Tech Solidarity NL kick-off meeting minutes

These are the rough meeting minutes of the first Tech Solidarity NL meeting which took place on 13 February 2017 in Amsterdam. This is not an extensive and detailed report but should capture the main discussion. We adhere to the Chatham House Rule so information shared can be freely used but the identities and affiliations of participants shall not be disclosed.

The structure of the session was as follows:

  • Welcome
  • Introduction round
  • Brainstorming agenda-items
  • Clustering and prioritising items
  • Discuss the top priority clusters
  • Next actions
Agenda setting

Clusters (and amount of votes they got):

  • How come? (9)
  • Education (7)
  • Solutions (6)
  • Outside Randstad (6)
  • Role of tech (5)
  • Truth (5)
  • Diversity (5)
  • Philosophy (3)
  • Impact (2)
  • Listening (1)
  • Privacy (0)
  • Self organisation (0)
  • Media (0)

Download a zip file containing photos of the clusters.

Discussing ‘How come?’

The overton window is mentioned.

People vote for Wilders/Trump because they feel like it is the only way to bring about change.

One way to answer the question “why” is to do more listening. This was contrasted with a conversation. We should not even speak back at first. Try to understand the opponent. (This sentiment was later contested, for which see further below.)

People’s reasons for voting can be widely different.

PVV has succeeded in shifting the discourse to the right. Many parties have started promoting similar viewpoints in fear of otherwise losing voters.

There is an economic reason for voting PVV, and a social reason. Economic arguments seem to be less effective at swaying PVV voters. Undermining social arguments might be more effective.

Both Trump and Wilders are appealing because they present themselves as outsiders and anti-establishment figures.

Contrary to what people might believe PVV voters include those with a higher education.

The left is perceived by PVV voters as condescending. The very label ‘tech solidarity’ might put people off because it seems elitist. This is a dilemma. We want to be inclusive, but if we are too inclusive we stop standing for anything.

Parties like Denk and PVV are innovative in their approach to the political game, and should be considered sources of inspiration. Not for their message but for their tactics.

There is a tendency among the left to long for the restoration of the power of the left. But this is not a forward-looking stance. It is a conservative impulse. As with the new right, the left should attempt to reinvent itself as well.

An article is mentioned which describes the decline of free market economies due to the inevitable centralisation of power in them. Update: This is the article mentioned.

Things are changing under the influence of tech, and tech is also accelerating the rate of change.

The example of the recent dragnet law is mentioned and the plight of Astrid Oosenbrug. We are being governed by people with very little understanding of technology.

Some participants push back on the idea of the need to listen to and understand our opponents. The comparison with an abusive relationship is made. At some point it might be better to stop being submissive and to stand up for our values.

The book Can jokes bring down governments? is mentioned. It appears jokes cannot bring down our government as the government itself is a joke.

The importance of speaking out against the things we oppose is emphasised, as well as speaking out for the things we believe in.

If we believe PVV voters are in the majority we might be inclined to shut up because we consider ourselves the minority. But is this really the case? And should it matter?

The role of privatisation is mentioned. People still hold governments accountable for services, while the responsibility for those have been given to private companies. This has eroded trust in government and has in turn opened up the way for populists.

We can think about our relationship to the organisations we are part of and work to have them publicly support our agenda.

Designers are always interested in understanding the why. Engineers tend to be more interested in solutions. Maybe we can shift the conversation to some ideas for solutions at some point tonight or in future meetings.

If we want to have an impact before the election we need to think about how to reach a lot of people. How do we get on (well-known Dutch talk show) DWDD?

How can we make it safe for people to speak out against intolerance? Someone else points out maybe we should accept things are not always 100% safe and instead focus on building our resilience in the face of opposition and abuse.

Should we be focusing on changing the minds of our opponents, or should we instead appeal to those who are still in doubt or who are on our side already?

Someone asks what the Dutch equivalent of the ACLU is. (The thing that comes closest thing is the College voor de Rechten van de Mens.)

Someone proposes to make a list of projects that have kicked off in the US after Trump’s election, as a source of inspiration.

Concerns are voiced about not being coopted by groups with vested interests.

The left has stopped being radical in the post-war era and has in stead become centrist.

It is observed that Trump is merely the latest symptom of an illness that has been developing over a much longer period of time.

Someone proposes to build and share a reading list that might help others better understand what is going on.

Although comparing our situation to the one in the US can be helpful we should also try to understand the Dutch situation on its own terms.

To that previous point: so far the dangers we share are largely unspoken. What, exactly are we worried about, and what values do we share?

The role of technology

Although technology has contributed to prosperity, not everyone is sharing equally in its gains.

Technology does not automatically imply solidarity. The tech sector contributes to growing inequality. It produces shitty jobs (see the gig economy).

Someone mentions the example of efforts to open up government data in the municipality of Amsterdam. It is not a given that easier access to data about citizens only leads to good outcomes.

Practical solutions

The majority of young people will vote PVV. Others suggest it is closer to 30%. It would be helpful to know the real number. In any case, the question is if focusing on young people makes sense.

One obvious next action is to work together on a our message.

We shouldn’t get caught up in researching the causes of things. We should build on the work of others in that area.

Someone points out there are other ways to be political aside from contributing to the current election campaign somehow. Start close to home, figure out what it is you can do in your direct surroundings.

The example of waaromkiesjij.nl is given. It is a web app that lets supporters of opposing political parties anonymously discuss things. It aims to help people break out of their filter bubble but also to figure out if they really hold the views they think they hold.

A lot of the discussion so far has centred on politics. We might want to leave that to the politicians. We should choose our own battles.

Someone expresses the desire to walk away with some ideas for simple small things they can do when they get home so that they can act.

The debacle surrounding the poor security of stemwijzer.nl is mentioned. It is also observed such a tool does not necessarily change views. It might merely help people reaffirm their preexisting beliefs.

Voting versus engagement

The power of emotion is mentioned. We should not think we can simply change minds by offering facts. We need an appealing story as well.

Although it is easy to feel overwhelmed and ineffective, the very fact that we have chosen to come together and have this conversation is a good thing.

Looking towards the end of the conversation someone asks, can we make small bets? Small actionable ideas? Let’s survey the ideas in the ‘solutions’ cluster.

  • Create an online pledge in the spirit of neveragain.tech but for the Dutch situation
  • Get tech company to speak out against intolerance and for diversity
  • Collect resources to help ourselves and like-minded people make better arguments
  • Build tools for democracy and transparency
  • Support political parties
  • Connect the tech community to NGOs
  • Collect data sources that help us fact-check the things we hear
  • Translate party positions into actual impact for individuals
  • Write a small manifesto
  • Create tactical political goals to give protests a focus (so that they become more than spectators)

We should look for organizations who are already working towards the goals we embrace and listen to their needs. Tech people have a lot to offer but we should not be coming up with our own solutions in isolation.

Connect with people in your company and your peer network. Get them involved.

Think up weekend projects that can be of help.

Someone gives the example of building a website for a group of historians who were in need of one but could not afford to hire someone to build it.

We should be wary of duplicating efforts that are already out there. Let’s be smart about this.

Outline of a manifesto:

  • What is our goal?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • What is our dream outcome?

Can we answer the question what to vote? Is there a strategic vote?

Someone suggests telling stories based on data with evocative imagery that advance our cause.

Someone suggests creating a Cambridge Analytica of the left.

One of the attendees observes that tech people tend to speak the language of control, managing and solving problems. This isn’t bad per se but something to be aware of. It might be off-putting to those outside our circle.

Someone suggests doing a hackathon, but one that takes as its starting point the needs of organisations that are aligned with our interests.

Doing outreach to other organisations and getting them to speak at a next meeting would be good but it is going to be a lot of work.

Someone observes that there are a lot of small groups and organisations working towards similar goals to our own. We don’t need to start yet another group. We can be the organisation that works to connect them to each other.

We can become a clearing house and a platform for like-minded individuals and groups.

If we want to influence the elections, we will have to act fast because March 15 is very near already.

Before we wrap up, some discussion is had about the need for a group chat system such as Slack or Signal.