“This is my special place. I come here when I don’t want to run into anyone I work with and when I miss being around black people,” I explained to a friend I was meeting at one of my favorite spots on the other side of the city. “This is where I go when I want to sit alone and read for hours but still hear go-go music thumping in the background. Also there’s good wifi.”
“This is a place where all those things dovetail together so well,” she said. And to that I’m like YUP, yo. YUP.
I want to keep it my special place so I won’t mention where but why I love it so much is a reflection of my love for community, my deep belief in civic tech and why I constantly beat the drum for inclusivity in how we talk about, fund and do this thing we call “civic innovation”.
There’s no one in the pipeline! Women aren’t at the table! Where are the people of color?! Waaah.
As a woman technologist of color, I have conversations that evoke these phrases about 20x a week. The context for these exchanges are usually in conference rooms, small closed-door meetings or phone conversations where I am being asked to do things like explain the impact of structural racism and systemic barriers in less than 30 seconds or recruit women/people of color to do X or Y. It is as impractical in efficacy as it is exhausting.
Also it is a special type of arrogance and erasure for technologists tasked to build tools that will re-imagine the citizenship experience to also not acknowledge or explore the opportunities and innovation in the very communities we seek to build tools for. And in failing to do so, as we build in this manner are we challenging inequality or are we unwittingly driving it?
How do we build a future that not only creates new opportunities and power but also builds new forms of power that is distributed more equitably?
Pipeline, table, these structures are artificial. No wonder no fun is happening there.
When we, as community, create together, in community, we’re no longer doing civic innovation in a post-colonial context. This is how we need to build the future- in concert with one another. This is how we avoid simply creating a post-colonial Internet and take this opportunity in time to disrupt entrenched systemic barriers to access, engagement and joy. Communities can inform technology once we no longer ignore the world of innovation that has long existed beyond our conference rooms.
This is also why I was so comfortable sharing my special place with my friend who is shaping the Build With, Not For framework for civic technology in a monumental way. She gets it. And hopefully after watching her super smart talk below, you’ll see why this is important too…
“Often when we talk about innovation we talk about meeting people where they are. But we so rarely take it literally…”
Where do you go when you want to blend in yet still feel seen?
Where do you go to escape but still imagine?
Where can you unconsciously sway to the beat and realize everyone is doing a little dance of their own too?
And what can we make when we meet there to build the future together?