Civic Ventures is a small group of political troublemakers devoted to ideas, policies, and actions that catalyze significant social change. We are serial innovators in the civic space who favor the kind of big, disruptive ideas that upturn conventional thinking. Though we promote many progressive concepts, we’re not beholden to the traditional political framework of liberal versus conservative; an idea’s value and utility should be more important than its origin. By thinking, writing, and acting outside the realm of conventional political discourse,Civic Ventures plans to drive the conversation and fundamentally alter the status quo in Seattle, Washington state, and the United States.
VALUES, MISSION AND GOALS
We believe that the point of politics and economics is to maximize the rate at which we improve the lives of the typical family in our community and country. We reject trickle down economics in all of its forms—the claim that the better the rich do, the better everyone does. We believe that a thriving middle class is the source of growth, not a consequence of growth.
We believe in capitalism, but recognize that the form capitalism takes defines whether the economy benefits the many or the few. Our view is that the only sensible long-term policy is to maximize the benefit to the many. We know that there is often a giant difference between policies that benefit capitalism generally and policies that benefit a few capitalists narrowly, despite what some capitalists may tell us.
We believe in progress and innovation in all of its forms. We believe that the technological innovation that solves human problems is the source of all improvements in living standards. But we also acknowledge that every commercial technological innovation brings with it disruption—and therefore that healthy communities depend on matching the rate of commercial innovation with equal amounts of civic and social innovation.
We believe that prosperity, or what some call growth, is the consequence of a positive feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and demand. We know that the principal driver of this feedback loop is inclusion. Including as many people as possible in as many ways as possible—as consumers, workers, innovators and citizens—is the most direct, effective and durable way to increase prosperity and social cohesion and harmony. Inclusion is our most fundamental value and drives all of our work.
Our goal is to create systemic disruptive change that improves the lives of our fellow citizens and community. Civic Ventures believes in the power of ideas, particularly new ideas, to disrupt the political landscape by radically reshaping public opinion. We believe that all significant social and civic change transforms the way citizens understand how the world works—and thus changes the way they feel and what policies or outcomes they prefer. We will not focus energy or resources on activities, programs, or organizations that are ameliorative or downstream from the problem. Said another way, we seek to prevent poverty, rather than treat the symptoms of poverty.
We believe that significant civic, political, and social national change usually begins locally. Change is best effected on the local level; the experimental nature of city and state governance has always fostered a political and civic wisdom that improves policy and law on the national level. We embrace this “local first” theory of change and believe it creates a unique opportunity for us. That said, when the opportunity presents itself, we will also seek to enact change at the national level.
We are institutionally independent, accountable only to our community and ourselves, and will do whatever it takes to innovate important social change, even if we antagonize allies in the process. We believe effective leadership requires building a great strategy first and then building a collation around that strategy. Coalition-first movements lead nowhere but to bureaucracy and half measures. That said, as institutions yield to networks, we recognize that we can’t accomplish important work by ourselves. We must always partner with other like-minded groups and institutions to be effective. We are willing to lead the pack, but will never be “lone wolves”.
Our ability to create and integrate policy, politics, and narrative in real time in our own community gives us an unmatched ability to optimize and modify our plans strategically and effectively. Paying close attention to the feedback loop between ideas, policies, and politics can lead to faster learning and more effective decision-making and strategy. We seek to be nimble and to use our agility and small size to maximum advantage. We seek voids and opportunities in the civic sphere—places where others fear to tread, that allow us to create the largest and most disruptive impact.
We will lead, catalyze, or participate in local and national civic actions that meet the following criteria:
The cause is inherently inclusive and will improve the lives of a majority of our fellow citizens.
The environment surrounding the cause provides a unique, disruptive, and strategic opportunity to completely change the frame of the debate and advance a new kind of public argument.
Our strategy will always be focused on both winning and on making our opponents lose.
We seek to focus only on the most ambitious civic projects and those that are most likely to catalyze national change.
We will only engage in fights that advance our narrative and allow us to reframe the debate in a durable way that inherently advances the principle of inclusion that animates much of our work.
Nick Hanauer is the founder of Civic Ventures. He is a successful business leader, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Hanauer was the first non-family investor in Amazon.com, and a company he founded, aQuantive, later sold to Microsoft for 6.4 billion dollars. In recent years, Hanauer has established himself as a civic innovator, public speaker, and fierce critic of America’s growing income inequality. He co-authored two bestselling books — The True Patriot and Gardens of Democracy — and his policy pieces for outlets like Politico, Bloomberg News and TED have gone viral, reaching audiences of tens of millions.
Zach Silk is the President and Chief Troublemaker for Civic Ventures. He oversees strategy, outreach, and policy development. He is an experienced civic leader and entrepreneur. Silk’s most notable recent successes include managing the successful campaign to pass and defend Washington State’s marriage equality law in 2012 (Approve Referendum 74) and co-founding the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and managing Initiative 594, the successful ballot measure that requires background checks on all gun sales.
Stephanie Ervin heads up Civic Ventures’ special projects. She has worked on political campaigns for Governor Christine Gregoire, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, and most recently served as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility during the passage of Initiative 594, the successful ballot measure that requires background checks on all gun sales. Ervin specializes in community organizing, outreach, and public policy matters.
David “Goldy” Goldstein, senior fellow at Civic Ventures, is an expert in Washington state policy, economic philosophy, and propaganda. He has written about politics for The Stranger, The Nation and the Huffington Post. From 2006 through 2008, he hosted The David Goldstein Show on Seattle’s news/talk 710-KIRO, and has been pissing off readers at his blog HorsesAss.org for more than a decade.
Paul Constant is a fellow at Civic Ventures, specializing in implementation, editing, and the day-to-day focus of the Civic Skunk Works blog. He has written about politics, arts, and culture for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the US and Canada. From 2010 through 2015, he served as the national politics reporter for Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger.
Nick Cassella is the head researcher and social media manager for Civic Ventures, as well as a blogger at Civic Skunk Works. He studied International Relations at the University of St Andrews, Scotland and served as a fundraiser for Initiative 594, the successful ballot measure that requires background checks on all gun sales.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a Project Manager for Civic Ventures, as well as a contributor to Civic Skunk Works. She is a long-time journalist who has covered beats ranging from economic policy and politics to sports and new media in The Atlantic, Salon, the Nation, Fast Company, and the Huffington Post. She’s a regular contributor to the the Daily Dot, where she covers homelessness and income inequality, and is a co-founding editor of Seattlish.com.