Holding Space and Making Change

Meeting the Code for America Brigade network

Screenshot of Zoom conversation between CEO Amanda Renteria and members of the Network

Closing out Brigade Congress 2020 with a “fireside chat” with members of the Network.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to the world is your time.

As we all reflect on 2020, it will largely be remembered for the huge, historic events—from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to the global Black Lives Matter protests to an election unlike any other. But what I hope doesn’t ever get lost is the way people all across America stepped up to help their communities: giving the gift of their time, passion, and expertise.

Throughout the summer and into fall, I was inspired by the conversations at virtual Q&As with leaders from the Code for America Brigade Network, discussions and projects developed at virtual community round tables, and the impact created by our annual events like National Day of Civic Hacking and Brigade Congress. As we enter a new year, I wanted to share a few reflections on what I’m hearing from our Network, and some early thoughts on the all-important question (and the one I hear most from Brigade members!) of where we’re headed in the months and years ahead.

Humble and engaged service

Brigade members have an incredibly active and engaged approach to fixing a problem. There’s an optimism to this, and a humility: I saw a true belief that together we can take on our toughest problems, and that we can all roll up our sleeves to do our part, wherever we live. I also learned how the practice of our mission has evolved over time. Today, we know that good, lasting tech solutions come from putting the people tech intends to serve at the heart and center of design. That means a real commitment to listening to community leaders and local groups who are already doing the work on the ground. That clear commitment to centering people is how we evolve to meet the changing needs of local communities. “People Over Paperwork,” the theme of our 2020 National Day of Civic Hacking, comes to mind as a good illustration of this value.

A space for all

One of the most inspiring reflections has been our discussions about the need for more diverse and accessible spaces within our Network. My meeting with BIPOC Brigade members during Brigade Congress was the start of an ongoing commitment to provide the space and resources needed to support BIPOC members and other traditionally marginalized groups. And I am excited to share that this work is already in motion: we’re working on a Colors of America space to support BIPOC Brigade members and foster engagement about creating equity in and for every community.

I also want to acknowledge the success of the Network to quickly adjust to virtual meetups. While the Zoom fatigue is real, I sensed that the pandemic created a greater collaboration and space that many in the Network were eager to adopt, particularly in the switch to a remote-first Brigade Congress. These opportunities to connect, without needing to travel or be together in person, feel like real silver linings. It was certainly a welcomed opportunity for me to get a chance to visit you in all corners of the country, often popping into your living rooms!

An energy beyond the inauguration

We are on a new journey today. I saw so much energy, enthusiasm, and hope around the 2021 presidential inauguration. I was particularly encouraged to hear and see the new administration’s commitment to equity and racial justice issues, as well as an understanding that the work ahead will require all of us to step up and build together. As always, the Brigades have seen this moment coming. You’ve been listening, and I appreciate the questions you’ve raised: What’s the best way to help the organizers on the ground? How can we improve voting systems? What is our role in this moment? Where can we have the biggest impact to help our communities?

I am more certain than ever that our Network has a fundamental role to play in this recovery. We know people power is always at the center of change, and we also know change doesn’t just happen. You have to build it over time and prove commitment. While many volunteers and organizations narrowly focus on winning a single election, Brigades do the day in, day out work that builds that deep, lasting commitment to strengthen our democracy.

I am excited to share with you that I’ll be hosting a regular forum with Code for America staff—and you, I hope—as a quarterly event to have continued conversations and dialogue about shaping the future of our work.

As I said at the start, one of the greatest gifts we can give is our time. I want to thank the Network for giving me your time over the last several months. Thank you to everyone who took the time to ask questions and share your experience, and every single person who volunteers with a Code for America Brigade. I feel so much hope at what our Network can accomplish in 2021 with greater coordination and holding space for all. I’m honored to be on this journey with you.

And if you haven’t yet, 2021 is a great time to find a local Brigade and join us!

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