Andrew Rasiej and Kirsten Gillibrand in conversation on the PDF stage.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on g0v.news (pronounced gov-zero news), a news platform about the civic tech community, by the civic tech community, featuring the latest civic tech trends from Asia and around the world. G0v.news is also the world’s first ever bilingual Chinese/English civic tech news platform.
As each speaker took to the stage at the 2017 Personal Democracy Forum (or PDF17), a mishmash of words appeared on the screen behind them. Words like “defend,” “boycott,” and “march” flashed diagonally and vertically, as if becoming intertwined and part of one very long stream of thought.
This image stuck with me after the two-day conference. I understand these phrases to be examples of what activists and civic hackers are doing to resist President Donald J. Trump’s regressive agenda.
There’s the “Indivisible” movement, which has introduced the disruptive protest tactics of the Tea Party to progressives. And there’s “Knock Every Door,” which is rebooting public engagement in politics by literally knocking on every door in the country.
But I also understand the image of the jumbled words as something indicative of how progressive Americans are being engaged in these campaigns and causes. To fight Trump, progressives aren’t choosing “boycotting” over “marching,” or “hacking” over “writing policy.” They’re choosing all of these actions, and working together with their peers to get it done.
Indivisible and Knock Every Door understand the power of online engagement, but they also understand the vital role “peer-to-peer practices” or “peer networks” can play in spreading your message. More than ever, the resistance against Trump and the Republican-held Congress is resembling a bit-torrent client instead of a giant megaphone blasting instructions to loyal followers.
“The real innovation is not so much about technology, but it’s about connecting volunteers with each other, and then unleashing them on the public,” Becky Bond, the founder of Knock Every Door, said during her talk at PDF17.
“Perhaps our biggest contribution is to support these volunteers and then get out of the way,” she added.
These peer-to-peer practices are by no means new. As technology writer Steven Johnson notes, peer networks have been used effectively throughout history. They were used in Renaissance Florence. It was used to seed music files on Napster and Soulseek. And it helped protesters in Hong Kong occupy Central for 79 days during the Umbrella Movement.
It helped fund Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004, and helped mobilize the Tea Party’s taxpayer march in 2009. Now these practices are resurfacing again, and they’re scaling progressive movements in both blue states and red states, coastal states and fly-over states.