Tell us a bit about yourself. (e.g., Where do you call home? What keeps you busy during the day? What do you enjoy?)
I grew up in New York City, went to school in California, and now call Philadelphia home. As a consultant to nonprofit organizations, I focus on the intersection of technology, public policy and civic engagement. I’m a militant nondriver who loves to walk, visit museums, attend public lectures, and listen to the blues. Indeed, my activism is animated by my love for the blues.
What keeps me busy these days is the same concern that motivated me to attend RHoK: How can we help voters without an official photo ID get ready to participate in the 2012 election? In five states, voters must show government-issued photo ID in order to vote. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that restrictive photo ID requirements could make it harder for five million eligible voters to cast a ballot. Minority, low-income and young voters are disproportionately impacted by voter ID requirements. In December, Pennsylvania had not yet passed a voter ID law. Today, the Keystone State is ground zero in the fight to remove barriers to the ballot box. By the state’s own admission, 758,939 registered voters do not have a PennDOT photo ID. In Philadelphia alone, more than 186,000 registered voters lack a photo ID. With the clock ticking, we must help voters obtain a valid photo ID. The prototype for the Cost of Freedom App was developed at RHoK. The web-based app helps users cut through the confusion and quickly provides information on how to navigate the voter ID application process.
This weekend I checked out the “Freedom Riders” exhibit at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The images are a powerful reminder that freedom is not free. Many Americans, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, paid the ultimate price of freedom. The killing of the three civil rights workers shocked the nation. A year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
August 6 marked the 47th anniversary of the signing of the landmark legislation. To commemorate this seminal event in voting rights history, the Cost of Freedom Project is launching a public awareness campaign to educate voters about the new photo ID requirements. In 2012, the cost of freedom means millions of Americans must jump through unnecessary hoops to exercise what President Johnson said was “the basic right without which all others are meaningless.”
How have you been involved with RHoK?
I attended my first RHoK in December 2011 in Philadelphia. It was also my first hackathon. Even as I was walking to Drexel University, I asked myself, “Why is a non-techie going to a hackathon?” I have since become an enthusiast. I now have attended seven hackathons, including RHoK in June at Drexel.
Why does RHoK matter to the world?
RHoK matters because it brings together developers, policy experts and activists who want to use technology to solve problems. Whether the problem is homelessness, HIV/AIDS, clean water, food security, domestic violence or voting rights, RHoK provides a platform for problem-solvers and do-gooders to collaborate and build interesting things. RHoK fosters civic engagement and participation.
Why does RHoK matter to you?
RHoK matters to me because the focus is on solving problems rather than merely identifying and refining them. It’s inspiring to collaborate with developers who bring a fresh perspective to public policy issues. I stand in awe of the amazing apps that are developed over the course of a weekend. The civic apps developed at RHoK also promote data-driven models of accountability and transparency.
This is a teachable moment. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Postal Service put its head in the sand and pretended an emerging technology, i.e., the Internet, would not disrupt the way it does business. Fast forward to today, the Postal Service is flat broke and defaulting on an obligation. We need to raise public awareness about how emerging and disruptive technologies will impact the delivery of government services, as well as public employment and contracting opportunities.
Based on your experience with RHoK, do you have any words of wisdom to share with the larger RHoK community?
Three words: sustainability, sustainability, sustainability. A lot of awesome apps are developed at RHoK. But to make a difference, the project must be sustained beyond the weekend. So the team should include an evangelist who is passionate about the project. Someone who is willing to spend the time and energy it will take to get the resources to build out the application.