Here Are the Personal Democracy Forum 2017 Panels

The coffee break scene at PDF 2016

This year at Personal Democracy Forum we will have more than two dozen breakout panels across the two days of the conference, loosely organized into six tracks: Movement Organizing, Tools and Skills, Civic Tech, Media Innovation, Security and Privacy, and Ideas and Provocations. Here’s your guide to what’s on tap, grouped by subject. We’re still adding a handful more speakers and panels, so check this page regularly for updates. 

Movement Organizing

How to Keep the Movement Moment Going: Since the election, dozens of new groups and networks have sprung up across the country to mobilize and organize the masses around our new reality: Our democracy, as we know it, can never be the same. As our institutional checks and balances crumble, the only thing we have to fall back on is our organized citizenry. But how can we sustain the urgency we have seen over the last 6 months? We must build a civic infrastructure based on new models and lessons from the frontlines—in the US and around the world. Can we build new infrastructure without over bureaucratizing? How can we play an inside-outside game that will activate the majority of concerned Americans feeling overwhelmed or powerless and change the game itself? Join us as organizing groups representing both the new and old vanguards of the resistance come together to talk about how we keep this unprecedented momentum going.

Panelists: Marlon Marshall, Elondria Williams, Rukia Lumumba, Erin Mazursky (moderator)

How Techies are Collaborating With Organizers: Along with the big wave of public engagement since the election, techies are getting involved in droves, building and adapting software tools and platforms to help the many new and existing organizations responding to the current crisis make the best use of tech. This panel will look at three inter-related approaches to connecting tech talent to movement needs: the open-source Progressive Coders Network community, the start-up scene, and for-profit matchmaking.

Panelists: Rapi Castillo, Brady Kriss, Matt Holland, Deepak Puri (moderator)

Resourcing the Resistance: With money comes power, and with power comes responsibility. While much of the post-election explosion of participation is coming from volunteers, and free and consumer tech can make organizing easier and cheaper, money still matters. With thousands of new for-profit and nonprofit projects blossoming, where will the resources go? On this panel, we’ll hear from funders about how they decide where to invest.

Panelists: Julie Menter, Kim-Mai Cutler, Andrew McLaughlin, Emily Baum (moderator)

Making the Internet Less Toxic for Women and Other Marginalized Communities:The trolling. The insults, the harassment, the body-shaming, the hacks, the doxxing, the revenge-porn, the “leaks,” the celebrities, the cultural shifts, the conversations, the policy suggestions and the changes. This panel will look at some of the structural reasons for and solutions to sexist, racist, anti-semitic, and “alt-right” spaces online and how women and marginalized communities, in particular, can continue to disrupt toxic culture without being destroyed by the same in its digital form. 

Panelists: Kimberly Ellis, Dale Baren, others TBA, Melissa Sandgren (moderator)

Tools and Skills:

Text Text Revolution: Peer to peer (P2P) texting is clearly the most significant innovation coming out of the 2016 cycle, and arguably the most important technology to hit organizing since the advent of social media. Because P2P text messages are generated individually, they lead to real conversations and can be sent to anyone regardless of opt-in status. The panel features organizations at the forefront of using person-to-person texting for various aspects of political organizing, and will focus on different uses for P2P texting, how they integrate P2P with mass texting and email, volunteer management, and where they see P2P texting evolving.

Panelists: Arisha Hatch, Thais Marquez, Madeleine Ellis, Daniel Souweine (moderator)

Not Just Facebook and Twitter: Deep Online Communities and Social Justice Organizing: One of the least-well-kept secrets of online organizing is that it’s harder to create an online community than it is to find one that already exists. People forge different kinds of online relationships on platforms like YouTube, Tumblr or Snapchat than they do elsewhere. Learn how organizations and individuals are mobilizing in these niche platforms. This panel is essential for anyone organizing youth, LGBTQ people, mental health or disability communities. 

Panelists: Jackson Bird, Ericka Persson, Elana Levin (moderator)

A 2016 Bright Spot: Breakthroughs in Voter Information: With everything that happened last year, advances in voter registration and information technologies are something to celebrate. This panel will reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and look closely at creative new partnership models that combine focused nonprofit expertise and global consumer reach, along with nifty new tech like structured ballot information, messenger bots, state APIs, and a surge of early vote notifications. Finally, it will explore the how to advance the long game of easing burdens to voter registration in a broader policy climate of voter suppression.

Panelists: Carmen Hicks, Donny Bridges, Elana Berkowitz, Matt Stempeck (moderator)

Civic Tech

Building a Generation of Public Interest Technologists: With more tech talent than ever before seeking to do meaningful work inside and with public sector organizations, this panel will look at efforts to bridge the gap and develop the practice of “pro bono tech.”

Panelists: David Heubner, Cecilia Munoz, Elizabeth Stewart, Nancy Scola (moderator)

Making This Dysfunctional Congress Work: Congress is broken—it cannot perform its legislative, oversight, and representational duties, and it has ceded its role to an over-powerful executive branch and the special interests that shape its world view. But a rethinking of what Congress does and the tools available to it can restore it as a responsive, reflective, and co-equal branch of government. Members of Congress are not irrational, so how do we change their incentives so they can meet their constitutional duties? This panel of reform-minded congressional experts and staff will share the latest on this quiet but important work.

Panelists: Sasha Moss, Jessica Seale, John Collins, Daniel Schuman (moderator)

Making Government Automatic For the People: As governments start to modernize their services, the way people access information about benefits and sign up for services is being transformed. This panel will look at cutting-edge efforts to open up data about services, improve how people navigate the bureaucracy, and even make some services automatic.

Panelists: Ben Kallos, Erin Simpson, Melanie Lavelle, Peter Shanley (moderator) 

When Sanctuaries Aren’t Enough: Civic Tech in the Fight for Freedom Cities: The concept of “sanctuary” has been watered down to ways that municipalities refuse to invest local resources in immigrant enforcement. But when our communities are exposed daily to Broken Windows policy which is about over-policing and making small nuisances into crimes, opening the door to police brutality and deportations, we must shift our framework to demand more complete safety for our communities. Freedom Cities is about an expansive vision that incorporates all that our communities deserve. We refuse to leave anyone behind. Freedom Cities believes, as Audre Lorde said, “ there’s no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we don’t live single issue lives.” We are an inclusive and intersectional movement. As we move deeper into a new political reality with increased policing and a crackdown on even the concept of sanctuary in many of our major cities, this panel will explore how we can leverage civic tech to build a deeper framework for protection and participation without compromising the safety and security of our communities.

Panelists: Aimee Castenell, Kim Lehmkuhl, Erika Strong (moderator)

Media Innovation:

Technopoly and Its Discontents: More and more of the modern economy relies on big tech platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Reminiscent of monopoly in the Industrial Revolution, these platforms in our “Knowledge Revolution” are increasingly growing and consolidating power in only a handful of corporations. How should consumers, citizens, and governments respond to this power? Is this consolidation contributing to inequality and preventing competition? Or is it modeling an entirely new model of economy?  This panel explores contemporary debates in law and political economy about “technopoly,” touching on themes of public utility, anti-monopoly, and regulatory capture. (Sponsored by the Knight Foundation)

Panelists: Lina Khan, Sabeel Rahman, Tim Wu, Nicco Mele (moderator)

From the Ground Up: Indigenous Mapping, Media & Storytelling. The focus of this panel is on the power and possibility of digital storytelling & mapping tools when they are designed by & for Native communities. As the powerful example of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has shown, the myth that there are no more indigenous people in North America is being challenged by communities who are on the frontlines of political and environmental conflicts. In this panel we will explore examples of Indigenized media and mobile/map-based storytelling software tools built in collaboration with Indigenous peoples in the US, Canada & Latin America. These examples directly speak to how to build a more inclusive, people-powered movement for the future.

Panelists: Leena Minifie, Ryan McMahon, Emily Jacobi (moderator)

Trust, Availability, and Applicability: The Role of Data Science in a Post-Fact World. Transitioning from an administration that held the first U.S. Chief Data Scientist to one that is working to erase data from government websites, and a world in which some embrace and see the potential of data to create positive social change while others are skeptical and fearful, data science finds itself hanging in the balance. How do we re-instill the public’s trust in data science and how can it be used toward protecting civil liberties and rights? The panel will be a discussion amongst leading data science practitioners within the social and civic sectors to reflect on the current political climate and the role they can play to help uphold democratic freedoms. The session looks to unearth challenges faced by civic groups, show the potential data science has to combat social injustices, and inspire collaboration amongst civic, social and tech sectors to protect communities and the rights of individuals.

Panelists: Zara Rahman, Natalie Evans Harris, Jonathon Morgan, Suchana Seth, Jake Porway (moderator)

Resourcing Trustworthy, Independent Journalism: This panel will wrestle with how fledgling and emerging news startups earn the trust of their readers, while tapping into resources that will unfailingly support their mission. Is the answer in community-building? High-tech data-powered tools that meet urgent gaps in the journalistic infrastructure? We’ll hear from both veterans and newcomers to the field. (Sponsored by the Knight Foundation)

Panelists: Jennifer Fiore, Bill Frischling, Wendell Potter, Jay Rosen, Sarah Bartlett (moderator)

Security and Privacy

Digital Security for All: Bridging the Gap Between Security Trainers and the Communities They Want to Serve. Faced with the reality of a Trump presidency, organizations big and small have realized they’re at risk of being hacked, surveilled, trolled, and otherwise attacked online. Vast databases of constituent information sit in the cloud, state surveillance is eradicating privacy and chilling free speech, and the devices we depend on to communicate have been weaponized against us.

Panelists: Harlo Holmes, Deanna Zandt, Matt Mitchell, Josh Levy (moderator)

From Ad Hoc to Prepared – Developing an Anti Online Harassment Infrastructure (Workshop). Hollaback!, Kairos Fellowship, and Mozilla have been collaborating across the social justice and technology sectors to identify and build best-practices so that organizations can effectively and successfully support their staff + volunteers who experience online harassment. The long-term goal of this work is to reduce the impact of harassment experienced by staff, and thus reduce staff turnover, the impact of trauma on the team, and to build the internal capacity for resilience. By developing this framework with others, we are working with stakeholders who will put these guidelines to use and share them with other like-minded organizations. This group looks to: Develop concrete and technical actions to support staff/volunteers at the moment they experience harassment. Build a framework for anti-harassment infrastructure to prevent and educate staff about online harassment. Provide guidelines for senior level staff to articulate and express their stance against online harassment. In this workshop, we want to share the work we have, invite constructive feedback, and invite membership in our professional working group to continue building and share this work with others.

Workshop leaders: Emily May and Mariana Ruiz Firmat

What NYC is Doing to Protect Internet Privacy for All New Yorkers: Reports show that New Yorkers are increasingly likely to experience harassment, discrimination, a loss of privacy, and barriers to civic engagement through their use of the internet. Join for an off-the-record fireside chat with Miguel Gamino, NYC’s Chief Technology Officer and Anne Roest, NYC’s Chief Information Officer and DoITT Commissioner and Carmelyn Malalis, NYC’s Human Rights Commissioner on what NYC is doing to protect internet privacy and human rights and digital security.

Panelists: Miguel Gamino, Anne Roest, Carmelin Malalis, Jonathan Askin (moderator)

When the Threat is Real: Hate Speech in America: Since the recent US presidential election we have witnessed a worrying resurgence of misinformation, hate speech, and intolerance toward vulnerable communities. In particular, immigrants have been targeted and continue to be the focus of prejudicial action at federal, state and local level. This panel will discuss the implications of hate speech and negative campaigning against immigrant groups, and explore how communities and advocacy groups are fighting back. (Sponsored by Omidyar Network)

Panelists: Jose Antonio Vargas, others TBA, Alissa Black (moderator)

Ideas and Provocations

Trump in 2020: Could He Win? Regardless of the fact that most Americans currently don’t like Trump, it’s worth exploring the chances of him winning the 2020 election. Given the advantages that come with running as an incumbent, the pace of technology and policy changes regarding privacy, voter ID, and district changes, and the ever changing perspective and turnout of the American electorate, can Trump shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still be re-elected? Three veteran political strategists will mull the possibilities. (Sponsored by Comscore)

Panelists: Carol Davidsen, Mike Podhorzer, Patrick Ruffini, Gideon Lichfield (moderator)

How to Be Loyal Antagonists: Imagine if Loretta Lynch, Peter Thiel, Cecile Richards, Rand Paul, Sheryl Sandberg, Stephen Bannon, Sonia Sotomayor and Paul Ryan had met at a rural retreat 15 years ago. That’s the idea behind “Loyal Antagonists,” a new effort to build bridges across the political divide. In this session, we’ll showcase some early fruits of this project and offer some hands-on suggestions for how to build meaningful dialogue and trust.

Panelists: Seamus Kraft, Ashley Spillane, Clarence Wardell, Cristin Dorgelo, Sara Holoubek (moderator)

Reinventing Democracy: Lessons from Taiwan and Beyond. Movements for democracy, led by student organizers and open government activists, with an assist from innovative technologists, have been reimagining the core assumptions of representative government. In Taiwan, a whole new way of working together is emerging, that combines traditional elected leadership with mass participation in interactive consultation, and which has led to serious changes in law and policy. This panel will feature some of the leading innovators and top observers of that evolving process, and explore how these innovations are spreading.

Panelists: Audrey Tang, Colin Megill, Liz Barry, Ttcat, Allison Fine (moderator)

Apocalyptic Civics: Public Work Amid Collapse. The word ‘apocalypse’ doesn’t actually mean ‘the end of the word’ — it means ‘the lifting of the veil.’ We live in times of revelation: that the American dream is for many a nightmare; that the Republic teeters on the brink of autocracy; that we are unlikely to avert oncoming climate catastrophe that looms even within our lifetimes. The bad news is that the center cannot hold. Yet the good news is that, to many of us, this is very old news. Rather than panic or despair, let us learn from those who have managed to build and wield public power in the face of calamity. How can we build community in times of collapse? In this session, we’ll learn from leaders who draw clarity from crisis, channel uncertainty into strength, and transform fear not into hatred but love.

Panelists: Willow Blugh, Kenneth Bailey, Ayana Johnson, Maytha Alhassen, Greg Bloom (moderator)

Tickets for Civic Hall’s Personal Democracy Forum 2017 are still available (with discounts for non-profit and government employees). Prices go up at the door; don’t delay!