* Note: Check out the official Meet the Candidates event taking place this Monday, 12/17!
* Update: I wrote a post with thoughts on my candidacy here. Check it out and let me know your thoughts!
Tonight, the NY Tech Meetup will open voting for the 13th and final seat on its Board of Directors. When this final board member is elected, it will complete a four year transition set in motion by Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman when he stepped down as the organizer in 2008. According to the New York Observer, 590 votes were cast for 17 candidates in the first board vote in 2010. In 2011, 471 votes were cast for 20 candidates. This year, we have only six candidates in the running.
Why has participation been so relatively low among the members of an organization that’s so popular? The easy answer is that, for a long time, people had little reason to think of the NY Tech Meetup as much more than a really great monthly event. If you can manage to snag a ticket, you’re sure to see some really great new tech and meet some awesome new people in the crowd, but that’s about it. Why should people care about who’s behind it? When the topic of the election comes up, you can see people switching off. You can almost hear people shouting “get to the demo”!
Since the last election in late 2011, a few things have changed. The still very young nonprofit organization that’s been formed behind the monthly event has started to assert itself in a more meaningful way, and in a relatively short time it’s not only demonstrated its potential, it’s had a huge impact on the city and potentially the nation.
The first big win was in the wake of rising opposition to SOPA and PIPA. If there were ever an opportunity for the NYTM to assert itself, this was it. In a matter of days, the NYTM organized a rally outside the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, who were both supporters of the bill– at least, until over a thousand of us showed up to tell them why they should reconsider.
They heard us. Literally. Defeating those bills was hugely important to the future of a lot of things, and the NYTM played a non-trivial part in rallying its community to action.
More recently, the organization stepped up in the wake of Sandy, rallying nearly 1,000 people to volunteer and acting as the de facto technology switchboard for Sandy relief efforts throughout the city. Having had the opportunity to help make this effort happen, I was able to witness firsthand just how much impact an organization like the NY Tech Meetup could have not just in a crisis, but in many contexts where the non-tech world and the tech world might find themselves with common interests.
The Tech Meetup’s role in defeating SOPA/PIPA and in aiding Sandy relief efforts demonstrated just how important its role can be in the city and in society at large. These happened to be two crises thrust upon us by circumstance, but in both cases an otherwise dormant community was brought to life, and the results were remarkable.
As the NY Tech Meetup moves forward, it has an opportunity to establish itself not just as the representative body of in increasingly important constituency of technology makers in the country’s greatest city, but also as a critical link between that constituency and the rest of the city.
That’s always been the case, but this year we saw two very real examples of why that’s important.
The solutions to our economic woes and the path to our future is undoubtedly centered on the actions of the people building new technology and those who are using those technologies in new ways. The people who lead the NY Tech Meetup will have not just an opportunity but a responsibility to guide those actions.
Holding public elections for four of the 13 board seats is an experiment in engaging and involving the public in this discussion. If people haven’t understood why voting was important before, it should be clear now.
A meet and greet with the candidates is scheduled for Monday, December 17 at 6:00pm at Projective Space LES. Get more details and RSVP here. Shortly after that, the polls will open, and campaigning will take place until the polls close on Saturday, December 22.
I’ll be one of the candidates you’ll see there Monday night. You’ll also meet the other candidates, who are all good people who have done great things for the community.
Everything I’ve discussed above only scratches the surface of why I believe the Tech Meetup and this election are important. I’ll dig more into that over the course of the next week, but before we can do that, we must first agree that this election and this organization’s future are important, worth talking about, and worth participating in shaping.
Why does the NY Tech Meetup election matter to you?