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Event series stresses involvement over votes for political novices

Monday, August 27, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Not long into Thursday’s launch party for the Good Politics meet-and-greet event series, co-organizer Nathan Ryan knew he’d found a kindred spirit and a kind of ideal participant when he spied a male attendee sporting a sticker reading “Vote the (expletives) out.”

“He didn’t know who I was, so I went up to him and told him, ‘Hey, I love your sticker,’” Ryan said. “When we first started talking about this, it’s not in our brand language, but we said we want to elect fewer (expletives), and a lot of people respond to that.”

Rather than town halls or forums where candidates are peppered with questions on issues from an audience in the hopes of winning votes, Good Politics is aimed at energizing younger potential voters who typically admit to being disconnected and uninformed on most of the basics of local, state and federal governance.

More than 300 people attended the kickoff party at Native Hostel where a handful of local candidates for federal offices circulated, speaking to small crowds or in one-on-one interactions, with a goal of helping attendees get more involved in the political process. That involvement can come at a variety of levels, from simply registering to vote for the first time to volunteering for a campaign or making a donation, though the events aren’t organized as fundraisers.

Good Politics has scheduled three more events in the lead-up to the November midterm elections with the intent to focus on federal elections early, though one event will center on Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who is running for re-election against five other candidates.

There is also no intention for the event series to grow into an organized political group. Ryan, co-founder and CEO of Blue Sky Partners consulting firm, and co-organizer Liz Coufal, who works in business development for an artificial intelligence company, said the events will stay focused around candidates they know or who have been vetted by friends as genuine, even if they have differing political views.

“We’re not holding town halls, and we’re not holding forums, because our community doesn’t feel comfortable or come out to those events,” Coufal said.

“These are really smart people, they’re just not well-versed politically. And so our inspiration was to take the barrier to entry out of politics. I see us taking the intimidation factor out of the room and making it totally approachable. We are making this political process as human as possible by bringing candidates and our friends together in an open environment where all questions are asked in a kind way.”

Thursday’s event saw about 40 attendees register to vote, and Ryan said the gatherings could grow into an opportunity for other political groups to connect with new voters or potential volunteers who had previously been unaware of how they can get involved in the political process.

“We want people to take ownership to the degree that they feel compelled to take ownership,” he said. “We want them to feel comfortable around it and while they’re in it, and give them opportunities to connect with other organizations here in town. We’re creating a forum where groups can come in and have a conversation with people it would normally be hard for them to get in front of.”

Ashley Juraska, an attendee who has worked for multiple Austin-area political campaigns on top of her data evaluation role for a local nonprofit agency, said it’s important for the average voter to understand that they can get involved without committing to knocking on hundreds of doors or giving up their life in the lead-up to an election.

“I myself get energized from block-walking, but I understand other people may get disengaged from the idea of that. Plus, with the pace of a 24/7 news cycle you get inundated and it’s easy to tune out,” she said. “What Liz and Nathan are doing is different because it’s, ‘Hey, come and talk to a candidate, have a beer, and share ideas about how you can get involved.’”

Photo by Nina Ho.

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