NationBuilder picks a side; progressives should stop using it
If you haven’t heard, Nation Builder is an online content management system, donation platform and volunteer admin system all rolled into one. It has grown rapidly, due to its focus on serving political, advocacy and non-profit campaigns. Several unions in Australia (particularly in QLD) have started to use it for campaign sites.
Two days ago, they announced that they had struck an exclusive deal with the Republican Party:
NationBuilder, a service that provides state-of-the-art digital organizing technology to almost any political campaign, has made what the company’s president called “probably the largest deal ever struck in political technology” in terms of the number of elections it can potentially impact.
The deal? NationBuilder will be the exclusive campaign technology of the Republican State Leadership Committee, whose mission is to elect Republican candidates running for office at the state level across the U.S.
Through the arrangement, Republican candidates running for about 7,500 different offices will get greatly discounted access to the service. NationBuilder will provide those candidates with websites, digital organizing tools and training, access to voter data and a mechanism to share data between Republican campaigns.
There’s no doubt that the feature list of Nation Builder is impressive. However, it is clear with this exclusive deal, that Nation Builder has stopped being just a platform, and has picked a side.
While Nation Builder argues that they are non-partisan, the question remains whether progressive organisations, particularly those in Australia, would want anything to do with an organisation that has signed up to help such a reactionary, extreme conservative party.
“This isn’t Google Docs, where anyone can sign up for free,” he said. “This is a specific set of tools that draws on a body of knowledge that’s been built up on the progressive side primarily over a number of years.”
Brooks was echoing concerns that have been fueling a growing debate in the online progressive community about whether software for political organizing can be treated as a commodity, the way organizers consider more general-purpose and ubiquitous software like Facebook or Google Docs.
… “This is like saying Blue State Digital saying: ‘Here Mitt Romney, you can have Obama’s technology,” Brooks said. “It’s an advantage for Democratic campaigns — we’ve had a technology advantage that we’ve built up over the years, and to just hand that off to the Republican party — it could be the difference-maker in some elections. If it allows even one of these candidates to win over someone else, then you’ve chosen a side there.”
Brooks says that he won’t be recommending NationBuilder to people who ask him which tools to use and will instead point them to other products such as those from Salsa Labs in Washington, D.C.
Other progressive organisations, such as Jason Rosenbaum, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee‘s senior online campaign director, has also criticised Nation Builder:
“As it stands now, progressives should think carefully about who they’re helping when they use NationBuilder — every dollar you spend directly aids your opponents,” he told techPresident in an email. “The [RSLC] are the folks who helped pass Scott Walker’s agenda, who want to give transvaginal ultrasounds to women, who want to disenfranchise the minorities, who want to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Helping them win elections is pretty evil,” he said. “Fortunately, there are competitive toolsets at competitive prices available to campaigns, especially on the new media side. Progressives don’t have to work with a company like NationBuilder that’s now the ‘technology [behind] the bulk of the nationwide Republican races,’ in the words of NationBuilder’s own President Joe Green.”
As a former coder and developer himself, Brooks notes that campaigns continually provide feedback to software providers in order to improve their product, which means that progressive campaigns that use NationBuilder to provide feedback are ultimately improving the product for their opponents as well.
If you’re a progressive Australian organisation looking at Nation Builder, think again.