As an auditorium filled with people began typing, tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, texting and sharing, you knew it was the start of another Personal Democracy Forum. The conference is so heavily live-tweeted, that this year the hashtag (which is used on Twitter to signify the topic of a given tweet) #pdf11, became a nationally trending topic - in other words it was one of the top 10 keywords in the United States for part of the first day. And for good reason...
Speakers at this year's conference at NYU's Skirball Center included US Senator Kristen Gillibrand, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, White House Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Egypt pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd Al Fattah, Beth Noveck, former White House Chief Technology Officer, and Dan Sinker, professor and @MayorEmmanuel creator (a full list of speakers here). Topics ranged from creating participatory budgeting at the federal government, opening voting data, protecting internet user's privacy, revolutionizing journalism, supporting democracy in Egypt and Tunisia with new media and connecting resources to those around the world most in need. I don't want to dive into all the talks because not only were there too many to list here (though here is a list), that isn't why I'm writing right now.
I'm writing right now because PDF, every year, re-ignites the spark in me and reminds me why I want to dedicate my life to serving my community and the public, why the stresses of being 23 and being one of the youngest elected heads of a government in the US is absolutely worth it and why I hope others, especially other young leaders, will do the same.
This isn't about politics. It isn't about a campaign. It isn't about democrat or republican or liberal or conservative. It isn't about winning or losing. It is about democracy. It is about humanity. And it is about progress.
It seems that in many conversations about public policy, whether at the local, state, federal or global level - the reason we are part of this government system gets lost in the day to day challenges. It becomes about ideologies, about legal liability, about process and procedure, not about solving problems or lifting up those around us. The confluence of intelligence and perspective at PDF between the humanist, activist, government and technologists is literally mind-blowing. Watching people show real world examples of how their software platform is helping bring democracy to the people of Tunisia, helping the federal government cut billions of tax-payer dollars in wasteful spending, how a few dollars and some hard work can bring never before seen information to the public or how millions use the internet everyday to give, share, create and collaborate is a breathtaking site. These people are the real deal. And every year, I am humbled to be in the presence of those who have dedicated entire lives to using technology to better our world, and only hope that I have the opportunity to do the same.
This year, one of the most inspiring presentations was given by Jim Gilliam. Jim is not only the founder of NationBuilder, the groundbreaking campaign software that we used in South Orange for my campaign (and that a handful of campaigns across the US have used) but an online activist, documentary film-maker, cancer survivor and all-around innovator and good person. Jim's talk, received by the most prolonged standing ovation I have ever seen at PDF, follows his life story and his finding of faith with "God as what happens when humanity is connected." Watch Jim's story below, and follow some additional links to more incredible talks that remind us of of the importance of pushing the envelope and innovating for the betterment of our community and our world. Leave comments or reply on twitter @alextorpey to what motivates you to do the work that you do. Jim's keynote talk - The internet is my religion: