The History of the League

Or, where did she come up with this one?

Chatting about the history of the organization by its founder, Silona Bonewald

Well, it all started earlier this year when I signed up to do some volunteer work with the ACLU and EFF. They needed someone technical on their lobby team. So I became the techy that talks to Republicans. I suppose this is because I clean up well and can easily drop into a real Texas accent since I have family in Hallettsville and I was actually born in Austin, Texas.

Once upon a time – another lifetime ago actually - I ran political campaigns, all of them for Democratic women. I also did a stint in the Texas Legislature as an aid to Rep. Sherri Greenberg. So I also had a handle on how to talk to the Legislative staff and the pol-sci degree gave me an intuitive advantage on some of the machinations and strategies. But the lobbying portion was new to me.

Honestly, I expected the lobby work I was doing to be more complex and filled with intrigue. I quickly learned that it was not. For the most part all I had to do was educate the staff and policymakers in regards to the implications of what they were doing. Eight issues out of ten my work was educational in focus. The other two issues involved corporate influence. Those were much harder battles to fight and I lost one of them.

But one thing struck me – it was never a partisan issue. My friend Donna and I were going to the opera together while all of this was going on. Donna is quite conservative. We went to lunch the day of Reagan’s funeral and she was wearing black out of respect. We disagree on many topics. But on technical issues we are usually on the same page.

I then had an interesting conversation with one of the Republican representatives. I asked him if he has anyone to talk to on these technical issues? No, he didn’t – his area is rural. So what about a group to talk to? He said he didn’t know of any. I then looked on the Internet and I didn’t really find anyone either. He said he would love a nonpartisan group that he could talk to.

So I started thinking about creating a nonpartisan group. It seemed easy enough. Donna and I agree on issues. Most of the issues had been resolved with a little well-placed education. But how to present Geeks to Politicos?

Yes, well, about this time I was invited to a think tank with Jerry Michalski. It was a group of Techies, Activists, and Politicos. They were very earnest about wanting to communicate. And yet, I could see them often talking AT one another. They all speak different languages, and they are very different personality types. So the communication was not perhaps all it could be. And I realized I was the anomaly in regards to being able to do the lobbying work I was doing. While I am not a great writer, I am a pretty good talker.

So how to create a format that doesn’t frustrate everyone?

Now I go back to my gaming background in regards to community building. I would like to have a blogging network. This way my geeks could commit a controllable level of time. But I can’t have flame wars and all that other nonsense that normally occurs. That is acceptable in many realms but it would simply scare off the politicos. The politicos would write off everything said if it was not said politely.

I decided that tying the whole thing together with a social network and reputation system would really help. It also has that side benefit of making the information posted verifiable for the press and for staffers who are creating research packages for policymakers. Suddenly the Internet would become less scary for them. They can look at the work history and job skills of the posters and know that what the posters are saying is real.

Anyone can turn off the reputation system. The reputation system gives the postings a ranking and structure for those that don’t have time.

Also if we are just a small irate subset of folks – we still do not carry enough weight for the politicos to invest mindtime with us. I also wanted the org to last more than a year or two. For that to happen you have to have a diverse community.

The technology here is nothing new. There are many sites doing similar things. The uniqueness lies in the integration of it. The importance lies in the scale. This organization has to be diverse. All of the target audiences have to buy in for this to have longevity. I know the techies will come; they understand my idea. The question is how to get the policymakers to buy in. Well, I have started working on that. The most successful approach is to get policymakers involved now - before anyone wants or needs anything from them.

If you want to keep up with Silona and her current activities, stop by her online blog on this site.