Back in the days of the Howard Dean campaign, it seemed that the political left had a near-monopoly on brilliant, technologically sophisticated "netroots" activists, a situation that carried over to the Obama campaigns. But by 2016, the Pepe-slinging alt-right showed that earlier right-wing cybermilitias weren't just warmed over jokes with an unhealthy appreciation for Conservapedia -- they, too, could fight effectively by forming decentralized open source insurgencies that allowed autonomous activists and groups to change the political landscape.
The 2016 US campaign was also notable for the open source insurgency of the Bernie Sanders campaign, which met and exceeded any rational expectation of what a candidate like Sanders could hope to achieve, and left behind an organizational and technological legacy that's winning elections even when it has to fight establishment Democrats to do it.
In the 1990s, the UK Labour Party was colonised by finance-friendly, warmongering neoliberals led by Tony Blair, just as the same phenomenon was taking place in Bill Clinton's Democratic Party. As Sanders and allies like Elizabeth Warren dragged the Dems back to the political left (with the help of the netroots), Corbyn was being internally assailed by reactionary members of his own party.
That's what prompted Richard Roaf to found Momentum (an organisation I'm proud to be a member of), which took the lessons learned by the Sanders campaign and applied them to Corbyn's internal struggles with Labour and then to the national election, with astounding results.
This distributed way of organizing—training individuals to act on behalf of the broader movement—has been embraced by progressives, according to Rapi Castillo, a New York-based software developer. During the 2016 American primaries, Castillo, a Bernie Sanders supporter, was one of the developers behind Coders For Sanders, a volunteer coding network that morphed into the Progressive Coders Network after Sanders’s unsuccessful presidential bid.
Open-source software hosted on Github now forms the basis for what Castillo calls a “knowledge base,” where coders can collaborate to build tools quickly. “As we move forward it’s going to grow more and more,” he says. “That’s why we are so excited about what’s going on in the UK.”
Coders for Corbyn was inspired by Castillo’s group. “They saw the tech in our campaign and they wanted to apply it in the leadership run,” Castillo says. One UK coder, Greg Dash, was working as a social researcher in 2015. He contacted Castillo about the Bern Kit: an online toolkit full of apps. It was created by Coders for Sanders to provide Bernie’s supporters with campaigning tools. Dash, along with Coders for Corbyn, used that open-source software to create the Corbyn Kit, which now contains everything from Jerimojis (emojis of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party) to an app that blocks fake or troll Twitter accounts.
Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Inspired This Tech-Driven Movement [Hazel Sheffield/Wired]