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Students host civic organizing virtual conference to innovate the public sector

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Hannah Zimmerman ’22 co-founded The Institute of Civic Organizing (TICO), a nonprofit think tank, earlier this year. Now, the group is gearing up for its Scholarship Now and Activism Post-Pandemic Conference (SNAPCON) on Aug. 29, a virtual conference aimed at helping people learn more about civic organizing.

The idea for TICO was inspired by a class Zimmerman took with comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, her experiences as a teaching assistant for various Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) classes, and what she learned about how other governments function while traveling abroad.

The team has added participants and volunteers from across the country, as well as across universities outside of Stanford.

“TICO was born out of this idea that our government institutions are out of touch with people and ideas,” Zimmerman said. “Civic engagement is something that should be constantly innovating things like that.”

“Why is the word ‘innovation’ associated with tech and business? When did that word go away from ideas of government and policy?” she added. “It seems that word is not one that you would associate with the public sector. So, the work that TICO tries to do is to change that.”

TICO aims to provide people with resources and tools for civic organizing. These tools are shared through the organization’s different products, such as online curriculum, playbooks, or the upcoming SNAPCON event.

“We believe here at TICO that there needs to be a revitalization and reverse of local government activism and local government engagement,” said Danielle Healy ’23, a member of TICO who focuses on outreach work. “So we provide different tools and suggestions for those who want to get involved [in] running for local office, being a member of campaign staff, creating a local initiative to get involved in different sorts [of] civic organizing activities.”

Hosted through a virtual platform, SNAPCON will be interactive for participants to engage and spark conversations about civic organizing through breakout rooms and panel discussions.

The exact logistics of the conference are not yet set in stone, but the “plan [is] to have one keynote address at the beginning, and then three panels throughout the day,” according to Frances Shroeder ’22, who is working on planning SNAPCON. One speaker confirmed to be at SNACPCON is Ellen Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Elections Commission.

Elliott Zornitsky, an upcoming junior at Dartmouth College is the literary lead of TICO.  He explained that the team hopes “that people walk away with this knowledge [that] grassroots organizing is incredibly powerful.”

“We’re looking to show the ways people can adapt, whatever conditions arise, [that you can] still be able to organize effectively,” he said.

Contact Elizabeth Wilson at elwilson ‘at’ s.sfusd.edu.

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Elizabeth Wilson is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.