There are invisible threads that bind many of us together; a shared sense of commitment to the underlying principles that power our democratic experiment. These threads can be found across issues and communities, and when knitted together they form a beautiful, diverse, tapestry.
But this tapestry has begun to fray. Our nation is being torn apart in the name of partisanship — and winning has become the purpose of politics, putting our democracy on shaky ground. Politics, which should be the domain of all citizens, is controlled by the most polarized among us. Government, which is needed to support all Americans, has become paralyzed and barely is able to meet its most basic requirements. Philanthropy, which is trying to fill the gaps where politics and government fall short, is mostly reinforcing an existing, flawed system.
Basically, the systems that are supposed to be delivering more participatory civic engagement are failing us. The thread exists, but the ties that it creates between us all are growing weaker. Left unaddressed, the problems eroding our democracy and tearing apart our communities will grow worse, until they are overwhelming.
We can no longer talk about fixing the hyper-partisan political system — we must figure out how to subvert it, and then replace it. We have a duty to imagine an equitable future for civic engagement, and our roles in delivering on that promise. That starts by building a deeper understanding of what people need and want from their communities, and where they are willing and able to get involved.
Technology facilitates connection and democratizes knowledge. Data and analysis-driven engagement can be used to build community and increase participation. That is why technology, and most importantly, data, are at the center of Helm’s work.
We approach the complex challenges around civic engagement with humility. We are anxious to discover what we do not know. We are determined to avoid pitfalls that have befallen civic technology developers in the past (and present). We are committing to making the organizers and advocates that we serve the center of everything we build. We believe data-driven, local, coalition politics is the key to driving the necessary change.
On a personal level I am eager to listen — whether to the story of the first-time candidate running for school board, or the data manager hacking together analysis with clever workflows, or the organizer building community in the hometown she loves. I am confident that if we listen hard, these stories contain the elusive answers to building a new system for participation.
We’re listening. What do you want us to hear? What do you need in order to move your work forward? What’s missing from the work to enhance civic engagement?
Let me know: email@example.com.
Emma Bloomberg is the Founder and CEO of Murmuration, and Board Chair of Helm.