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Platform co-ops get a conference; New Yorkers, do you have fast, reliable, affordable internet? Set the record straight; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Civicist contributing editor Laurenellen McCann writes about the work of the Center for Technology and Civic Life with election administrators around the country, and how they “decided to prioritize co-production above tool production,” letting the administrators guide the process. The result is ELECTricity: “A learning community of election officials who believe that technology can improve our democracy.” McCann says this is a model of “build with, not for” civic tech, and adds that “we have more collaboration we need to do if we want our civic work to truly be transformative. We have to learn how to work not just with tech communities and particular government partners of interest, but also in deep partnership with the wide array of civic actors and organizations already enmeshed and working in the democratic landscapes we are trying to affect.”

  • Do you have a story or an op-ed you want to write for Civicist? Send your idea pitch to our managing editor, Jessica McKenzie at jessica-at-civichall-dot-org.

  • Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider preview in FastCoexist their November conference here in New York on the rise of platform co-ops (which Civic Hall is co-sponsoring). They write, “there is also a movement underway to create a real sharing economy online, one in which people can truly co-own and co-govern the platforms they rely on. This means bringing together new technology with the long history of democratic, cooperative enterprise.”

  • Steve Vance recounts the history of Chicago’s 311 system, which is now likely to be privatized if Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets his way.

  • Attention New Yorkers: Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY writes:
    “We all know that New Yorker residents need access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet. It’s not possible to grow New York’s tech sector without cutting edge telecom infrastructure. Unfortunately, our regulatory agencies are completely out of touch. A recent “study” by the New York State Public Service Commission painted a glowing picture of the quality and breadth of options available to New Yorkers, touting that New Yorkers have low price telecom options available. Has that been your experience? Now, you have a chance to set the record straight by commenting on your experiences with internet and other telecom services in NY.

  • Tech billionaire and Brigade founder Sean Parker is gearing up to draft and back a marijuana legalization initiative for the California 2016 ballot, Max Cherney reports for BuzzFeed. Parker’s Founders Fund has invested Privateer Holdings, a holding company for cannabis start-ups. Two other moguls who also have a financial interest in legalization, Justin Hartfield of Weedmaps (the “Yelp for pot shops”) and Joby Pritzker (of the family that owns the Hyatt chain), are also reportedly involved.

  • Indonesia’s citizens are starting to use an app called Qlue that enables them to post photos of broken public services, reports Today Online. The governor of Jakarta has ordered city authorities to respond to complaints made through the app.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Alyssa Bereznak reports for Yahoo Politics on Revolution Messaging’s Scott Goodstein, Arun Chaudhary, Tim Tagaris, and Michael Whitney, the core of Bernie Sanders’ digital team.

  • With the first Democratic presidential candidate coming up next Tuesday, CNN is inviting the public to submit questions via Facebook or Instagram.

  • Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic zings law professor Lawrence Lessig for running a fantasy campaign.

  • Brave new world: Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys has been convicted of three counts of computer hacking, for posting login credentials to the L.A. Times website (which led to an article being defaced for 40 minutes), Sarah Jeong reports for Motherboard. He now faces up to 25 years jail time under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (h/t Edward Snowden)

  • Jobs and transitions: Former White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra has joined the Albright Stonebridge lobby shop.

  • Code for America is hiring a director for its communications and engagement focus area.

  • The State of Massachusetts Office of Information is hiring a civic UX designer and a civic back-end web developer.

  • The Democracy Fund is seeking a vice president of strategy, learning, and impact, along with several other administrative positions.

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The civic idea Bono went nuts for; activists on social media sabbaticals; and more.

  • Rich thinking: Mark Pincus of Zynga thinks “it’d be pretty cool” for “a million people to raise one billion dollars to run Mike Bloomberg for president. Through Kickstarter.” His friend Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says it’s not going to happen. That’s just one highlight of Nicholas Lemann’s lengthy New Yorker profile of Hoffman, today’s must-read.
  • Given that both Pincus and Hoffman dropped one million dollars each on President Obama’s re-election Priorities USA Super PAC, and Hoffman tossed Lawrence Lessig’s MayDayPAC another million in 2014, you have to pay attention to how they talk about reviving civic engagement. Check out this idea from Pincus:

    “Summer of Love. Should I remind you of the concept? The idea is that, in 2017, it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the original Summer of Love in San Francisco. Can we use that to generate a year-long summer of service?” Pincus explained that a series of rock concerts might be organized, offering tickets competitively through a new app. “Start in San Francisco. It could be gamified civic engagement. It’s a different narrative for tech. It’s not the narrative that’s been written for us. It’s disruption on an establishment level, not a tech level. I spoke to Bono about it, and he went nuts!”

  • Speaking of big money and civic engagement, of the more than 18,000 grants since 2011 cataloged by the Foundation Center as focused on strengthening American democracy, just 962 have been focused on technology. That’s just $215 million out of a total of $2.435 billion, and just six foundations—Knight, Ford, Gates, Omidyar, the California Endowment, and Sloan—have provided more than half of that. In a guest op-ed for Philanthropy News Digest, I look at why so many major American foundations don’t seem to get tech.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Here’s our Jessica McKenzie reporting on Sen. Marco Rubio’s appearance at Civic Hall yesterday to talk about the “on-demand” economy.

  • Issie Lapowsky of Wired also reports on Rubio’s tech talk at Civic Hall.

  • This is civic tech: The New York State Senate has just launched the most innovative legislative website in the country, Jessica McKenzie reports for Civicist. A new feature shows senators up-to-the-minute constituent support for and opposition to proposed bills.

  • Lawrence Grodeska, founder of the Civicmakers Meetup in San Francisco, takes his stab at defining “civic tech,” arguing that it is “as a new “big tent” movement for democracy that encapsulates many smaller segments, such as gov tech, online campaigning, digital advocacy, and voting tech.”

  • Food for thought: If you are political activist who uses social media, you should read this interview by Kate Aronoff in Waging Nonviolence with Elijah Armstrong and Rachel Gilmer of Florida’s Dream Defenders, who have been at the epicenter there in the Movement for Black Lives. They’re in the middle of a six-week self-imposed “social media sabbatical,” which they’ve taken because they’re unhappy with how the culture of 24-7 online engagement is warping their work.

Civic Hall Election 2016 future of work Sharing Economy



Marco Rubio weighs in on the on-demand economy, innovation and disruption, money in politics, and platform cooperativism.

This morning Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio dropped by Civic Hall to deliver a prepared speech on the on-demand economy, followed by a Q&A with Civic Hall founder Andrew Rasiej. In his speech, Rubio touted the advantages of the on-demand economy, including upward mobility, flexibility, and independence. He argued that all of the “best innovation is happening in the unregulated space” and said his proposed tax reform plan would make the tax code more welcoming to the on-demand economy. Many of Rubio’s prepared comments tracked with other speeches he has given on the subject, although this one was without any explicit jabs at fellow candidates.

Rubio highlighted New York-based Handy as an innovative startup facing overregulation, and said another entrepreneur he met recently asked him not to name his company publicly to avoid drawing the attention of legislators.

Rubio called for a new category of worker, pointing out that those with W2 status have more protections but fewer of the freedoms that characterize the on-demand economy, but if employees are categorized as independent contractors, employers are prevented from training them or otherwise dictating how something is done. Rubio argued that a middle ground is needed, pointing out Germany already has a third category for “dependent contractors.” He added, “Whether or not this model is the best for America is something we have to figure out.”

To cut down on innovation-stifling regulation, Rubio proposed a cap on the amount that regulations can cost the economy, saying current compliance costs approach $70 billion. Rubio singled out regulation lobbied for by incumbent interests like the taxi and hotel industries for hindering competition.

When Andrew Rasiej pushed him on the root issue that makes it possible for established interests to have their way—money in politics—Rubio first said that small government is the answer: If unlimited regulation is an option, he argued, incumbent interests will “find a public safety argument and use that to put up a roadblock.” In response to Rasiej’s follow up question, again about the influence of money in politics, Rubio said that the American people should “stop electing” people susceptible to that. But he didn’t offer any ideas for how to achieve that.FullSizeRender

Citing the impact of Airbnb on the housing market, Rasiej asked how the government could minimize the collateral effects of the on-demand economy without regulation. Rubio responded that he’s not against all regulation—he’s glad that his drinking water isn’t poisoned and that someone is checking on the planes he flies on—but added that “structural change in the economy has always been very disruptive” and pointed out that the industrial revolution brought about a number of new issues, including child labor, that had to be resolved.

Rubio repeated himself somewhat when a member of the audience—an independent taxi driver—asked whether new companies and drivers should have the same access to the market that he has, but without paying the same fees. Rubio first replied that he doesn’t think it’s the same model, but reiterated that innovation is always disruptive, citing the impact of the car on the horse cab driver. Rubio said that it is the role of government not to prevent innovation, but to help people affected get access to the new innovative economy, whether through education or other means.

Rubio was dismissive of the potential for worker-owned cooperative platforms to compete with other startups, saying, “I don’t think you’re going to get innovation that way…people aren’t driven to do it if they don’t see the opportunity to make money.”

Finally, when asked by Rasiej whether he would continue to support the U.S. Digital Service if he were elected president, Rubio said, “If it proves that it’s something that is effective and that it can attract the brightest minds to improve how government works, then that’s something we should definitely continue.”

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The future of work; social media and the copycat effect; and more.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Speaking at Civic Hall this morning, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said in a prepared speech that “both parties were to blame” for not innovating fast enough to keep up with the “on-demand” economy (his preferred descriptor). He also decried regulations lobbied for by incumbent interests like the taxi industry and the hotel industry for blocking the growth of companies like Uber and Airbnb.

    Rubio also touted Handy, which helps self-employed trades professionals get jobs, for enabling “upward mobility” and offering people greater flexibility to choose their work hours, noting that the average Handy worker makes $18 an hour. He said it was “shameful” that the “biggest obstacle to growth” of this company was “our very own government.” He concluded: “We have to change the way our political establishment thinks about the new economy.”

  • During a Q&A session with Civic Hall founder Andrew Rasiej, Rubio declared that he wasn’t in favor of eliminating the federal minimum wage (contrary to prior reports) but that he opposed raising it.

  • Asked about the U.S. Digital Service and whether he would continue it were he elected president, he said “If it proves that it’s something that is effective and that it can attract the brightest minds to improve how government works, then that’s something we should definitely continue.”

  • Our Jessica McKenzie covered the event in a bit more detail for Civicist.
  • The future of work: The Guardian’s Alex Hern argues it’s time to stop referring to “the sharing economy,” saying that the “gig economy” is a much better descriptor for what’s actually going on: “a dependence on tenuous labor, particularly that provided by individuals working as third-party contractors rather than full employees.”

  • recent survey by the Freelancers Union found that nearly 54 million people, or one-third of the work force, are doing freelance work. According to the survey, “86 percent of the nation’s freelancers are likely to vote in 2016, and 62 percent are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports freelancers’ interests.”

  • As Katie Benner reports for the New York Times, politicians are turning more to gig economy startups like Thumbtack, Munchery, and Managed by Q, for advice on how to address their needs.

  • Related: On October 7, Michelle Miller of is co-hosting a White House town hall with President Obama to discuss the future of work and the “importance of worker voice.” You can submit a question in advance here. (Here’s Coworker’s Jess Kutch speaking at PDF 2015 last June about “the power of employee-led online organizing.”)

  • Brave new world: An in-depth report by Mother Jones’ Mark Follman on data-driven efforts by “threat assessment professionals” to intervene before mass killers take action includes this troubling news: “When I asked threat assessment experts what might explain the recent rise in gun rampages, I heard the same two words over and over: social media. Although there is no definitive research yet, widespread anecdotal evidence suggests that the speed at which social media bombards us with memes and images exacerbates the copycat effect.”

  • Self-described “budding young journalist” Eve Peyser managed to interview notorious pharmaceutical price-gouger Martin Shkreli by swiping right on his profile on the Tinder dating app, as she details in this piece for

  • Exile watch: Edward Snowden has offered to go to prison in the U.S. as part of a plea deal that would allow him to come home, but as Ewen MacAskill reports for the Guardian, he says he “won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.” But, he adds, the U.S. Justice Department has made no effort to contact him to discuss any plea deal.

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The presidential candidate with the most Facebook followers might surprise you; the Democratic party won’t recognize Lawrence Lessig as a candidate; and more.

  • Future, Imperfect: In America, Google searches for “gun shop” tend to be more popular than “gun control” but after the mass shooting in Oregon late last week, that trend flipped, Lorenzo Ligato reports for the Huffington Post. Among the top queries people ask are, “What do police say about gun control?” and “Why does nothing get done about gun control?”

  • According to Google search trends, public interest in America in a mass shooting tends to last a month, at best, Emily Badger and Kevin Schaul report for the Washington Post. They write, “It doesn’t gradually recede with time as memories often do; it disappears, abruptly.”

  • A proposal that would let Uber and Lyft drivers form nonprofit organizations to collectively bargain on their behalf is making progress through the Seattle city council, Daniel Beekman reports for the Seattle Times.

  • Tech and the presidentials: The presidential candidate with the most Facebook followers is….Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon. As Jon Ward reports for Yahoo Politics, Carson has more than 4 million followers, compared to 3.9 million for Donald Trump, 2.1 million for Bernie Sanders, 1.5 million for Hillary Clinton, and 1 million for Marco Rubio. Carson’s success online mirrors his broad base of small donors, who gave his campaign $20 million in the third quarter of 2015.

  • Meanwhile, Donald Trump has become the champion of Twitter, as this devastating profile from Michael Barbaro in the New York Times shows. He writes: “Over the past two months, on Twitter alone, he has been mentioned in 6.3 million conversations, eight times as many as Republican rivals like Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson—not to mention more than three times as many as Hillary Rodham Clinton and nearly four times as many as Bernie Sanders. He is retweeted more than twice as often as Mrs. Clinton and about 13 times more frequently than Jeb Bush, according to data compiled as of Friday by Edelman Berland, a market research firm that studies social media.”

  • Long-shot Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig, who crowdfunded $1 million in order to run a one-issue campaign for political reform, takes to Politico Magazine to complain that the Democratic party has been refusing to recognize his candidacy, preventing him from qualifying for this month’s first presidential debate.

  • This is civic tech: In Civicist, Daniel X. O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative explains why “The Real Heart of Civic Tech Isn’t Code” but the “hidden workers” like the teens who worked in its youth-led tech program this summer, the regular Chicago residents who work in its documenters program, and its health navigators. He writes:

    Civic tech that doesn’t include people like Akya, Angel, and Farhad leads to a distorted vision of the field. A vision that leads with technical solutions rather than human capacity. A vision that glorifies the power of the developer rather than the collective strengths of a city.

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The app trap; why we shouldn’t use ‘blight’ to describe cities and communities; and more.

  • The view from the summit: My favorite statement at this week’s Code for America Summit, which was attended by more than 1,200 people, was uttered by Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge, who explained why he was tired of hearing about why government should be “run like a business.” He said, “Businesses get to choose their customers, government has to serve everyone.”

  • Catherine Bracy, the director of community organizing at Code for America, explains to re/Code’s Noah Kulwin the dangers of the “app trap.” She says,

    It’s really hard to point to when we’ve changed a system or we’ve improved some massive bureaucracy. It’s often years in the making. To separate the milestones along the way of this systemic story, we fall back on talking about the apps we’ve built, and the way the apps sort of represent a milestone or bigger picture. And that leads us into the “app trap” [that] now colors the conversation. “Oh, you’re just about building apps.” And the app is the end of the story. But it’s not.

  • GovTech’s Jason Shueh offers his four key takeaways from the Code for America Summit.

  • This is civic tech: Kudos to Travis Moore on the launch of TechCongress, a new nonpartisan fellowship program that will place technologists in Congressional offices. Moore is a former legislative and operations director to Rep. Henry Waxman. The fellowship is a nine-month residency working directly for a Member or a Committee. Fellows may focus on technology-related issues like NSA surveillance reform, patent reform, cybersecurity or network neutrality.

  • Kudos to Laurenellen McCann on the publication of her new book, “Experimental Modes of Engagement in Civic Tech,” edited by Smart Chicago’s Daniel O’Neil.

  • MySociety are making an open call for papers for the 2016 “Impacts of Civic Technology” conference, which will in Barcelona April 27-28.

  • NYC Tech Jobs, a one-stop-shopping portal for finding a tech job in New York City government, has launched.

  • Tech investor Nick Hanauer, the founder of Civic Ventures, says companies like Amazon should be more civically involved.

  • Food for thought: board member Justin Garrett Moore makes a plea that we stop using the term “blight” to describe the challenges facing urban communities. He writes:

    Why do I consider ‘blight’ a problematic word when it comes to describing our cities and communities? Blight is a borrowed term from plant pathology that refers to a number of diseases that cause damage and death. The violence of urban renewal (versions 1.0, 2.0 and now 3.0 beta) used this terminology of disease to describe a place and its people to justify the use of constitutional police power “the betterment of the health, safety, morals” to take property and wealth, remove people, and to literally destroy places.

    (h/t Erin Barnes)

  • Ear-worm warning: You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the “Open Data Song” by Keith MacDonald. (h/t Jill Miller Zimon and the Sunlight Foundation) I just can’t decide whether I prefer the acoustic or the electric version. Let’s see if we can get Keith over 100 views!

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NYPD mandates Force Incident Reports; Trump’s social media guy; and more.

  • The NYPD has announced new guidelines for the use of force that now includes a requirement to document each instance in a Force Incident Report, Al Baker and J. David Goodman report for the New York Times. The resulting data will published in annual reports and could be used to analyze trends or change policy.

  • In an email exchange with Hillary Clinton in 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter—then an official in the State Department and now president and CEO of the New America Foundation—complained that the government agency’s technology was so antiquated it was almost non-functional, and that nobody used it, Laura Meckler reports for the Wall Street Journal. Slaughter suggested drawing public attention to the problem, but another aide advised against it for security reasons.

  • The messages were part of the fifth Clinton email dump, with more than 6,000 new pages for reporters to sift through.

  • Bernie Sanders’ campaign is the first of 2016 contenders to announce getting to one million individual online donations, Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal. The announcement was first made on the subreddit /r/SandersforPresident.

  • Ben Schreckinger profiles Donald Trump’s social media guy, who pioneered the 15-second Instagram attack ad.

  • SciDevNet has published a rich interactive feature on the worldwide digital divide written by Kevin Pollock, Adel Fakhir, Zoraida Portillo, Madhukara Putty and Paula Leighton. It is an excellent primer on the ways both old and new technologies are creatively used in under-connected areas for educational purposes, health services, communication, and more.

  • Documents leaked by Anonymous International show that the Russian government is considering building a “national information platform” that would essentially function as an alternative to the worldwide web, Aric Toler writes for Global Voices.

  • Susan Crawford has the story of a bluegrass fiddler spearheading a Predictive Blight Prevention in Cincinnati.

  • “Government agencies must figure out how to elevate the public interest value of making “smart objects” transparent to their owners over the copyright interests of the corporations that manufacture them,” writes Alexander Howard in the Huffington Post in response to the Volkswagen cheating scandal. Hear hear.

  • As Hurricane Joaquin descends on the East Coast, meteorologists fret over how to convey both warnings and uncertainty on social media, and try to apply lessons learned during and after Hurricane Sandy, Andrew Freedman reports for Mashable.

  • Civic Hall member David Moore launched his non-profit project Councilmatic—the “first-ever open-data source for everything in the NYC Council”—at the Code for America Summit yesterday. Congratulations!