After last fall’s presidential election, Dan Webb could see the disappointment in many of his friends, family and co-workers.
But that was just the start.
Soon after the inauguration was complete, immigration authorities began conducting raids in Austin to deport illegal immigrants. That hit home quickly. Webb’s wife is an immigrant who recently became a citizen, and he has several friends and neighbors who are immigrants.
“We got a call from some of our friends who’ve been here for a decade and whose children are American citizens, and our friends told us: ‘ICE is in the neighborhood. If we get taken, can you watch over our kids?'” Webb said.
Webb saw it as a move to tear communities apart — and in such a personal way. Meanwhile, he saw President Donald Trump’s plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as detrimental to the tech community overall and to aspiring entrepreneurs, many of whom don’t otherwise have many attractive health insurance options. He felt the need to do something.
“If you have a value, you have to defend it,” said Webb, who is director of strategic partnerships at Civitas Learning.
After brainstorming with friends and colleagues, he reached out the the Texas Democratic Party and developed a plan for a hackathon to develop tech tools to give Democrats a better chance in the next round of elections.
That resulted in the ATX Political Hackathon event that will be at Civitas Learning’s headquarters on Cesar Chavez Street Nov. 3-5. Organizers expect 200-plus people to participate. And they have a powerful set of supporters who will be assisting and judging the hackathon pitch contest at the conclusion of the weekend-long event.
Those include Charles Thornburgh, founder and CEO of Civitas Learning; Brett Hurt, founder and CEO of Data.World; Mark Strama, an executive at Google Fiber (and former Founder and CEO of NewVoter.com); Bryon Jacob, CTO and co-founder of Data.World and Alex Victoria, CTO of Civitas Learning and former global vice president of HomeAway.
Several of them will be part of a panel discussion that kicks off the hackathon. Whurley, founder of Honest Dollar (acquired by Goldman & Sachs) and Mellie Price, executive director of commercialization at the Dell Medical School, will also be part of that panel discussion.
Given that tech is the largest and most important industry in Austin, it should have a more prominent role in getting candidates that support its values elected, Webb said.
Of course, getting Democrats elected can be tough in Republican-dominated Texas. But Webb noted there are many districts with a similar numbers of Democrat and Republican voters, and, he said, Trump has been so divisive that many voters may consider Democrats more than they might have otherwise.
The tech tools developed at the hackathon could go to benefit any state political candidate — from Governor to House representative. The solutions could be relatively small things, like integrating one-click rides to the polls with Uber and Lyft to more complex tools to help candidates get the most out of voter registration data.
One team, for example, is planning to work on a product to help people quickly see who in their social media networks has voted — and who may need some encouragement.
Webb said the tech community — and his own neighborhood community — have a lot to lose in the political moves currently being made on the state and national level. Like many entrepreneurs, he said he can’t wait around for a solution to emerge from thin air.
“There’s no hero coming to save us,” he said. “We have to be that hero.”