A Personal Message from Civic Hall Co-Founder Micah Sifry
It's time for a life change...
I’m writing with important personal news. At the end of September, I’m leaving Civic Hall to pursue new opportunities and projects. I’m excited to be moving on, but as you might imagine, this kind of change is also bittersweet.
Five years and nine months ago, Civic Hall opened its doors. After many years of running the annual two-day Personal Democracy Forum conference, Andrew Rasiej and I had a vision of a place where people interested in the use of technology for the public good could gather year-round to work, network and hopefully collaborate around solving hard problems facing our society. We weren’t sure it would work, but soon hundreds of people and dozens of organizations became members of Civic Hall, and many promising endeavors and powerful partnerships were nurtured under our roof. Tens of thousands of people attended events and workshops there, also being touched and moved by Civic Hall’s values and spirit.
And we’ve had a big impact. By my rough count, more than three dozen early stage civic start-ups spread their wings and took flight while resident at Civic Hall. Many more individuals found community, friendship and support as they navigated the larger challenges of making positive change in a world tilted toward systemic injustice and inequality. There are many people who have come up to me to say, “I couldn’t have done what I’m doing now without the support I got from Civic Hall.” There has been nothing more gratifying than being part of the infrastructure that made that magic happen.
This has been a team effort, and as we navigated the ups and downs of being a start-up together, I want to especially recognize the contributions of my longtime partner and co-founder Andrew Rasiej and Civic Hall’s executive director Jessica Quinn, along with all the dedicated staff who have shared this journey, in making Civic Hall’s secret sauce work.
The past year has been a challenging time. As many of you know, in 2017, Civic Hall won a City of New York sponsored competition to build a new and larger Civic Hall in Union Square with six floors, including an expanded collaborative workspace, a stand-alone event center, and a centerpiece of a tech workforce training center focused on serving underrepresented populations. Since then, our team has collectively spent hundreds of hours in planning, community outreach, and design work, and even though there remain many challenges in bringing this center to fruition, the building is under construction and is scheduled to open at the end of 2021. Finding the resources to create this new, expanded facility, has been an uphill battle, but as the saying goes, “if it were easy it would have been done already.”
And then COVID-19 hit. In response, first we decided to temporarily close our community space on West 22nd St. More recently, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, we decided that there was no safe way to continue to operate a physical community hub. Civic Hall is going to focus on keeping the Union Square effort going, leaning more deeply into the tech skills training component of that work while continuing to nurture civic tech entrepreneurs, looking forward to a day in the hopefully not-too-distant future when it will be possible to gather people in place the way we did before the pandemic.
But it’s time for me to go in my own direction. We are in the midst of unprecedented challenges to our health and our democracy. I want to keep doing the kind of intellectual, community-weaving and mentoring work that I was doing at Civic Hall, but in forms and ways more in tune with the imperatives of this time. Through the end of this month, I’ll be completing some projects at Civic Hall, highlighted by the release September 22 of a major new report on the potential for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence to be used by public interest organizations.
First Post, the biweekly email newsletter on civic tech and politics that I’ve written for the last several years, is going to come with me, though I’m going to take a little time to redesign and rethink its purpose and name. (If you’d like to be a charter subscriber, go here to sign up.) As one chapter in my life closes, I’m excited about some new projects that I’ll now have time for. One is a novel that I’ve been working on that explores how tech may change how we think about death and memory. Another is advising my soon-to-be new Congressman, Jamaal Bowman, on topics and projects related to tech and democracy. In these tumultuous times, I’m also looking forward to doing more political work as well.
Social distancing makes saying good-bye really strange. Until it is safe to be together physically, we’ve all already been cut off from each other. On the other hand, I’m not going any further away than I already am from you, my friends and colleagues in this work. Either way I want to stay in touch, and wherever possible, be of service. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my door is always open.
Until we meet again…