You are a talented human with a broad set of skills. You can speak, write, pitch, and persuade. You can make a Power Point, or make art.
You work every day, solving problems. You get a ton done.
Now, let’s say you suddenly became terrified for the world’s future. What would you do?
You can call Congress, or attend a protest. And you should. But is that it? Why stop there? Why set aside everything you’ve learned, everything you are, to be simply one more terrified person on a phone line, or marching in a street?
What if you did the following, as well?
- Find someone you love to work with.
- Pick an issue area and angle.
- Do activism full-time using every connection, skill, tool, and trick at your disposal—until you win.
Our goal: to convince you to take exactly these steps, give you a playbook, and fund you.
This is a proposal for defending the world. And it's a good one. If you’re feeling like the world needs defending right now, keep reading.
Yes. This may not be obvious, but it’s true: all of your powerful, hard-won skills and habits are highly transferable to the work of political action. The workday of a lobbyist, community organizer or political operative—and the skills they use—aren’t so different from those of writers, journalists, lawyers, advertisers, therapists, nurses, designers, engineers, teachers, or salespeople. It’s just language, problem solving, and dedication. If you want to change the world, that's all it takes.
(Meanwhile, making this a fulfilling job that pays your bills is, while difficult, easier than you think.)
We write this as two people who have been doing this work for some time.
For years, we’ve been practicing the approaches that suddenly, more than ever, every issue needs: approaches that achieve surprising upset victories, against the odds.
The world has been getting... weird lately. But new, massive opportunities to make it better are emerging all the time. So the world needs teams like ours, in every issue area. We need some company out here.
The name of our organization is Fight for the Future. Our names are Holmes Wilson and Tiffiniy Cheng. For the past 5 and a half years we’ve been toiling away on a previously somewhat obscure set of political issues facing the Internet.
During that time, we helped create two of the biggest victories for grassroots power in the past decade: the 2015 victory for Net Neutrality and the 2012 victory against SOPA & PIPA.
Neither was supposed to be winnable. Insiders said we were crazy to even try.
Both were against the most powerful corporate lobbies in America: the media and pharmaceutical lobbies (MPAA and PhrMA) on SOPA/PIPA, and then the cable and telecom lobby (NCTA) on Net Neutrality.
Claiming credit is dubious business. But in both cases, we're pretty sure victory wouldn't have happened without interventions we created, and many knowledgeable insiders agree. (These were team efforts, so there are several organizations and individuals for whom the same is also true—that is, that we wouldn't have won without them.)
We did this with a tiny fraction of the resources and conventional power our opponents enjoyed. We're two friends from high school. There have been 5-10 people with us on our team—some of the best people we've found to do this kind of activism. We do most of our activism online, but we organize real-life protests sometimes too. We’re funded by donations (large & small) but when we started our careers we were entirely unfunded, doing it for the pure pleasure of winning.
We believe our experience—of big victories on small budgets—puts us in a special position to make a proposal, to everyone on the planet trying to answer the question "Oh my god, what should I do?"
If you’re looking for an answer to that question, keep reading, or sign up right now.
The plan is to describe the key ingredients for something we’re calling an Activism Team, or A-Team. First, we'll tell you what that is. And then…
The plan is to convince you to start an A-Team, join one, or volunteer for one. And then...
The plan is to start dozens of A-Teams focused on issue areas where humanity faces serious political challenges or opportunities.
Then the plan is to help the best A-Teams find the support they need to do this full-time, going forward, for as long as it takes.
You probably have some questions!
We're still working out the details, but if you've got a strong 2-3 person A-Team and a target we'd give you $15,000 right now for the first month, just to see what you can do.
If you make a big splash or measurable impact on your target in that time, we're pretty sure we can find you more.
Interested? Sign up. Again, you certainly have more questions.
Yes! And yes, we know, evaluating the realness and good faith of things you see on the Internet is hard. But we are real activists with a real organization that does real campaigns. Check us out and Google us to get a feel for who we are. Or send us an email.
Activism Teams, or A-Teams, are new, small, interdisciplinary teams focused on defending or improving some aspect of the world.
An A-Team is like a special ops team for activism, with all the skills needed to create political change.
A-Teams can write persuasively; speak with a strong voice online (with design, images, video, and code); size up their target’s internal power structures and weaknesses; and build strategies to rally the public, focusing collective action at the right pressure points, at the right time.
When you work in politics, it’s shocking how incomplete most political pushes are, even major ones.
This is easy to observe. How many major, upcoming issues have an excellent, digestible explanation online? How many pair that explanation with something simple and meaningful that the average person—once convinced—can go out and do? Google it: Obamacare, Immigration, Deportation, Medical Marijuana. Not many issues have a clear, prominent source for information and action, do they?
At a time like this, is that acceptable? No way.
A-Teams can rapidly fill these gaps, and that’s just the beginning.
A-Teams shine at building a drumbeat of stories and moments. They can organize provocative, interesting collective action that grabs the public’s attention, and ensure their target is getting pressure from all necessary angles. That's how we turned the tide against SOPA.
Then they can do it again and again, riveting public & press attention and overwhelming the ability of the adversary—whether an industry lobby, or an administration—to spin a counter narrative. That's how we won net neutrality.
A-Teams shine at rapid response. When a story breaks, conventional organizations respond with a tweet, an email, or a press release. But A-Teams make something epic happen, fast. Protests all around the country. Some creative symbol of support or resistance, on social media, the streets, and local news. That's how we responded when the FBI wanted an iPhone backdoor.
A-Teams work great when a large number of people want something to happen (or not happen) but entrenched power, corruption, or the status quo is pushing the other way. Fueled by that shared collective intent, staring at a political barrier, A-Teams find a way through to the other side.
As an A-Team, you pick an issue that matters, and try to win tangible, significant changes. And actually do it. The Internet has changed the game on what we can achieve. Once you go full-time—or start volunteering for people who are—you’ll be shocked at what you achieve. We promise.
It doesn’t matter the issue. Social change can come from media pressure, large mobilizations, small groups of insiders, influential outsiders, righteous narratives, technological shifts, or simply the discovery and spread of some big new idea. In most cases it’s some combination of some or all of these, over a period of months or years.
The cool thing is, all of these factors are things a typical human can figure out how to influence. So think of them as levers of change, levers you can learn to pull. It just takes time and dedication, focusing on a problem enough to figure out what action is going to fix it and how.
This isn’t any secret; it’s how the most powerful lobbyists, advertisers, and public relations firms have worked since their inception.
Even when victory looks unlikely or impossible, there’s always some scenario where the right confluence of factors will let you win. Ask around and some political veteran will tell you what those things are, while giving you a million reasons why they’ll never happen.
So, ignore the second part. History always proves these “never gonna happen” predictions wrong, again and again. But pay very close attention to the first, and make it a to-do list. List all those factors, and then start pulling those levers! As you succeed, you’ll notice that reality starts shifting and the impossible starts becoming tangible.
(Lobbyists for Comcast or Exxon Mobil get told “it’s never gonna happen” too, but can you imagine them just giving up?)
Once you get momentum, the “never gonna happen” guys start changing their tune and then, when you’ve achieved the impossible, the same people who told you impossible will tell you a million reasons why it was inevitable, and that you had nothing to do with it. (Again, you’ll want to ignore this part too.)
This is a much better question, though it’s a harder one to answer.
First, we’re setting up an A-Team on immigration right now. If you’re interested in joining, sign up.
Since there are a million things to do, it’s usually best for A-Teams to focus on issues behind major human problems, or places where humanity is at risk of really, deeply screwing up.
You have to use your instinct and play to your strengths. Where can you have the most impact?
Here are just a few examples of A-Team objectives that could be crucially important right now.
- Healthcare / ACA
- The Wall
- Racism / Fascism
- Ending the drug war
- Foreign policy
- Economic populism
- Renewable energy
If one of these interests you, or if you have another objective you’re burning to pursue, sign up.
Well, sign up if you’re interested in trying. We can show you how.
The process is essentially creating a list of all the conditions under which victory becomes first possible, and then likely. Then, go out, hustle and make all of those things happen. If you have to work all weekend, do it. If you have to stay up late, stay up late. Sometimes you’ll have to wrack your brain to think of who you might know who can help you. That’s cool. Just remember that humanity is depending on you not to lose, so everything on your list really needs to get done in some form.
This doesn’t mean you’re on your own. There will already be other activists, academics, journalists, bloggers and organizations working on your issue. Seek them out, and plug in. But don’t follow them blindly or trust them to always be right. Remember: the problem you’re facing is hard, and hasn’t been cracked yet, by these groups or anyone. All of the rhetoric and infrastructure on both sides of the debate are part of the same equilibrium—the one you’re trying to break through.
So help out graciously, accept help and guidance graciously, but maintain independence.
The most important thing is time.
One solution is to volunteer or contract part-time for an existing team. If you have specific skills and are interested, sign up.
But for starting a team, this can be a tough problem. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 because nobody (including us, probably) will promise you a steady job doing activism before seeing what you can do. So you and your teammates have to figure out some way to scrape together enough time to make a splash.
That said, if you think you’d be good at this or you’d like to try, be in touch. We can give you $15,000 for one month. Interested? Sign up!
Often the best answer to the funding question is a personal one. If you’re young, maybe you can live for free or cheap by moving back home. If you’re in a highly paid profession, maybe you can cut your hours and still pay your basic bills. If you have savings, maybe you can cruise for a few months.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to check out Thailand, or India, or build a tiny house, or try some rural or urban lifestyle where you don’t really need that much money. You don’t have to be in Washington DC or even North America to work on US issues, though time zones are an important consideration. (For example, one of us lives in Brazil right now.)
The 4 Hour Work Week is a book that rubs some people the wrong way, but also has great tips and mental structures for making time for the things you really care about in life. It’s worth checking out.
The cool thing about being able to self-fund your team (e.g. by living cheap and working unpaid) is that you get total independence to follow your vision. This lets you find opportunities for activism that perhaps nobody else in the world is thinking about. Too often, there’s only funding available to work on the boring stuff. Again remember: existing funding structures are part of the same equilibrium you're trying to shift. As funders ourselves we hope to be an exception, but there’s no magic answer. Finding a way to be independent, especially in the initial stages, is always best.
Yes of course, until you change them (or free yourself from them, somehow.)
But that’s what we’re talking about here!
Once you start making a big impact on an issue area, there are lots of ways to get funding. If you’re operating in a space where there are existing nonprofit organizations, figure out where they get funding, make friends with them, and be helpful to them. Your costs as a tiny team are so much lower than theirs, so you can get by on much smaller grants, or just one or two large ones. Once you prove your usefulness, some coalition allies will want to keep you in the game, and they’ll likely give you pointers on funding.
As you start to build large audiences, ask them to donate. And look out for individuals or organizations who support what you’re doing and might be able to give more. If you’re doing something really cutting edge, individual supporters might be the best fit at first. The world is a random place and very political people become wealthy sometimes. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the donors you find.
The world isn’t short on funding. It’s short on people who can take a donation of $100,000 or $1,000,000 and actually change the world in some big way. Once you learn how, and have a track record, you'll find funding if you look.
If you already have a small activism team making a big, measurable impact but you’re having problems fundraising, then definitely be in touch. We can very likely speed up your search for funding.
Have a question? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to be a part of this? Sign up.
That’s all for now. We can tell you more about where to focus and how to win. But right now you’ve a choice to make. You can keep calling Congress, and keep showing up at local vigils when something disastrous happens. (And you should.) But you can also take your skills, build a team, and do something much, much bigger.
Should I skip the rest of the page and just read this FAQ?
No! Definitely read the whole page :) This is just where we're putting responses to some common questions.
Where is the money coming from?
Fight for the Future for now, and we're looking for more funding for more teams, and longer runs.
Are you funding other things, like films, TV shows, books, software projects, journalism, community spaces, etc?
Nope. Just A-Teams.
There are many other valid ways to change the world of course, but we think this particular one (A-Teams) is very effective and not getting used as much as it should. We want to change that, and our resources are limited, so we have to stay focused on this singular mission.
Are you a boring nonprofit trying to steal my ideas?
No! Please don't send us your ideas :) I mean, we're always curious, but we actually don't think ideas themselves are very valuable. We're looking for people who can come up with audacious ideas in the moment, and turn them into reality, again and again.
Do I really have to fill out an application?
No. If you're clearly awesome at this, just introduce yourself. email@example.com
What's your metric for success, for a team?
Ultimately, policy change, or a significant shift in the national debate. Or, on a shorter timeline, at least the precursors to policy change: visible, palpable political pressure on important targets.
What's your metric for success, for yourselves?
Being able to make 3 or 6 solid new A-Teams happen on top issues while continuing work in our issue area (Internet freedom) would be a solid success. If that works, we think we’ll be able to go much farther. We think the limiting thing will be finding the right people, and the right structure.
How many groups will you try to create?
As many as we can, but we want to have some significant level of contact with each group in the first months/year at least so probably a dozen teams in the first 6 months.
Is the $15k a one shot grant, or the first of many grants?
Our goal is to be able to fund the best teams for 18 months at that level or higher, and we’d work with teams to develop a fundraising plan for what happens after that. If we find people who are awesome at this and they’re working on a primary issue like one of the ones we listed above, we’re confident we can get them funding. There’s some risk we won’t be able to, but we think it’s more likely than not that we will. For many of the same reasons you're reading this, there are a lot of people who are willing to help fund creative approaches to political change these days! So the hard part isn't funding. The hard part is finding things to fund that are unusually and self-evidently effective.
Are you funding teams outside the US?
Yes, possibly. If you're working in the Internet freedom space, definitely be in touch. Otherwise, we'd love to talk, but funding is unlikely in the short term. It's just too hard for us to evaluate teams and strategy.
Is there a deadline?
Not yet, but the world moves fast. Apply soon.
Is this a scam?
Do A-Teams have to use the Internet in some way?Kind of, but that doesn't mean you need any technical expertise to start. Part of what we think is happening now is that the Internet has made collective action much easier, creating all kinds of new opportunities for creative activism. So if you can code that's great (some of us are learning now using this delightful book) but you really just need to be able to write, and speak, and think about how to use whatever skills you have to tap the Internet's potential. (But you should definitely be able to think creatively about how to use the Internet to help you win. It's a very big deal.)
What do you get out of this?
Epic victories we will die knowing we helped make happen. Also, more company! We're committed to remaining small. This is our way to grow: helping start other A-Teams.
Our stretch goal is that we can make starting an A-Team a thing people know they can do, the way doing a startup, working for a community-based nonprofit, or going to grad school are things people do.
What if my team doesn't get picked for funding?
Please, find some way to keep doing it anyway. The world needs you.