Politics Rewired: A tech co-op offering a new way of organising

We chat to Priya Chatwani, a worker-owner at the US co-op

Priya Chatwani is a worker-owner at Politics Rewired, a political tech co-operative in the US, which launched in 2020. The co-op’s first major project was working on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign using its peer-to-peer texting programme, Spoke.

During the campaign, Spoke sent 260 million messages. Politics Rewired says that its goal is “to eliminate unnecessary barriers raised by inadequate organising tools and to empower organisers to build the systems they need to meet the moment”.

“We kind of came out of the Bernie 2020 texting campaign,” Priya explains. “Because that went so well, we wanted to spread our texting services to other aligned candidates, to unions, to non-profits and advocacy organisations as well. And some clients will pay us to write their texting scripts and mobilise all their texting volunteers and run Zoom calls for them. But some clients will just send their texts through us and that’s it. We’re the most affordable peer-to-peer texting solution in the business.”

Priya’s first job out of college was for a tech start-up that was eventually bought out by a larger company. She says that being able to have a say in these kinds of decisions was one of the big motivators for joining a tech co-op, as well as being able to build something together as a collective. 

Priya joined Politics Rewired last year, where there are currently 13 workers, and is now a worker owner member of the co-op. “During the first year you’re just a worker, and after six months, you become a provisional owner. And then after one year, you apply to become a full owner,” Priya explains.

While staying in the UK for the summer, Priya attended the Co-operatives UK Youth Summit in Manchester, where she connected with other young co-operators to learn and share experiences. 

When it comes to Politics Rewired, Priya says they “actually have really good youth representation. And we’re actively trying to hire more older people too, because we skew very young.”

At the summit, Priya was keen to learn how the movement can better inform young people about the co-operative model, but also wanted to learn from other co-ops about how they operate.

“As a worker owner, I’m always looking to build my skills and am always looking to learn from other co-ops. Like, ‘Hey, how do you hire and fire people? How do you decide your pay scale?’ These are all questions that feel really urgent and pressing for us and it sometimes feels like we’re in a silo. Because I don’t have many friends who are working in this space, the people we know are not worker owners, or if you’re at a tech company, most likely you’re [venture capital] funded.”

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These questions are what led Priya to look into the UK’s co-op sector and connect with other tech co-ops here. 

“I’ve been really curious about other co-operatives, especially what the co-operative and solidarity economy looks like in the UK. And so I followed Co-operatives UK on social media and then found this summit, and we were also previously linked through an organisation called Tech Workers Coalition, connected to Common Knowledge. They’re a similar tech co-operative in the UK. And so I’ve just been trying to do my research on what that looks like here.”

Priya lays out some of the key challenges Politics Rewired is currently working through as a growing tech start-up that is led by its workers.

“I think we’re getting better at it, but there’s a lot that we have to learn about accountability and how we share responsibilities”, says Priya. “[Also] how we can be scalable, how we can grow, how we can provide mentorship and take on younger people like me, and still be the quick and scrappy and agile team that we want to be. 

“We’re only two years old, and when I joined a year ago, we were five people and those five people had been there from the beginning. And now we’re 13 people. So bringing on these new voices, we’ve made sure that they have the same say that people who have been there for a long time have, and the same agency, but also that everyone’s roles can fit with one another.”

Politics Rewired is currently building a new data management tool called Assemble.

“It will be a collaborative database where you can share data with other people on your team with really specific permissions, like this volunteer can see all the data related to their zip code only. And this politician or government person can only see the data relative to these fields or with this information,” explains Priya. 

According to Politics Rewired, Assemble is the only product of its kind specifically designed for left-wing grassroots organisations and campaigns. Its purpose, they say, will be “for the sake of growing and consolidating a genuinely social democratic, class-struggle oriented current in American politics that can win and wield power, so that all people in our society can live a decent and dignified life”.

The idea is that Politics Rewired’s existing client base will find Assemble useful alongside its existing products. “And then hopefully, they can run their texts and calls, as well as canvassing, through the same database,” says Priya. 

She goes on to explain how collective decision making is embedded into Politics Rewired when it comes to its worker owners, and that this is also something they want to eventually expand out to its users. 

“One of the coolest parts [of the co-op] is that we all have to agree on every client we take on and so we’re really able to maintain our political alignment through that, because whenever a client comes in, they want to send texts through us and we do our research and see if this is someone we agree with or not. 

“And then eventually, we hope that with our new product Assemble, we’ll even bring our Assemble users on and they’ll also have a say in who else is using the product.”

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