The effects of technology and art are completely changing the political landscape within America and abroad for better and quite likely, for worse.  That was the big take away from our first ‘Art, Tech & Policy’ breakfast discussion event.

At 8:30 in the morning, people came into our D.C. offices, wiped the sleep from their eyes, stirred sugar into their coffees and got ready for an hour of heavy policy discussion.

Our guest this month was John Patton, senior vice president of partnerships with Phone2Action. As a platform Phone2Action does exactly what it says, turns your smartphone into a tool for activism. It helps connect advocacy groups and campaigns to average people, and then gives those people an easy way to contact their representatives. From one tool you can simultaneously email, tweet, call and Facebook to your lawmakers letting them know all the myriad ways they’ve pissed you off this week and ideally, all the ways they could do a little better.

John discussed not only the work he and the rest of the team at P2A have been doing but also where he saw the broader role of tech in the realm of global politics and how that role was going to continue to progress.

“Storytelling is critical to excite people to action” John told the crowd.

Content and narratives were probably the two most discussed items. The tech triumph in the last election season wasn’t using the internet as a fundraising device or as a way to organize people in any traditional sense, it was simply utilized to spread compelling information. Regardless of whether it was true or not.

The idea simply, John explained, is that people are going to passionately support the person that has the most compelling story to tell them. It’s not enough to simply share ideas, but to connect to them in a human way.

Our own Josh Belhumeur expanded explaining “The Russian government is actually weaponizing content”. In order to fight back he argued candidates and organizations need to do the same.

“Companies that stand up now and take a risk [on advocacy] will reap the benefits later”

John expanded on this by saying that the responsibility for tech based activism isn’t just on traditional advocacy groups or political leaders, but also on private enterprise. He argued that corporations not only need to speak up about social issues but also need to mobilize their customers into advocates for those causes. Citing groups like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia as examples he showed that in doing so, they may alienate some portions of their market but the growth and loyalty they could see were likely to overshadow any potential loss.

“Advocacy groups need to invest in building communities”

Another key take away was how to direct action after inspiring people to it. John and Josh spoke on the role that online communities played in shaping our last election, in pushing the Brexit narrative in the UK, and how other groups could use this model to engage their supporters into both online and offline activism. In order to do this though, they need to find a way to sustain people’s interest and to connect them with each other.

It was a successful first event, that raised some necessary points about why change makers need to expand their engagement with people digitally and how they can be most effective in doing so.

You can watch the full discussion here:

And be sure to join us for the next event, October 31, featuring the country’s youngest African American mayor Brandon Dean. RSVP Here.

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