Welcome to the sixth installment of NPI at Netroots Nation 2022, a special limited podcast series recorded live from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. NPI staff journeyed to Steel City this past week to participate in the nation’s largest annual gathering of progressive activists.
As part of our conference coverage, we’re bringing you a series of conversations with key movement leaders and elected officials.
In this installment of NPI@NN, we’re honored to be joined by Brian T. Smith, Director of Strategic Partnerships with Unified. Press play below to listen to the audio, or read the transcript below.
Read the transcript
(Note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity)
CAYA: Welcome to NPI at Netroots Nation ‘22, a special limited podcast series from the Northwest Progressive Institute, recorded live from the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! I’m your host, Caya Berndt. We are glad to have you with us. For this installment, we are excited to be joined by Director of Strategic Partnerships, Brian T. Smith. Welcome!
BRIAN: Thanks Caya. It’s great to be here.
CAYA: So, can you tell us about your organization? What do you do? What’s your organization all about?
BRIAN: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m very proud to be working with Unified, the new social network for community organizing and activism. At the time that we’re recording this, it’s in development right now, and we’ll be launching it very soon.
The key thing about Unified is, like many social networks, it provides community building around things like chat, sharing, and liking comments or liking posts. But Unified will have an additional feature where you’ll be able to add specific actions that followers will be able to engage with, and you include those in your posts.
CAYA: You sent me a PowerPoint prior to this interview, and from the looks of it… it kind of reminded me of a Facebook-style platform, but just expanded to activism in general. Is that accurate?
BRIAN: Yeah, that is. I think if you compare social networks today, [there’s] a lot of chat and other social features, but they’re lacking specific ways that people can take actions. At the same time, there are really well-known tool sets on the left that campaigns and advocacy groups use, but many of them lack the social features. And so, for that reason, we’re building this new platform.
And there’s another thesis that’s really important as to why we’re doing this, is that digital organizing, in our opinion, is largely broken. It’s become a spammy, harassing process where you’re getting inundated with text and emails from candidates, and groups asking for money. It does not provide the ability to build that community. A lot of people are turned off by those processes and those methods. So we think there’s a strong appetite for something new and different.
CAYA: Thank you. So, do you have a background in digital advocacy? How did you get started in this field, and what moved you to want to develop Unified?
BRIAN: I’m actually a twenty year-plus veteran of the progressive movement. I got started… was really called to work in politics after the 2000 election. So many of my peers obviously were very affected by the 2016 election, but for me, it starts much earlier than that. I grew up in Austin, Texas. I watched George W. Bush get elected president in my backyard. So I was very motivated to get involved. And I worked in Washington [D.C.] for over fifteen years as a campaign manager, consultant, and also as a lobbyist. I then got out of that, I transitioned into tech, worked with a couple other tech companies, and then this opportunity became available to work with this team around tech and progressive activism. It was a perfect marriage of my interests and skills. So, that’s how I got involved.
CAYA: Thank you. So, you said that this platform is in development – when can we expect to see it launched?
BRIAN: Hopefully early next year, in 2023. Right now, we are signing up individuals and organizations who want to participate in a pilot program that we’re launching this fall. It will be limited. There’s some limited opportunities to participate, so anybody listening to this can go to our website, which is joinunified.us, to sign up and become an early adopter. But yeah, early next year we hope to be able to have it fully available and open to the public.
CAYA: Thank you very much. And I will include that information for those who are listening, who are interested in becoming involved with this project, I will be linking that information in the post on The Cascadia Advocate.
So I just wanna wrap up. This is my final question that I like asking, is what are some of the three pieces of media… this could be a book, this could be a movie, this could be a podcast, that have made the biggest influence on you lately?
BRIAN: So, growing up, I was very influenced by the films that were, sort of classic films around politics and political suspense. All The President’s Men, obviously, is very well known, and films like that genre. That has always been of interest to me. I actually went to film school in college.
BRIAN: Yeah, I have a media background before I got into politics. But I’m really interested in learning more about your podcast, and I plan to subscribe to it after today. I’m embarrassed to say, I first learned about it today!
CAYA: It’s okay! We’re all here to learn and meet each other. We’re all here to learn new things and meet new people. That’s how we learn and grow.
BRIAN: Absolutely. And I definitely encourage your listeners to check out what we’re doing at Unified. I imagine that we are also working with other media groups to get them onto the platform. So for anybody listening to this who has a podcast of their own, and is interested in amplifying their audience, they can definitely chat with us about how Unified can help with that.
CAYA: All right. Thank you!
To learn more about Unified, listeners can learn more here.