The Inputs are Broken

The first time I got directly involved in a political campaign (in my adult life) was in 2007, and frankly, it was because I was terrified. That someone of this caliber could be one proverbial heartbeat away from the Presidency (which, at the time, was a pretty prestigious thing, but I digress) lit such a tremendous fire under me. I cold-called on the curbs of SF before they were so prohibitively unsanitary to permit such politicking.

I continued to help campaigns at both the federal and local (more on that soon) levels. My most recent round of service culminated this year, along with my fears: in the age of Trump, I immediately connected with SwingLeft‘s very focused and strategic goal of taking back the House.

Thankfully my work paid off: we at last have a shard of accountability back at the Federal level, and one of the first pieces being advanced by the now-Democratic House (strongly and ably led by Nancy Pelosi) is HR1. Also marketed by the Dems as #ForThePeople / #ForThePeopleAct, the legislation’s overall theme is to put the hands of government back into the hands of people vs. those of special interests, through more transparent and representative funding and reduced barriers to voting. It makes my civic heart proud.

But then I got this note….

Wait a minute. I remember this person from a local campaign I’d worked on – he’d been an organizer and I’d co-hosted an event and helped with a few others.

What in the heck is an Assembly Delegate?

Nobody around me seems to know. I’m talking educated people. People who vote. Do you know? Nobody I seem to ask knows.

So I got interested. After all this work I’d done to open up our politics, it seemed odd that other elections were happening that I knew nothing about. I never heard about it from the Democratic Party. No mailers. No vote by mail. And this election was going to happen on a Saturday, during two hours, at a community center which happens to be down the street from me. That was the only option to participate (if you happened to know about it)

Fortunately, a branch of the Democratic party did some work to make this clear. But this wasn’t the “mainstream” Democratic party, if you will. This was made by some indie-rebel types within the party. And I only found this because I knew about the election: as a former campaign volunteer, I guess I’m “an insider.”

That’s me, along with others who had an inside angle into where to go that Saturday

Because I happen to live about 3 blocks from the voting location and had few obligations the day of voting, I was fortunate enough to tough this murky, inaccessible process out. I braved the lines among various special interest groups that were marketed in from corners of the City to “align” the ballots to the slates with access to the most campaign funds. You can imagine how a non-establishment party slate may play out in this scenario (do watch the video).

This didn’t feel democratic to me. After all the work I’d done to elect a Congress to push forward legislation to open up our Democracy, I realized that a Democracy is only as good as its inputs. When the candidates and their agendas are pre-determined by those in power already, the inputs are broken.

I want Nancy’s vision of a Democracy for the People to extend to its inputs

Women Do Tech

Cross-posted from Mozilla

This June, two of my worlds collided beautifully when my employer, Mozilla, announced its sponsorship of a prize for the most privacy-respecting Women Startup Challenge finalist in the EU. On the side, I’d been volunteering with the organizers, Women Who Tech, for three years. So how did this all come together? And why?

When I joined Mozilla in 2011 to help run WebFWD, I was excited to support open source startups and their founders. The role was a great marriage of my experience with venture and startups, along with my desire to support innovation globally. As my role at Mozilla has evolved, my passion to support technologists globally has grown; today in my day job, I get to help our own developers around the world be more productive; and I’m still helping others “outside” Mozilla, as a mentor with WXR Fund and Hackers/Founders.

In 2015 when I met the organizers on a shared dist list, they were (and have since remained) focused on solving one big, persistent problem: less than 2% of all venture funding goes to women-led startups. Note that’s in the U.S.; the EU is a bit better, at 11%, but still far from ideal.

Compelled by the scope (and maddening nature) of the problem (and the tenacity and skill of the Women Who Tech team), I raised my hand. First, I helped recruit some online event panelists, including Julie Wainwright and Rebecca Eisenberg. Later, I helped design the startup challenge and have acted as an online and in-person judge. There I saw firsthand the caliber of the participating teams, which made me further lament the wasted opportunity that the current funding environment poses — not only for women founders, but for all the people they could serve if they only had the funding. Everyone loses.
Judging the first Women Startup EU Challenge in May 2017 @ London City Hall

When a broad mix of humans are behind technology, it leads to better outcomes, both in product and people. And, if you read through Mozilla’s Manifesto, you’ll see that Mozilla cares deeply about not just technology, but how technology impacts humans. While funding is hardly the only disparity between men and women in tech, it is significant, as it determines who will be driving what solutions for our future. For all of these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to see the visions of Mozilla and Women Who Tech come together.