In August of 2020, Colum O’Brien and Jack Groshek saw a need. So many young people wanted to take action and support social causes, but ways to do so weren’t always available. COVID-19 made protesting difficult for some, and online petitions were vague and didn’t seem effective. That’s when they decided to take matters into their own hands and create Modern Action, an online platform to make activism more accessible and impactful.
We at Tech For The People sat down with O’Brien and Groshek to discuss Modern Action and how technology and activism go hand in hand.
TFTP: What made you want to team up with Tech For The People?
Modern Action: We see how much potential tech has to impact the world and change it for the better. We see new products, companies, and amazing feats in technology every day that are able to solve a myriad of problems. Why can't we do that for social impact and social good? Seeing that Tech For The People focused on something that aligned so much with our values and our mission, it was a perfect fit.
TFTP: What problem does Modern Action aim to solve?
Modern Action: We want to close the communication gap between people and their elected officials. There are a lot of issues that can be solved via policy. People think that they don't have a voice and that they can't influence their elected officials. We don’t believe this--there is something you can do. When you contact your local officials, you're giving them data on their voting population. If they can get a bunch of letters from their own voting district, it’s a lot more likely to influence them because it's all the people that will be voting. When you contact your officials, you have the power to shape decisions.
TFTP: Has the Internet created a more equal society, and is there still room for improvement?
Modern Action: There are times when the Internet has uplifted people, and there have also been times when people have been left behind. Anybody can express their opinion online, create their own website, make YouTube videos, whatever. It's opened up opportunities for tons of people in those areas. There are also lots of people, such as older adults and people in lower-income areas with less access, who get left behind because the Internet has brought on this new digital economy. The focal point of the economy now is tech workers. That level of technical skill and education isn't easy for everyone to learn, it's like learning a new language. Fifty years ago, the skills you needed to succeed in the American economy were hard skills like factory work. How do we fit those people who've lost those jobs into this new digital economy? There are some huge gaps with what technology and the Internet have brought to us currently.
TFTP: What surprised you about President Biden’s infrastructure bill?
Modern Action: One big thing that there should be more focus on when we talk about infrastructure is access to broadband and technology. When we talk about infrastructure, that gets left out of the conversation so much because we think of the traditional structural infrastructure like roads, bridges, or buildings. In the 21st century, Internet access is infrastructure. You can't interview for jobs nor perform them, without internet access, especially post-pandemic. There are still millions of Americans who lack complete access to the internet. I always think that there's room for more when it comes to infrastructure. It can help bring people well-paying jobs. It also helps combat climate change if we do it correctly. We can invest in green infrastructure--solar and wind--to create the infrastructure that can survive for future generations.
TFTP: Would you consider Internet access a basic human right in today’s world?
Modern Action: When we look at the progression of American society over the past 100 years, we see an adoption of new public goods and necessities. When high school education became a right of citizenship, it was because it was necessary. Now, internet access is what is necessary--you cannot perform in our economy and be able to provide for yourself without it. Every internship interview I’ve ever had was over Zoom. For every job now, because of the pandemic, you're interviewing over the internet. If you're stuck in a bad economic situation, you cannot get yourself out without the internet. Internet access ties into education too. When children were out of school and then were trying to learn digitally, kids from impoverished, forgotten communities were left behind. If we don't make that a right for all citizens in our country, then we're leaving behind millions of people every single day.
TFTP: How would you define civic tech?
Modern Action: It is this weird portion of tech, but it's really important, especially now. There are civic tech platforms, companies, and groups that do all sorts of different things. It is a technology that empowers people, and gets them involved with their government, in a sense. In order to engage in politics on any level, you need time and resources to learn what's going on. When it comes to making a difference, you could be an expert on the environment and know exactly what policies are in place, but not know anything about criminal justice reform. Civic tech makes it easier to learn and take action on various bills and topics.
TFTP: How does modern action find itself in the intersection between civics and technology?
Modern Action: We see ourselves as mediators between the constituents and the people in power. We're trying to build that bridge between the two, and make it easier for them to communicate with each other. We're bridging civics and tech, and trying to make open communication a norm in politics. There are two components to this; one is easy to access. We want all of this to be accessible in one spot. If you want to learn about social justice and take action, you can do so on one platform easily. The second is education. With the educational component, we want people to be able to come onto our platform and learn about what's going on while taking action.
Modern Action is a place for anyone to come and make a real impact. O’Brien and Groshek are doing their part to make activism and education about social issues easily accessible. To learn more about the organization and start taking action, visit about.modernaction.io.
Check out Tech for the People's letter right here on Modern Action's website!