Harnessing the Political Moment

Each month the largest Meetup event in the world takes place in New York City, where local innovators show off their latest work at the NY Tech Meetup. Over 800 people come each month, and hundreds more now watch live at simulcast events.

Andrew Rasiej at NYTMThough there were some excellent demos last night (CartoDB and Scroll Kit stood out), this month the most important presentation was a speech by Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of the NY Tech Meetup and founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, as well as a longtime entrepreneur and investor in the local tech community.

Rasiej (pronounced ra-shay) first recounted the community protest on January 18, when the NYTM community organized a protest of over 2,000 people at the offices of Senators Gillibrand and Schumer to put a stop to the highly controversial SOPA/PIPA legislation. As he recalled, the legislation “would have significantly dampened the growth of and investment in tech startups here and elsewhere.  More dangerously, the bill they were supporting would have irreparably damaged the Internet’s ability to act as a open conduit for free speech and their advocates around the world.”

The New York Tech protest of this legislation transformed the NYC startup community from a constituency to a political force to be reckoned with. In the wake of that moment, the tech world has been uplifted and galvanized. Last night Andrew Rasiej called on the community to maintain that sense of engagement, while warning that “it is much easier to say no to something than it is to build something.”

With that in mind, Rasiej’s closing words first sounded like the beginning of a political campaign, but they were more of a call to engage collectively and to draft new leaders:

“Imagine a future New York City where every public school student has low cost 24 hour access to all the world’s learning resources and students who graduate from our schools flow seamlessly into the New York workforce…

“Imagine a future New York City where all of its public data is available online for free…

“Imagine a future New York City where in addition to all of its cultural riches we add a robust “culture of code”…

“Imagine a future New York where our Senators, our councilmen, and even our future Mayor are all members of the NY Tech Meetup…”

The New York City startup community is one of the largest and most politically engaged small business communities in the world. The NY Tech Meetup alone has over 20,000 members, and the city is teaming with thousands more equally innovative thinkers and financiers — many eager for new candidates to represent them. So you can expect to see many of those candidates jumping into races over the next six years. And none of us should be surprised if Andrew Rasiej is one of them.

See below for the full transcript.

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Remarks made by Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of NY Tech Meetup at the event on February 8th, 2012.

On January 18th our community executed one of the best tech demos ever seen.  In response to a call to protect the NY Tech Industry and the open internet 2000 of us congregated outside the midtown offices of NY’s two US Senators, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and demonstrated in opposition to legislation they were sponsoring which if passed would have significantly dampened the growth of and investment in tech startups here and elsewhere.  More dangerously, the bill they were supporting would have irreparably damaged the Internet’s ability to act as a open conduit for free speech and their advocates around the world.

The SOPA/PIPA legislative bills as they have come to be known were designed to stem rampant online policy but they will now be known history as the catalyst that gave the community of Internet users its voice in fighting for a balanced democracy.

Let me be clear for the record: The NY Tech Meetup is not against copyrights nor does it support piracy of any kind.

What we are for and what we will defend is an open web and a vibrant growing New York City where the  tech industry can play a leading role in building our city’s 21st century future and by extension that of the country and the world.

To give you a sense of how cohesive our community is, we did not receive a single email or see a tweet, chastising us for taking part in this fight.

Just short of 2000 people signed up for the emergency Meetup and over 13,000 people watched the event on LiveStream, who we should all thank for providing the equipment to do it.

In addition, since the protest our membership has grown by an additional 1500 members.
But what we did was even more important than these statistics is that the NY tech Community put a human face on the protest that were simultaneously happening online.

The images collected by the media were seen all around the world and the impact was massive.
Washington Lobbyists and the Senators and Congressman who they wine and dine were shell shocked. They had never experienced such a spontaneous negative public reaction to a piece of legislation, And the reason why is because Washington operates in a currency of money and influence peddling and therefore were unable to sense it was coming.

You see, Washington DC policy making operates in a currenty of money and influence. It has for decades and it has become entrenched not only in DC but in statehouses all across the country.
However, The People of the Internet operate in a different currency. A currency openness and trust, if you will, that challenges top down hierarchal organizations especially those who operate in secret, and who are clinging to tired and obsolete business models, or give money to politicians to protect their monopolies.

What this means is that we DEMOstated that we didn’t need to donate to politicians or collect money to hire lobbyists to make sure citizen’s voices were heard. We proved that people are more important than money.

Since our protest Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called members of our community and have started a new conversation. They have assured us that although they may not have been listening before, they are listening now. We’ll see.

We would like to thank other membership organizations who helped us with this effort who are part of our extended family including the Hackers Union and Brandon Kessler, NJ Tech Meetup, and Public Knowledge who sounded the alarm on SOPA/PIPA long before any of us knew what those letters meant and who kept us and the coalition informed throughout the process.

On behalf of the board of NY Tech Meetup, we are incredibly humbled and grateful for the trust you placed in us in this battle and you can be rest assured we do not take you for granted.

You should be very proud of yourselves because your passion for NY, our community, and the Internet is without equal.

But if I may, I’d like to challenge us not to stop thinking about how we can continue to draw on the energy in this room and in our community to further the goals of members and future members.

Please remember that it is much easier to say no to something than it is to build something.

The question for our community is whether we can take this newfound sense of engagement in our democracy further and not just say no but say yes.

Instead of trying to fix the 20th century democracy we have inherited can we build a better functioning 21st century democracy?

Instead of just thinking about how to get politicians to “get it” and adopt e government, can we leap frog them and build a true We-Government?

So NY Tech Meetup community:

Imagine a future where New York City is known as the most wired city in the world…

Imagine a future where developers and engineers naturally flock here because we are…

Imagine a future New York City where every public school student has low cost 24 hour access to all the world’s learning resources and students who graduate from our schools flow seamlessly into the New York workforce…

Imagine a future New York City where all of its public data is available online for free…

Imagine a future New York City where in addition to all of its cultural riches we add a robust “culture of code”…

Imagine a future New York where our Senators, our councilmen, and even our future Mayor are all members of the NY Tech Meetup…

Long live the NY Tech Meetup.

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