Code for Tulsa goes to Washington

We went to DC! The Open Search Map we started at our National Day of Civic Hacking caught the attention of national organizers and the White House. Scott Phillips represented us as a White House Champion of Change (making John Dungan and Luke Crouch the Entourage of Change). But the night before that, we hosted a happy hour for all of the White House attendees and any other civic hackers in the area! Then we also met with FEMA and staff from both Congressman Bridenstine’s and Senator Coburn’s office.

Mozilla Civic Hackers’ Happy Hour

When we were invited to the White House Champions of Change, Scott asked if we should host a happy hour for everyone else going to DC. So on Monday, July 22nd, we flew 1,200 miles to a place we’d never been to, to host a party for 100 people we didn’t know – and it was great! Mozilla graciously agreed to sponsor the whole thing! We arrived at around noon to arrange all the catering and set everything up. We met fellow civic hackers from Austin to Chicago to Minneapolis to Miami to Oakland to DC and everywhere in between – both hackers and officials; representing Code for America, Sunlight Foundation, E-Democracy, United States CTO, Census Bureau, NASA, FEMA, USDA and many others.

By 8pm we had about 100 people, so we had a few quick presentations – Luke spoke about Mozilla, Kevin Curry spoke about the Code for America Brigade program, and Garret Miller spoke about Mapbox. Everyone mingled for a while so we learned about some great civic projects going on like the Smart Chicago Collaborative, in Minneapolis, and Keep Austin Fed. Scott had made a Congratulations card for Jennifer Pahlka – founder of Code for America and recently appointed Deputy CTO of the US. Everyone had a chance to sign the card, and then … Jennifer showed up! So Scott presented the card to her in person!

It was a great way to cap off the night. We (and even Jennifer!) helped clean up at canvas, then we walked back to our hotel, set our alarms for the White House, and collapsed.

White House Champions of Change

The next morning, Tuesday, July 23rd we went over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House for the Champions of Change event. We went in early to get some good seats.

The event had two main portions – an Open Government portion and a Civic Hacking portion. There were also some statements and presentations from members of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy including Todd Park – CTO of the US. A video of the entire #whchamps Open Government & Civic Hacking event is on the White House YouTube channel, but here’s the Civic Hacking panel including Scott:

After the panels, we ate lunch at the cafeteria (alongside White House employees) and then OSTP hosted a number of workshops and we split up to attend as many as we could – Scott to hackathons; John to mobile apps, and Luke to platforms. tl;dr – lots of suits, lots of talk, some good content. When the workshops ended we left to do some video shoots for a media segment for KJRH. For the evening, we hung out with some of the other civic hackers from Oakland, Chicago, and DC. It was really cool to hear more about other places and other projects. We’ve already emailed a bunch of them to keep conversations going.

Visit to FEMA & Congress

On Wednesday, we visited FEMA to show them the Open Search Map application and to get their input on how we should move it forward. Security was pretty onerous but we got in and were able to meet with our main contact – AJ Dronkers, other OpenFEMA team members, and the CTO. They liked the app, told us to keep working with our local US&R team, and that they would keep us in the loop on new standards and guidelines they’re developing for US&R field operations. No pictures allowed in there, but we took a quick break in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on our way from FEMA to Congress:

In all honesty, this was somewhat emotional – because we were exhausted by our simple trip from Tulsa to DC, and it was humbling to think about the great challenges and great accomplishments of the engineers – hackers – who went from navigating fields on Earth to exploring other planets. After some introspection and reflection, we started our climb up the hill to the US Capitol.

First we met with Brian Treat – Chief of Staff for Senator Coburn. We told him about Code for Tulsa activities, showed him the TFDD app, and we talked about open data. Of course, Dr. Coburn introduced – along with then-Senator Obama – the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act in 2006, which set up to publish data feeds about federal spending. Then we headed to Congressman Bridenstine’s office and had a similar meeting. His staff acutely recognized that the civic hacking movement will potentially encounter software patent issues, and that’s something our Congressman could help; so they certainly understood our activities and are already thinking how to support us.

Back to Tulsa

Having put so much work into the trip, we came back tired but satisfied that we had represented Tulsa well (when we met folks at the White House, many of them would say, “Oh, you’re part of the Tulsa crew! Cool!”) and that we had made some great connections with other civic hackers across the country. It was great and humbling to see that Tulsa is near the fore-front of such a large movement that’s putting the power and value of technology into peoples’ lives in ways that improve our communities and our country.

In wrapping up, we would like to give a shout out and thank you to Isocentric Networks for underwriting the travel costs for our trip. Next year we want to bring a dozen more Tulsans to DC, if any additional sponsors might be interested in helping out let us know.

More photos of our Civic Hackers Happy Hour can be seen here:

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