I’m a policy wonk and doer. This time last year, I didn’t have a clue what happened at a hackathon. I associated hackers with bad guys who stole identities and broke into websites. So you can imagine my delight to be introduced to a community of civic-minded hackers. Hackathons provide a platform for problem-solvers and do-gooders to collaborate and create interesting things.
A lot of awesome prototypes are developed at hackathons. But to have an impact, the project must be sustained beyond the weekend. Like romance, a prototype without finance doesn’t stand a chance. So the team should include an evangelist who is passionate about the project. Someone who is willing to spend the time and energy it will take to get resources to build out the app. I was chief evangelist for the Cost of Freedom Project and Yo! Philly Votes.
If you build it, they will come. Right? Maybe. You have to market to your target audience. I partnered with national and local nonprofits to engage their members. I also used social networks and mainstream media to raise awareness of the civic apps.
A year later, I’m going back to where it all began -- Random Hacks of Kindness, which will be held at Drexel’s new ExCITe Center. I’m, well, excited to give an update on Yo! Philly Votes and perhaps pitch a project.
I’m also excited about how the hackathon platform and collaborative mindset can bridge the gap in teacher training and spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). While a lot of serious coding takes place during hackathons, it’s not all work. They’re actually fun. Folks play games and banter back and forth.
Hackathons or hackerspaces can help underrepresented minorities, particularly young black males, imagine a better future. They would be introduced to professionals who can connect STEM to their day-to-day realities and interests. Given the shifting demographics, it is an economic imperative that we inculcate interest in STEM subjects among black and Latino students.
The Corbett Administration has invoked the specious allegation of “voter intimidation” by the New Black Panthers as a pretext for not turning over documents in Pennsylvania’s voter suppression by voter ID scheme.
In a letter to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz wrote:
Upon my initial review of your letter, I was optimistic that surely your inquiry marked the long overdue renewal of the Department of Justice’s previously abandoned review of the 2008 voter intimidation case in Philly, a review that would be particularly well-timed in this presidential election year, as I trust Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice share the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that no violation of the voting rights of Pennsylvanians be tolerated. Unfortunately, my optimism proved unwarranted as I read your letter and learned that you are requesting information “concerning Pennsylvania’s compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The minor incident involving three knuckleheads was captured on video on Election Day 2008, It has since been played in an endless loop by Fox News. Unfortunately, there’s no countervailing data to rebut the Big Lie of voter intimidation.
But this time, we’ll be ready for them. I am developing an app, Yo! Philly Votes, that will aggregate and visualize multiple sources of real-time Election Day incident reports. Using software developed by Jon Gosier, we’ll be able to contextualize the sources of reports.
If Yo! Philly Votes had been around in 2008, we would have real-time data that the eyewitness to the incident, Chris Hill,a Republican activist, was at the polling place for an hour and did not see any voters turned away. There were no other reports of voter intimidation. If the source of the incident report had been considered, the bogus story would have remained just that – bogus. Instead, made-for-Fox-News story became a justification for election law changes that have been enacted across the country, including Pennsylvania's restrictive voter ID law.