Hack The Left Postmortem / HowTo
Hack the Left was an anticapitalist hackathon that happened at Noisebridge February 5-7, 2016. The organizer, User:bistenes, presents here a jumbled mess of ideas intended to guide anyone with some time, energy, and motivation toward hosting a similar event themselves.
 Marketing & Attendance
tl;dr: Market aggressively to activists. Market some to programmers, but for the most part, they will show up. Your most important job (after logistics) is to get potential project leaders to show up. Create a Facebook event. Consider creating an Eventbrite page. Print up some business card flyers if you can spare $20. Email listservs. Email activists. Email technologists. Be polite, consise, and human.
I created a Facebook event and Eventbrite page as soon as I had the venue booked, when the event was about a month out. The Eventbrite page was just another RSVP counter, since the ticket options were "Hacker," "Expert Activist," and "Donate," only the latter of which involved money.
For the Facebook event, I invited the people on my friend's list that I know are both techie and lefty, they invited theirs, and within a few days the event had a few hundred people invited. By the time the event rolled around, there were 140 people RSVP'd "Going", 800 "Interested", and 500 more "Invited". The Eventbrite event sold out of 100 "Hacker" RSVPs just before the event started, by which point there were 14 "Expert Activist" RSVPs, which I consider not bad at all.
The Facebook event page was plagued with trolling from reactionaries. For the most part I left the posts up and "banned" the user (you can ban someone from a "public" FB event that you are the organizer of simply by blocking them personally. This has the unfortunate side-effect of rendering their posts invisible to you.) I deleted a couple posts from a Nazi (including racial pejoratives!) and one explicitly ablist post. I didn't respond to any trolls. This took a huge amount of willpower, because I had some very witty retorts, and people were wrong on the internet. I'm quite confident that this was the right move, though. Don't feed the trolls.
About the same time I created the event pages I ran off some business-card size flyers (https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B2-Z7yUl-4cxQnBUbWREVmhFNHM&usp=sharing). I consider this design hella effective. I think lots of people took them. I printed 250 at FedEx and it cost me about $25. I distributed about 200 of them, at Noisebridge, Sudo Room, The Revolution Cafe, and some co-ops around town. I kept a bunch in my pocket to give out to people I talked to, also.
The biggest marketing task was getting non-technical activists to show up. You gotta email a lot of people. The goal is to try and convince people for whom "hackathon" is synonymous with "capitalist techno-orgy" that they want not only to come to your event, but to suggest (and ultimately, hopefully, lead) a project. Throwing out some project ideas that might be relevant to their lives is not a bad idea.
Ultimately, maybe 60 or so people came in on Friday night, of whom 22 donated. There were probably 25 or so people during peak hours on Saturday, from 2pm-6pm. Sunday saw again maybe 25 people.
Obviously, RSVPs that are associated with payments are a *much* more reliable indicator of whether or not a person is going, but taking optional payments online clearly didn't do much.
The difficulty with running a "donation requested" hackathon is that I think a lot of people want to get an appraisal of the event and whether or not there's something worth their time to hack on there before donating. This isn't a showstopper or anything, it's just something to be aware of when budgeting.
Find one. This is basically the first step to throwing an event, after finding some co-conspirators.
I was able to use Noisebridge, which didn't cost me any money, which was awesome. Look up your local hackerspace, see if you can get people there interested.
Depending on your venue and whether you're taking money or checking people in, you'll probably need a volunteer for the door for the first couple hours of the event.
Some people will ask if they can attend remotely. This is pretty feasible and cool, thanks to the power of the almighty internet. If your venue has an A/V setup, offer to video people in who want to give pitches. Remote participation was also facilitated by having an event chat setup.
 Tech Stuff
We used the Noisebridge Mattermost server. Mattermost is open source Slack. I'd strongly recommend using something like it.
Good wifi is important. Noisebridge has wifi out the wazoo. If using a space with less great wifi, consider renting a mobile access point or three.
I bought the domain http://hacktheleft.com and set it up to redirect to the Noisebridge wiki page. This made it very very easy to direct people to web resources about the event. Hit me up if you'd like to use the domain for your event.
If you want speakers at your event, make asking them one of the first things you do after booking a venue. Most people you'll want to have speak are hella busy.
Ask people that you're genuinely excited and interested to have speak. If you're not excited, why should your attendees be?
Ask mostly non- white-dudes to talk. There are women, POC, and queer people doing incredible and relevant work. Reach out to them.
tl;dr: If you're serving food at your event, the person who coordinates that should not have many responsibilities besides, because that is some serious work. Snack platters are bullshit. Food Not Bombs is awesome. You don't need a giant coffee maker / urn, a normal home coffee maker (maybe with a supplimentary french press) should do fine. Fridge optional -- could have gotten by with non-perishable creamer stuff and no perishable snacks. Yogurt, granola, and fruit is great. I hear that trail mix is awesome hackathon food. I had intended to get some but Smart and Final didn't have any. I still think it would have been a good buy.
Here's a breakdown of the food at the event.
- We got like 50 bags of chips someone had donated to Food Not Bombs -- we went though a dozen or so. Someone also brought hella peanuts. Some of them were eaten, as evidenced by hella shells.
- Smart & Final
- 2 snack platters -- total bullshit, no one ate.
- 2 pounds of coffee -- we went through maybe 6 oz?
- 24 individual variety fruit yogurts -- all eaten, just barely and with some coercion
- 1 big thing of plain yogurt -- untouched.
- like 5 lbs of salsa??? -- would probably have been the right amount had we eaten all the aforementioned chips. As the case was, we had like 5 times more salsa than needed.
- 1.5 gallons of half and half -- used like a quart
- 0.5 gallons of non-dairy creamer -- used prolly a pint or so
- 9 lbs of granola -- ate 3 lbs.
- 2 big containers of blueberries -- ate 'em all.
- A big bag o' tangerines -- ate 'em all.
- Total: $205
The yogurt, salsa, and creamers were all that required refrigeration. There was a lot of them though, so the mini fridge was packed tight. Buy a lot less food stuff than I did. Fortunately I was able to donate most of the extras to Food Not Bombs. But really, non-perishable, easy snacks are where it's at. Now that we live in the future, I also kind of wonder if maybe I should have gotten a 12-pack of Soylent, or if that would have been too poetic/obnoxious.
 Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs served around 3pm on Saturday. Most people showed up between noon and 2pm on Saturday, asked if lunch was ready, and then went to get a burrito. As a result not nearly as many attendees as I would have liked actually partook in the meal. I also overestimated the number of people that we would be serving, as mentioned above. Nevertheless, we ate a solid proportion of it, and then served most of the rest at the 16th & Mission BART plaza, per Food Not Bombs tradition. Recommendation: serve lunch at lunch time.
Food Not Bombs is often done without spending any money on groceries, but for this one I budgeted some, so we spent like $70 and got some nice stuff. Due to the RSVPs I expected to be serving about 40 people, when in reality, due to Saturday attendance and the awkward timing, about 15 actually ate.
For those not familiar, Food Not Bombs is an organization that's been giving out free soup and anticapitalist literature for like three and a half decades. There are chapters in most major cities around the globe. I had been volunteering with SF Food Not Bombs for a couple months before my event, so there was some level of trust and community that I was able to go on when asking them to cook for the event. To what extent that kind of thing will matter will certainly vary from chapter to chapter. Obviously, though, you should look at and frame this as a potential collaboration, not a duty-offloading or act of charity on their part. If you can help obtain the cooking materials -- e.g. hit up farmer's market vendors for the produce they would otherwise toss -- that'll probably help a lot.
 Sunday Pizza
If the event had the money, we were gonna get pizza delivered on Sunday. Unfortunately we didn't, so I asked attendees if they'd be down to pitch in to cover a pizza. People pitched in plenty and we got two big pizzas (one margharita, one pesto chicken) and they were both eaten. This is a fine way to handle meals, I think.
There weren't any actual donors, but I think there are notes to provide about the three potentials I talked to:
- Rainbow Grocery: To get Rainbow to donate, you need to email the donations team, and then I think they fill out a form. I called way too late and someone let me leave a voicemail in a voicemail box they evidently never check. Basically, get in touch by email (confirm on the phone that this is the right way to do it) and do so *way* ahead of time, like maybe as soon as you get the venue confirmed. I think if I had done that they might have donated something.
- Arizmendi's Bakery: They don't do one-off donations.
- The Revolution Cafe: I think this cafe may be more of a theme thing than anything to do with the owner's actual politics. In any case, the owner declined to donate.
I really wanted someone to donate a bunch of baked goods for Saturday or Sunday morning, but I guess it probably would have been ineffectual since no one showed up before noon. On the other hand, maybe having such breakfasty goods available would have drawn people in the morning.
Have a team. Have someone on your team have food as their job. Even if you're only serving snacks -- don't be the person responsible for driving to Costco and buying a bunch of trail mix if you also are going to have other responsibilities that day.
 Code of Conduct
Have one. Whether you pick one, write one, or piece a few together, this is hella important. A friend put a few existing ones together to obtain [ https://docs.google.com/document/d/1K2SSC2RTJf8pQ3S79MIOidMpqSzO90eVS9QjnOe4Mps the one we used]. A white female friend of mine said after the event that she didn't come because the CoC made her uncomfortable as a white person, which I'm not sure is a complaint I'm taking 100% seriously, but in any case it's reason to believe that this document could probably be improved upon.
I had three project pitch sessions on Friday evening, spaced out by 45 minutes or so. I think this was pretty effective in keeping things interesting for most of the evening. The whole thing was very informal, I basically just offered an invitation to anyone who wanted to say something. No regrets.
We did presentations at 2pm on Sunday, done in the same informal style.
The Q&A/discussion part of presentations did not work out so well... basically, no one had questions except this one white dude for every talk. The original idea was that the Q&A/discussion was going to center some activists who were specially invited to the presentation part to do just that. I don't think that would have been a very good idea either, since I think the central problem is that no one wants to aggressively critique a project that some starry-eyed coder just blew their whole weekend on.
Consider asking people to limit their speaking time. Or setting a hard-ish limit that most people won't hit but will at least prevent That One Guy from talking forever.
The full finance records for the event can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Sn4pX_caXBhOM27LRX1DaWdFLQRDkhvPkcBIlsx6PLA/edit?usp=sharing.
Basically, we requested a $15 "recommended donation" from participants. Something like 27 people ended up donating. Some donated $20. This ended up leaving me like $20 in the hole, but with probably that much yogurt and granola left over. So basically I broke even. I hope some people donated money to Noisebridge. I also bought a mini fridge on Craigslist that I intend to resell. It's not counted in the finance doc since I'm basically considering it a personal expense.
We collected money online via an Eventbrite "Donate" thing, which got us like $45. Not sure it was worth the trouble of setting up a PayPal business account. However, we *could* have used this to process non-cash donations at the door -- like have a computer at the reg desk that people can use to donate on Eventbrite. We also could have just used a damn Square like 21st century people.
I asked a friend to work the reg desk. At first we thought we were going to want to check people off of the Eventbrite reg page, then we stopped giving a fuck and just sort of took people's money. I might have something vaguely meaningful to say about Eventbrite or RSVPs if we really kept track of that shit, but oh well.
Hit me up if you have questions! I would love for this event to happen again, more, in other places. Contact info at User:bistenes.
Feel free to reuse copy and other event resources in throwing your own event. Consider all this shit copyleft. Hack the planet.