As millions of us prepare for Thanksgiving, the most quintessential of American holidays, we encourage you to challenge the old adage that politics has no place at the dinner table. As we’ve pointed out before, debate and discussion are the building blocks of a functioning democracy — so let Brigade help you and your loved ones engage in meaningful conversations about issues that matter before you carve the turkey and pass the gravy. Start by inviting your friends and family to download our app for iOS and Android, or point your less-than-tech-savvy Aunt Helen to brigade.com (there’s a web version too). Once you’re connected to each other, you can see how you align, and on what issues. The more positions you take (and invite others to take), the more comprehensive your civic social graph becomes and the more informed your issue-oriented conversations will get. This fun and educational exercise will help you celebrate your similarities and steer clear of the most divisive topics (or at least save them until dessert). You might be surprised how much you have in common with relatives you thought were poles apart politically.
In preparation for our own Thanksgiving conversations, the Brigade team analyzed the most controversial and least controversial topics on our platform based on our community’s interactions with content across more than 40 issue areas. Here’s a snapshot of what we discovered:
Perhaps the illustration above can serve as a conversation starter for your holiday. Thanksgiving may not seem like the right place to begin solving the complex and systemic problems with our democracy, but it’s not a bad place to start. Pro-tip: If the conversation gets too heated, apparently an Adele sing-along is the cure.
In Brigade’s latest release for iOS and Android, we’ve made our “Trending” section a richer, more interactive experience with a scrolling carousel of news and issues for you to weigh in on. Just click on a topic that interests you and begin taking positions and seeing where your friends and others stand. You can find a full list of trending topics and issue areas to explore in the search tab as well.
We’ve also made updates to the look and feel of the position-taking flow and added a way to personalize petitions with an image or note that you can share with friends on and off Brigade. Once you sign a petition, click “Add your story” to add a photo, emoji or short note supporting your view. Get the latest update in the App Store and Google Play Store and let us know what you think!
Over the past few weeks, Brigade early adopters in San Francisco and Manchester, N.H. have been using an early version of our interactive Ballot Guide — a simple, social product to help people make informed decisions on Election Day and pledge their votes for politicians and policies they believe will improve their cities.
These elections presented a unique opportunity for Brigade to explore and test new tools with voters. Here are some of our team’s initial findings, with a deeper analysis to come.
Brigade users’ vote pledges in San Francisco mirrored the election outcomes for all of the candidates and ballot propositions with the exception of the hard-fought District 3 Supervisor race in which challenger and former Supervisor Aaron Peskin pulled ahead of incumbent Julie Christensen, receiving 53% of the vote.
Housing issues generated the most buzz citywide ahead of Election Day and that was no different on Brigade. Of the 11 measures to be decided, the most votes pledged by San Francisco users were in opposition to Prop F, which would have placed a cap on short-term rentals like Airbnb. Pledges against Prop I, a measure to pause construction of market-rate housing in the Mission District, came in second place followed by pledges in support of Prop A, which allows the city to sell $310 million in affordable-housing bonds for developers.
More Brigade Ballot Guide users recruited friends to pledge their votes for Mayor Ed Lee than any other candidate and Lee’s supporters on the platform sent more invitations per batch than for any other politician. Manchester mayoral challenger Joyce Craig ranked second among vote pledge invitations on Brigade, but on Election Day she narrowly lost to incumbent Ted Gatsas.
It’s also worth pointing out that among Brigade’s users in San Francisco and Manchester who interacted with our Ballot Guide, 67% were millennials. This is significant because in recent elections, the percentage of 18-34 year-olds who voted dropped into the single digits in many locations. Millennials’ willingness to embrace new civic platforms like Brigade reinforces our belief that this demographic is not apathetic, as some have argued. They care deeply about issues but don’t know how to make their voices heard and don’t think their votes count.
The San Francisco and Manchester municipals were just two of many state and local elections happening nationwide. Members of our community in all of those places had the opportunity to claim and share an “I Voted” badge on Brigade. In addition to voters in California and New Hampshire, Brigade users in New York, Virginia, Washington and Pennsylvania had the highest rates of claiming and sharing their “I Voted” badges with friends on Brigade and across other social media sites.
Speaking of badges, we rolled out a Verified Voter feature in August that allows our U.S. users to connect their voting records to their Brigade accounts and earn a special profile icon. We’re excited to report that after less than three months, we now have a nationwide network of Verified Voters in every single state and the District of Columbia.
States with the most Verified Voters on Brigade are California, New York, Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Way to go! If you haven’t become a Verified Voter on Brigade yet, there’s never been a better time.
Originally published Thursday, Oct. 29 in The San Francisco Chronicle
I spent Sunday in Dolores Park along with hundreds of other San Franciscans, but rather than lounging on a picnic blanket, I made my way around the park asking people whether they felt up to speed on Tuesday’s election choices, and if not, why. Answers varied widely, but there was consensus that the official, 200-page voter guide the city mails us before every election makes a better doorstop than educational aid.
Sure, the text-heavy tome is chock-full of important information, but it simply doesn’t jibe with how most people — including a key demographic, Millennials — consume information. That’s why a growing pool of technologists, researchers, academics and venture capitalists are trying to harness the power of social networking and smartphone technologies to re-energize civic participation, not just in the run-up to election day, but also in our everyday lives. It’s a tough nut to crack.
We aren’t as connected with our neighbors as we once were through civic groups, community centers and places of worship. Today, the boundaries of one’s community are as limitless as the Internet’s vast reach. Yet our increasing disconnection from local community doesn’t mean that we don’t care or don’t want to be involved in issues that affect our daily lives.
Most people I spoke with at Dolores Park told me it’s important to be active citizens, but few felt they were doing a good job. That’s reflected in the record-low voter turnout California experienced last November. It’s also reflected in the fact that many park-goers had well-formed opinions on issues such as Airbnb regulation and the Mission housing moratorium but didn’t know how to make their voice heard — or believe their vote counts.
Many factors have contributed to these democratic doldrums, including the outsize influence of money; the fact that information is not sufficiently accessible, consumable or actionable; and a lack of transparency and tools to create feedback between voters and elected representatives. So what can be done?
For starters, we can leverage the Internet to rebuild local relationships and create a new culture around civic participation. The same kind of technologies that have made booking a ride, ordering a meal or finding a date as simple as tapping an app can make it easier for like-minded citizens to rally around shared goals, pledge votes and recruit others to take actions that help make the change they want to see in their corner of the world.
The reality of social capital moving online — thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — coupled with widespread attention to the 2016 presidential election, presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to build new cultural practices and norms around civic engagement. A chance like this won’t come around again for four (or more) years. Those of us toiling at the intersection of technology and politics must ride these tailwinds — even if it means spending Sundays talking to strangers in Dolores Park.
Matt Mahan is co-founder and CEO of Brigade, a San Francisco startup building tools to help put people back at the center of our democracy.
One week from now, thousands of technology executives from more than 100 countries will convene in Dublin, Ireland for the annual Web Summit. It’s been called “the best technology conference on the planet” and Brigade will be there for the second year in a row. Our CEO Matt Mahan and President James Windon will return to the Society Stage on Thursday, Nov. 5 for several sessions you won’t want to miss.
10:30 a.m. Startups & Creatives: A Digital Ontology
What is the difference between an engineer and an entrepreneur? Can you be one without the other and still succeed? Is the startup culture sustainable? Are entrepreneurs the “creatives” of digital? Panel discusses challenges, creativity and business.
James Windon, President | Brigade
Joanna Riley, CEO | Weidenmiller
Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Product Officer | Pluralsight
Liz Bacelar, President | Decoded Fashion
11:35 a.m. Building a Social Network for Democracy
Brigade co-founders talk about how social mobile technology will transform how civic identities and community are expressed. They’ll discuss early experiments, including new tools that helped two U.S. cities vote smarter this fall.
Matt Mahan, CEO | Brigade
James Windon, President | Brigade
Donie O’Sullivan, Journalist | Storyful
2:05 p.m. The Guardian Presents: Turning Clicktivism into Activism
Are the Scottish Referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign the start of a new way of doing politics online? And is it entirely positive if so? With the 2016 U.S. election ahead – and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders riding high in the polls – will America’s political culture follow suit?
Matt Mahan, CEO | Brigade
David Tomchak, Head of Digital | 10 Downing Street
Marc Burrows, Senior Community Moderator | The Guardian
Mary Aiken, Producer Professor & Research Centre Director | RCSI
Stuart Dredge, Journalist | Music Ally / Guardian Society
For a walk down memory lane, check out the video from Web Summit 2014 when Brigade’s CEO Matt Mahan and President James Windon chatted with The Wall Street Journal’s Lisa Fleisher.
You can also check out the full Web Summit 2015 schedule here.
We’re thrilled to be featured in The New York Times “App Smart” column this week. Brigade is among several apps that Kit Eaton says can “organize and quell the political onslaught” ahead of the 2016 election.
“As the 2016 presidential race begins to accelerate, debate and political opinion are abounding online. Your smartphone can help you control this flood of political news, as well as inform you about important facts… Brigade is a great way to engage in political debate and gauge what issues people are talking about.”
The 2016 presidential election, which is still more than a year away, may already be dominating headlines but a range of important municipal elections will occur in mere weeks. At Brigade, we believe in the power of local elections and that’s why we’re rolling out an early version of an interactive Ballot Guide in our latest app update. We’re piloting this tool in our hometown of San Francisco and one of the country’s most politically significant cities, Manchester, N.H., to help people vote smarter on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Starting today Brigade iOS and Android users can find out what’s on their ballot, unlock personalized voting recommendations, pledge their votes to specific candidates and initiatives, and recruit friends to join them in committing to vote for politicians and policies they believe will improve their cities. When users fill out their ballot cards, we’ll match them to aligned local organizations that make candidate and issue endorsements. This will give them, if needed, a higher degree of confidence in their selections.
Members of the Brigade community in San Francisco and Manchester will be able to share their completed ballot cards or vote pledges for specific candidates or issues via social media, SMS and email to incentivize others to do their civic duty in a fun and engaging new way. Other components of the Ballot Guide include an Election Day countdown clock and a polling place locator.
Ultimately, this local experiment will inform our strategy for building robust and engaging election tools in more cities and states ahead of the 2016 election.
“Technology has made many aspects of our lives easier and more fulfilling, yet political engagement is more difficult and less satisfying than ever before. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Brigade CEO Matt Mahan said. “Together, we can begin to restore citizens’ rightful place at the center of our democracy and there’s no better place to start than in our local communities. We’re eager for voters in San Francisco and Manchester to use our Ballot Guide and the other tools we’ll be rolling out in the months to come.”
San Francisco Pilot
In San Francisco, we’ve partnered with the San Francisco Chronicleand Philz Coffee to offer unique, community-oriented ways to educate voters before they go to the polls. The Chronicle’s editorial staff helped curate Ballot Guide content and you’ll be able to find links to Chronicle stories and editorials in our app. Chronicle Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper and columnist C.W. Nevius Brigade will moderate discussions at Philz stores throughout the city to help patrons make sense of the upcoming election.
We hope you’ll join us for coffee and conversation:
Tuesday, Oct. 13 6-7 p.m. | Philz Dogpatch Store | 1258 Minnesota St. (RSVP)
Tuesday, Oct. 20 6-7 p.m. | Philz De Haro Store | 1775 17th St. (RSVP)
Wednesday, Oct. 28 6-7 p.m. | Philz Castro Store | 549 Castro St. (RSVP)
“The Chronicle’s most important role is to inspire and promote civil civic discourse. Nobody is entitled to an uninformed opinion,” the Chronicle‘s Cooper said. “That’s why we are so excited to partner with Brigade on new ways to help increase our region’s democratic literacy.” “As a homegrown San Francisco company, we’re pleased to partner on efforts to educate people about the issues that impact our community and neighborhoods,” Philz Head of Community Outreach Young Han said. “Our mission is to better people’s days and fostering a learner’s mindset is part of our culture.”
Advocacy and political groups whose endorsements are featured in the Ballot Guide for San Francisco include:
♦ SF Young Democrats ♦ SF Republican Party ♦ SF Moderates ♦ Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco ♦ SF Housing Action Coalition ♦ San Francisco Young Republicans ♦ Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club ♦ SPUR ♦ Evolve-CA ♦ SF Labor Council ♦ SF Women’s Political Committee ♦ Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club ♦ sf.citi ♦ No on Prop F ♦ Yes on Prop F ♦ San Francisco Bicycle Coalition ♦ SF League of Conservation Voters ♦ Sierra Club
Manchester, N.H. Pilot
New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status makes Manchester, the state’s largest city, a hub of political activity and an attractive target to pilot our Ballot Guide. We’ve had a growing presence in Manchester this fall, with members of our team introducing Brigade to local political, community and business groups ahead of a heated mayoral election.
We’re pleased to partner with the University of New Hampshire – Manchester to involve students, faculty and the broader community in an initiative to inform and incentivize Election Day turnout citywide. As part of the relationship, UNH will lead a coordinated effort on campus to encourage people to make vote pledges on Brigade and share those pledges with friends and family.
If your organization makes endorsements in San Francisco or Manchester and would like to join the list, please email us at email@example.com.