Why I Support Unlock the VAN
Earlier today, a coalition of organizations (including our friends and frequent collaborators at NationBuilder, Tectonica, and Organizer) called on the Democratic National Committee to empower candidates and committees with equal access to Democratic Party data regardless of which tools and technologies they choose to use. We’ve joined this campaign as a co-signer and I want to take a moment to explain my personal rationale for support.
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First, let me start with the obvious. We work closely with NationBuilder and are big fans of the product. Additionally, I don’t really believe in partisan technology, but that’s a debate for another day.
I support Unlocking the VAN because the world of political technology has changed radically since the DNC and VAN locked themselves into an exclusive, monopolistic relationship a decade ago. There’s a robust, thriving ecosystem of tools, products, and companies that are innovating in political tech. I want to see the Democrats beat the the Republicans, full stop. I’d like to see their candidates use whatever technology and tools make the most sense for them. It’s through innovation and experimentation that I believe the Democrats can re-discover the digital advantage that’s slipped in recent years.
That’s the big reason, but I have another. As a Canadian who has worked in and around progressive politics for a decade, my point of contact with VAN is that it’s the technology used by our primary opponents: the centre-right Liberal Party. While I fully expect VAN’s response to this petition to be one that wraps them in the blanket of the US progressive movement and aims to cast NationBuilder as a mercenary software provider that can’t be trusted, that narrative is total bunk. Nearly every political campaign I’ve been a part of, it’s been our opponents to the right who have utilized VAN’s technology (at the federal level at least, though some progressive campaigns and unions in Canada also use VAN). So, while lots of my friends in the US progressive movement have critiques of NationBuilder’s approach to political tech, at least NationBuilder is being honest about who they are and who they work with.
I’m a progressive and I’ve made the choice at my agency to work with progressive campaigns. I’m supporting Unlock the VAN because if progressives are going to succeed, it will be through open access and innovation.
*I revised my language in the second to last paragraph to more accurately reflect VAN's place in the Canadian political context. (May 19th, 8:42am)