- A game-changing website?

On December 6, I took part in a day-long gathering billed as the "SF YIMBY Party Congress". "YIMBY" is an acronym for "Yes In My Back Yard", the opposite of the traditional "NIMBY" who wants to block development and interfere with their neighbors' exercising their property rights. Of course there is no actual "YIMBY Party", just as there is no actual "Tea Party" -- the 40 or so attendees were largely activists with SFBARF, the SF Bay Area Renters Federation.

  It was a worthwhile gathering, with sessions ranging from a talk and Q&A session with Scott Wiener (probably the most pro-build member of the Board of Supervisors when it comes to housing, despite his other shortcomings), to the presentation of a Bay Area regional planning board game designed by artist and SFBARF member Alfred Twu (the game was recently featured on local TV news -- ) to a brainstorming session on planks for a YIMBY platform.

  But perhaps most interesting, if only tangentially related, was a presentation by one of the principals of a new startup called I believe that the company has hit on an interesting formula that could become a powerful tool for organizations, activists, and members of the public seeking to make their voices heard by their elected representatives. The site tracks legislation at the national level, at the state level nationwide, and at the local level in (so far) two cities -- San Francisco and New York.

  Last night I got around to following up and checking out the website, and established two profiles, one for myself and one for the LPSF. I haven't taken any positions on behalf of the LPSF, and won't do so without the group's approval of course, except to endorse or oppose things we've already endorsed or opposed. But I do think it would be worthwhile to try to come up with an expedited process for taking positions, because with this tool, we can potentially magnify our impact on local issues.

  Simpolfy allows groups, or individuals, to take positions on specific bills, and then pass word along to their representatives -- nothing too unique there. But the feature I think could be a game-changer is that it also allows you to "trust" organizations or individuals and give them what amounts to your proxy vote, for the positions they take.

  So to give an example, if the LPSF has 50 people "trusting" our group, and we endorse a vote against Board of Supervisors item number 151257, a proposal to amend the Planning Code to establish a new Citywide Transportation Sustainability Fee -- an actual piece of legislation which the site informed me was introduced on December 8, and which I did in fact oppose via my own profile -- then the site passes word along to the politicians that not just the LPSF, but also those 50 people oppose that piece of legislation, minus any individuals who opt out. (If you've "trusted" a group or person, but disagree with a position they take on a particular measure, you can take a different position yourself on that issue and have your own opinion count, although I'm not too certain how all the timing and notifications work, and I understand the site is still somewhat in development.)

  What it boils down to though is that Simpolfy is potentially a very potent grassroots lobbying tool. It lets organizations and activists easily weigh in on and track a large number of bills, and effectively mobilize the power of their constituents in support of their positions, without having to continually expend the time and resources to contact people and educate them and get them to buy in on and then (the big hurdle) actually take action on each new issue. Meanwhile, people who don't have much time or interest in politics -- the many proto-libertarians out there living their lives who have a more or less live-and-let-live perspective -- can leverage a relatively small amount of effort into a fairly significant, ongoing impact by identifying some people and individuals whose views tend to coincide with theirs, to "trust".

  From the point of view of a typical individual who isn't immersed in politics and doesn't have time to pay attention, if you think you probably agree with a group like the LPSF around 9 times out of 10, it's likely to seem worth it from a practical standpoint to "trust" them, especially if you know you can easily look up the positions they've been taking and switch your "vote" on anything they support or oppose that doesn't meet your approval. Imagine that you concluded in hindsight that 90% of the votes you cast in the November 3, 2015 election were good choices, but 10% were bad choices -- if armed with that knowledge, you had a time machine and could go back in time and stop yourself from voting in that election, would you do so? I think most people would not, because the good you accomplished by weighing in on the right side on 90% of the questions would outweigh the bad you accomplished by getting it wrong 10% of the time. Now imagine you had a tool that let you automatically cast your future ballots with something like that 90% right, 10% wrong ratio, without you having to take the time to research all the specific issues and vote on them yourself. If you're strongly activist like me, you probably would want to cast your own votes, and if so, maybe you'll want to set up a "group" profile as I did and weigh in on legislation yourself. But for the 60% of eligible San Franciscans who didn't vote in the last election -- which if it doesn't include you, probably includes a number of people you know -- it might be a tempting approach, don't you think? Asking them to "trust" you, or "trust" someone you trust, like the LPSF, or me, or any other font of wisdom (lol) may feel like encouraging them to abandon their social responsibility to care about how society is run, but if they aren't exercising it anyway, you aren't changing anything for the worse in that regard, and by helping them essentially delegate their voices while they ultimately remain in the drivers seat and can take the steering wheel at any time, you are arguably making things better.

  I sent myself a message using the "invite your friends" feature, to see what it would send people. That message is copied below, and it gives a bit more information about how the site works. You can also use the link to check out my profile and see the positions I've taken. If you're reading this message, chances are you've seen me post here before, probably a lot, and are somewhat familiar with my views. If you find yourself mostly agreeing with my take on political issues, I encourage you to help me amplify your voice by registering with Simpolfy and "trusting" me. And of course while you're there, look up the LPSF and "trust" it too! And any other pro-freedom groups you notice. I didn't go through the whole list, but I did find and "trust" the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a pretty libertarian group that also happens to be based here in San Francisco.

Love & Liberty,
                                ((( starchild )))

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