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Hacking for Democracy: Getting Big Money out of Politics

The design and technology world is full of systems thinkers — people who see patterns and interrelationships, who look beyond symptoms to identify root causes, who strive for holistic, long-term solutions over quick fixes.

And this is why so many of us are involved in addressing the root of so many problems in America today:  the campaign finance system that results in political corruption, hyper-partisanship, and governmental dysfunction. Whichever issue you care most about — global climate change, income inequality, social justice, education, patent reform, the federal debt — there will be no meaningful progress until we change the way political campaigns are funded.
 
Aaron Lifshin and I founded Team Democracy in 2013 with the idea of making a strategic difference in the nonpartisan movement for campaign finance reform. Hack for Democracy, Team Democracy’s hackathon, has given us the opportunity to bring designers, technologists, marketing professionals, writers, political strategists, and other professionals together to support the movement.

 
Starting a new organization in San Francisco, the city of startups, isn’t always easy. Making the connection with ThoughtWorks earlier this year, whose mission of creating social good complements our work perfectly, has been invaluable. When we learned that Aaron Swartz was a ThoughtWorker, we knew we were in good hands.
With just two Hack for Democracy hackathons under our belt at the ThoughtWorks San Francisco office, participants have provided support to existing organizations like California Clean Money Campaign AND generated new ideas, projects, and tools.
Team Democracy has also become deeply involved with Professor Lawrence Lessig's initiatives to get money out of politics. We started with the NH Rebellion, prototyping their Questioner application at the first Hack for Democracy in March. Later, we completely redesigned their website from the ground up at our Team Democracy Tuesday meetings. We added finishing touches and relaunched the site at the second Hack for Democracy in May.
When we later joined up with the Mayday PAC — a super PAC to end all super PACs — their server couldn’t handle the load of online contributions. After coordinating tech first responders via IRC, Aaron Lifshin was brought on as their CTO. The people we’ve met through Hack for Democracy have worked on many Mayday projects, including building new features, fixing bugs, page design, A/B testing, project management, and copywriting.
Our plan for Team Democracy is to continue with regular Hack for Democracy events, in Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles this fall. We’re looking at better ways to coordinate volunteers online. We’re investigating the idea of a design-a-thon. We’re continuing to support Professor Lessig’s efforts and the California Clean Money Campaign. And we're talking with other organizations in the anti-corruption movement who also need help.
There are so many smart, talented people who want to help create a government for the people, and we are so excited to provide them with a way to do just that. With their enthusiasm and hard work we are more convinced than ever that we will make a difference.
Join us in Boston for a Hack for Democracy on September 20–21, 2014
This guest blog post was written by Sarah Bonk, the co-founder of Hack for Democracy.