The best way to relay a message to someone that they will trust is through someone that they already know, says Outvote COO Emily DaSilva. This was the idea that sparked the genesis of Outvote, an app and website that encourages political activism.
The Davis Square–based startup was founded by CEO Naseem Makiya, a former software engineer, and former Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen two years ago. It was created to serve as a tool to promote voter participation and help bring campaigning to the digital world. The company only works with progressive, democratic organizations and movements, such as MoveOn, Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Bernie Sanders campaign.
“I tried to figure out what was working in organizing and how we could use technology to scale that,” says Makiya. “What seemed to be working was personal interactions, whether face-to-face, or just through people who knew and trusted each other.”
Examples of the type of interaction that Makiya is describing include meeting a candidate at an event, meeting and organizing with groups, or even just speaking with friends and family.
Outvote has a number of features that allow activists to communicate with each other. Users can join campaigns digitally, allowing them to receive updates on news or opportunities to sign petitions and make donations. The app also allows individuals to view how often their contacts have been voting—the idea being that this could lead to users messaging their friends and encouraging them to vote. Makiya says that a person is 10 percent more likely to vote after receiving a message from someone on Outvote.
For those canvassing on the street, Outvote facilitates organization by giving them a way of looking each other up and connecting if they are interested in supporting a particular campaign—kind of like a political social media network.
The way people engage with politics has evolved in response to the virtual world, says DaSilva, and what it means to be an activist has changed. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, there was a general energy of people who wanted to become politically active but did not know how, says Makiya. Outvote was created to allow for participation with the click of a button.
And with the spread of the novel coronavirus, the digital realm has given people a way of staying active, even while in quarantine.
“I do think the reality is that with this unfortunate and very scary moment, a lot of us are finding that technology can be a bridge to link people together, while we are all suggested to be self isolating and apart,” says DaSilva.
“Campaigns and advocacy groups have known for a while that digital organizing is really important, but I think that this moment is redefining for a lot of people what it means to be an activist and what it means to be engaged in civic dialogue,” she adds. “Because traditional organizing is so heavily rooted in showing up to a field office and going out to knock on doors or participate in rallies, being on street teams or at in person events, I think that this is shifting the widespread understanding of what it means to be engaged in advocacy.”
With 2020 being an election year, DaSilva says she hopes that Outvote will bring people to the polls and help flip the vote in swing states. Makiya says that he envisions that the platform will draw individuals together, as potential voters can be counted on to give credence to their friends’ opinions. That dynamic is something that is not going to fade away, he says.
“This is about reminding and encouraging folks to get involved, raising awareness,” says Makiya. “…In any area of life, you value your friends’ opinions and what they think—we’re social people. This is a method of organizing that doesn’t go away in the way that phone banking is becoming obsolete because you can’t reach people anymore. Talking to your friends is never going to change. The effectiveness of friend-to-friend organizing isn’t going to disappear.”
To learn more about Outvote, visit outvote.io.
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