Access Now. Originally, this panel’s main focus was on internet activism and its diverse community worldwide. With recent revelations involving the National Security Agency (NSA), the focal point of the conversation quickly became about the privacy in a world where information can easily be distributed to the public. Many questions arose from the event. Are we upset about how the NSA allegedly accessed phone records of U.S. citizens, or are we upset that we know nothing about the program? Should we be equally as upset about these measures if they are used on non-U.S. citizens? How does this reflect our country’s relationship with the rest of the world? No one had a complete solution, but each panelist introduced the initiatives their organizations have proposed to get answers like or the “Restore the 4th” movement.


I won’t go into every panel and training session I attended, but I wanted to take note of an important panel, Building a Productive Partnership Between Tech and the Progressive Community. It’s easy to assume that our group, Silicon Valley Young Democrats, would be the bustling hub between the tech community and the progressive political community. It’s Silicon Valley after all. Unfortunately, this assumption is currently inaccurate. Why is that the case? The panel attributes this to miscommunication, varying methodology, priorities, and a little pride between the two groups. An example from the panel, included a story about how a web designer/programmer wanted to help with a local campaign back in 2008 . He walked into the campaign office and campaign staff sent him to another office to do phone banking. I’m not saying that phone banking isn’t important, but it shows how people in the tech community were not used efficiently because it was not the way things were done. Of course, the tech community didn’t do itself any favors with the progressive community when they tried to push a bill relating to increasing H1B visas without comprehensive immigration reform. It didn’t send a good message to other progressives. However, there were also examples of partnership between the two communities. One awesome example was the creation of the Technology Field Office in San Francisco for President Obama’s 2012 campaign.


Where does this leave us now that there isn’t a presidential campaign going on? I believe the solution lies in the two communities embracing each other’s issues. Pay close attention. Technology issues such as open government data, net neutrality, and internet censorship have a large impact in issues of women’s health, education, and corporate/government transparency. Technology may even help solve many traditional issues the progressive movement face, such as the amount of money big corporations and special interests pour into elections.


“Okay, the internet provides this opportunity now. To raise money. To get candidates elected. You know, it use to be there was just no way for a small group of people to go up against the power of Big Money, but one the things we’ve seen… In the past year, you know, using nothing but basically computers and you know, our own apartments, we’ve gotten 300,000 people to join our list and raised $1.2 million. I mean that just, you know, three people were able to make a huge difference like that and that, I think, means the internet really provides this chance where we can start taking on big corporations.”

Aaron Swartz, during an interview about the beginnings of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC).


This leads me to the panel which was the highest priority on my lists of events to attend, Carrying on Aaron Swartz’s Legacy. This panel moderated by Charlie Furman from Demand Progress featured Senator Mark Begich, Representative Zoe Lofgren, Rainey Reitman from EFF, and Ben Wikler from The Flaming Sword of Justice. Swartz was a programmer who became a vocal political activist. As a programmer, he was involved with the creation of RSS, Creative Commons, and Reddit. As an internet activist, he founded the group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In 2011, Swartz faced 13  federal felony charges when he bulk downloaded academic articles from JSTOR at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 11 of those charges were based on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Punishment could be up to $1 million and 35 years in prison. Rep. Lofgren pointed out some serious flaws in the law leading the charges against Swartz in her Wired Op-Ed introducing H. R. 2454 cited as “Aaron’s Law”. The bill has been referred to committee and you can view the bill and its progress online. Rep Lofgren also has a section-by-section summary on her website.

I am recommending everyone in SVYD to read about this bill. If you have questions about it, you are welcome to ask me. I intend to have our members vote to endorse this bill at our next general membership meeting. I have submitted my endorsement request to the political director. If the executive board approves this to be on the agenda, I want every member in SVYD to be informed about this bill. Also at the next meeting, I hope to start a technology subcommittee. Its focus would be on identifying and supporting technology issues and finding ways for SVYD to use current technology to advance its mission. I look forward to pursuing these goals with everyone at SVYD and welcome anyone who wants to join SVYD to help us promote the power of technology for a progressive cause.