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Why 2017 is the Most Important SXSW Since 2007: Government

“It has been ELEVEN days, Stephen,” Jon Stewart said during his January 31st guest appearance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, “Eleven. Fucking. Days. ELEVEN!” And then, looking into the audience and the camera, he stated what we were all experiencing, “The presidency is supposed to age the president, NOT the public.”


That was only eighteen f*#king days ago. What’s happened since then plays out like a TV reality show based on a mashup of “Hunt For Red October 2: Defecting TO Russia,” “Dumb and Dumber,” and “ Liar Liar.”

I dare not attempt to comprehend what other unconstitutional, un-American travesties, and unreal melt-down press conferences Trump has in store for our country between now and March, but I do know that this year’s SXSW worldwide gathering of intellectual minds, influential might, and creative talent from all walks of life and from cities across the globe will be one for the record books.

It was ten years ago in 2007 when the world experienced a technological leap in innovation. The iPhone, the Android, Hadoop and GitHub, Airbnb and Twitter are just a few of the startups and products that came to market that year. Many of us learned about them at SXSW, and a decade later, these products, technologies, and companies have fundamentally impacted us all.

This year’s Sx will no doubt be a flurry of the future of this and that, from VR/AR, to robotics, IoT, machine learning and AI (and a bit of self-promotion…we’re also presenting a SXSW Music event, “Deep-Dive Live Streaming Workshop for Promoters“).

When it comes to citizen awareness, activism, and participation in how our country will continue to move forward in this ‘1984’ era, there are key tracks that every SXSW attendee should consider adding to their plans.

To be more specific: Government.



Many of us are, as of late, not able to actually get through to our Congress people due to the flood of calls and emails that overload calling systems and websites. Every post on a representative’s Facebook page or Twitter feed receives hundreds of replies, some in support of or in opposition to that representative’s position, action, or inaction. Some constituents have resorted to visiting Kinko’s to send a fax, or inserting a written message within a pizza delivery sent to the representative’s office. This coming week during the Congressional break, un-paid constituents are pressuring their representatives to hold town halls, with activist organizations such as Indivisible,, and Organizing for Action provide guidance and resources for acting locally, and opportunities to attend events in their hometowns.

For those representatives that are skirting face-to-face meetings, Indivisible provides a “Missing Members of Congress Action Plan,” which spotlights the current state where “Members of Congress (MoCs) from all over the country are going missing. They’re still turning up for votes on Capitol Hill, and they’re still meeting with lobbyists and friendly audiences back home—but their public event schedules are mysteriously blank. Odd.”

SXSW will offer the ability to actually see government officials in person, as over two-dozen congressional leaders will be presenting, enabling us to learn about what they have in store for the coming years.

Interactive Opening Speaker: Cory Booker (Friday, March 10)

The former Newark Mayor Cory Booker took the major impact he made on the local New Jersey government to the U.S. Senate, establishing himself as one of the beacons of hope, along with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ted Lieu, and Al Franken, for the American people that we’ll still have a country four years from now. If President Agent Orange lasts that long. Booker has been very active on the Senate floor to prevent the confirmations of Trump’s unfit cabinet appointees while being a proponent of criminal justice reform. Booker serves on the Senate’s committees on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Environment and Public Works; and Foreign Relations.


Text2Vote: Simple Policy Changes for Major Impact (Saturday, March 11)

The mere concept of being able to text to vote could open up a can worms, considering how the current voting system has come into question by the GOP’s leader while lacking any evidence whatsoever. That’s not stopping congressional leaders from pursuing a mobile alternative to the voting booth, including House Rep Ben Lujan (New Mexico) and House Rep Randy Hultgren (Illinois). Here is Ben Lujan’s voting record, which includes voting Nay to deregulating coal companies by allow them to dump waste into streams. In September of last year, Lujan was part of the House Democrat team that sent a letter to Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy demanding a vote on on the “No Fly-No Buy’ comprehensive background check legislation following the tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub. AND then there is Hultgren’s voting record, which includes lots of “Yea!” votes along GOP party lines to defund Planned Parenthood and pull back on animal rights…see details below along with Kevin Yoder, a fellow GOP House Rep’s voting record.


Cloaks, Daggers, and Dice: How the CIA Uses Games (Sunday, March 12)

Count ‘em, FOUR CIA officers will be on this panel discussing their department’s use and development of games and gaming techniques as part of their national security mission. After the insults Trump has made towards the intelligence community (probably because he’s jealous, secretly knowing inside that he’s severely lacking in the intelligence area), along with his speech at CIA headquarters that former director of the CIA stated as “despicable display of self-aggrandizement,” this should be an interesting session indeed.


When Should My Data Become the Government’s Data? (Monday, March 13)

In 2013, Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on wide-spread practices of the NSA spying tactics, not only on foreign nationals but U.S citizens. One particular and impactful question Glen Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who interviewed Snowden in the now infamous video and subsequent documentary asked was, “Why should people care about surveillance?”

Snowden’s answer was chilling, especially in this era of Trump, “Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. The storage capability of these systems increases every year.” The government would have the capability to go back in time and weave suspicions about an innocent person who may be a decenter of the government, and then, “Attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion…and paint anyone into the context of a wrong-doer.”

This session’s panelists will delve into “the necessity of government access to data for our security and how we are updating these laws.” Given how the E.O. was rolled out by the White House to make our country more secure again, this session should be of interest to pretty much all Americans. Panelists include David Snead, Internet Infrastructure Coalition; Rachel Wolbers, TwinLogic Strategies; Andrea Glorioso, Delegation Of The European Union To The U.S.; and KS House Representative, Kevin Yoder who led the Email Privacy Act, “a bill to extend Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections to our digital communications.”

Side note: Kevin Yoder also voted Yea on H.J. Res 69 on 2/17/17, which repealed chapter 8 of title 5 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule preventing the killing of bears and wolves in and around their dens and trophy hunters to use aircraft to scout and chase grizzly bears, and then land and shoot them. So now, the use of giant leghold traps and snares to kill grizzly bears and black bears has a green light. Yoder voted Yea on H.J. 43 to defund Planned Parenthood, thus limiting low-income women’s access to health care, Yea on H.J. 42 to repeal restrictions on states who want to drug test unemployment recipients after drug testing of welfare recipients was proven to be a waste of millions of tax payer dollars. Yoder voted Yea on H.J. 66 and 67 that “unwind state and local government initiatives to enhance retirement security for millions of private-sector employees,” according to the NCPERS (National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems).


Can Congress Help Tech Diversify? (Sunday, March 12)

When I first saw this title, my immediate vision was the shortest SXSW session in history. A few congress people would come out, “Thank you for attending, ‘Can Congress Help Tech Diversify?’ The answer is, are you crazy?! Do you follow the news? Are you on Twitter?” And they all walk off.

That said, we cannot give up on this very critical issue in society, in business, and within our workforce. Thankfully, House Reps like Hakeem Jeffries (voting record) Nanette Barragan (voting record) will have a chance to share with us their visions for diversity, along with Intel’s Barbara Whye and GC Micro Corporation’s Belinda Guadarrama how the tech industry can potentially influence government policy.


Elevator to Hyperloop: Policy Advancements (Saturday, March 11)

The Los Angeles Times reported that 14 California GOP members have submitted a request to the government’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to block a pending $650-million federal grant for the state’s high-speed rail project until a thorough audit has been performed. The U.S. is playing transportation catch up in comparison to other countries (like China), and this session will feature Senate representatives from both sides of the aisle, Senator Jerry Moran (Kansas), who voted Yea for Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Thomas Price and for HJ Res 38, that rolled back regulations protecting waterways from coal mining waste.  Senator Mark Warner (Virginia), who voted against Scott Pruitt for EPA but vote for Rex Tillerson, Cindy Jimenez-Turner from United Technologies Corporation, and David Bonelli from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will discuss policy and budgetary implications of mass transit and how states will potentially govern in the age of self-driving cars.



2016 was an epic year to be at SXSW, with President Obama giving his keynote and First Lady Michelle Obama discussing her “Let Girls Learn” initiative along side Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Sophia Bush, and Diane Warren. Then there was South by South Lawn at the White House, which brought “together creators, innovators and organizers who work day in and day out to improve the lives of their fellow Americans and people around the world.”

Now in 2017, SXSW attendees and presenters still have an immense opportunity and responsibility to keep that worldwide spirit of innovation and community alive.

There are rumors that a number of politically and musically-based rallies may take place during SXSW, but nothing is confirmed as of yet. As those plans are solidified and official, you’ll see that information appear on Kaffeine Buzz. And as always, I’ll be reporting from Austin during the entirety of SXSW, which runs March 10 – 19, 2017. In the meantime, check out the full SXSW Government program here. In the run up to March 10, I’ll have more picks for SXSW coming, including Part 2: Journalism.


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