Civicist: Action Network Puts the Ladder of Engagement on Autopilot

Action Network, the progressive technology non-profit described as the “backbone” of the Resistance, launched a new feature today that automates many of the discreet components of digital organizing. Called “Ladders” in a nod to the “ladder of engagement” organizing model, the tool lets digital organizers design a campaign, set certain conditions—like signing a petition—which trigger certain responses—like emailing an invitation to contact your congressperson—and then sit back and relax. Although for-profits in the commercial space have long used similar tools to poke and prod consumers into buying things, Action Network says Ladders is the most sophisticated example in the online organizing space. Read more…

Civicist: A Sanctuary City for Data Privacy?

The New York City government is looking into ways to enforce stricter data privacy laws in the mold of the recently-scrapped FCC rules governing how internet service providers collect, store, and sell user information. The move sets New York City up to become a sanctuary for citizens looking for a little more privacy online. To start, the city has announced a new privacy policy for the free, public wi-fi kiosks that dot the city, one that clearly states that browsing history will not be stored or sold. Read more…

Civicist: In Ecuador, Waorani Communities Use Open-Source Tools to Collaboratively Map Their Territory

Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon is shaped like a mechanical claw, or the open jaws of a craggy, prehistoric reptile. It grasps in its mouth roughly half of the land titled to the Waorani, one of the country’s indigenous nationalities. Peering down at the Google Earth view it’s impossible to tell where one might begin and the other might end. Dark green tree cover obscures a web of settlements, hunting paths, fishing holes, and water sources, making the area appear nearly empty. The Waorani describe the government maps of the area as similarly empty or “dead.” Using low-connectivity tools, they have begun mapping their territory as they see it, both for their own edification, and in case they need to defend their land rights.

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Civicist: Loveland’s Labor’s Lost: Detroit’s Dubious Civic Tech Champions

Even after the foreclosure notices began appearing on the door in late 2014, Jonathan Spikes’ landlord insisted on collecting $450 in rent every month—and Spikes continued to pay. It wasn’t until the furnace broke and Spikes asked for a replacement that the landlord said he didn’t own the house anymore so it wasn’t his problem.

Spikes’ home in Hamtramck, Michigan—a small city almost entirely encircled by the City of Detroit—was one of more than 8,000 occupied houses that went into the 2015 Wayne County tax foreclosure auction. The auction is an annual affair in which properties with three years of delinquent taxes are sold off online for a starting bid of $500. In theory it shifts tax-delinquent properties into the hands of tax-paying owners, but many houses are purchased by speculators or not bid on at all. These properties are often abandoned and set on the fast track to blight, as once-occupied homes are stripped, burned, or otherwise rendered unlivable. The auction forces thousands of residents, many of them blameless renters like Spikes or homeowners struggling under the burden of improperly assessed property taxes, out of their homes.

With help from the United Community Housing Coalition, an organization that proxy bids on houses for low-income Detroiters, Spikes tried to buy his house in the auction. He put a sign in his yard that read: “This is a home, please do not bid.” He lost to a small-time speculator who won the house for only $2,500, and bought five other properties on the same street, too. Seven months later, the new owner evicted Spikes, his girlfriend, and their infant son.

Tax foreclosure and the attendant problems of displacement and blight are among Detroit’s persistent problems—and a civic tech company called Loveland Technologies’ raison d’être. Founders Jerry Paffendorf, Mary Carter, and Larry Sheradon believe that if residents, city officials, nonprofits, and developers have access to better information on property ownership, occupancy, and structural conditions, that solutions to foreclosure and blight will follow.

Loveland’s work has attracted national media attention; Paffendorf has even appeared on the main stage of Personal Democracy Forum to talk about how Loveland is solving Detroit’s information crisis. But stories about how the company is “saving” Detroit and its residents—a narrative that Paffendorf says he rejects but has been propagated anyway—rely on a number of assumptions: that the root of Detroit’s problems is a lack of information; that data and technology are an essential part of the solution; and that the solution will be to the benefit of all Detroiters.

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Civicist: Democratizing the Legal System One Crowdfunding Campaign at a Time

CrowdJustice was founded on the idea that the rich shouldn’t be the only ones with access to the legal system. The crowdfunding platform launched in the United States yesterday with a campaign to raise funds for two Yemeni brothers caught in the crosshairs of President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

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