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A Political Geek's Guide To South by Southwest

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, March 6 2012

Photo: Flickr/alexdecarvalho

Every year, creative types from around the world descend upon Austin to party, network, and party -- and oh yeah -- learn a few things from panel discussions at the digital media, music and film festival South by Southwest.

This year's SXSW, which runs March 9-18, features dozens of interesting panels on networked politics, digital activism, Government 2.0 and the 2012 presidential campaign. Not only that, staff from President Obama's re-election campaign are going to kick off the event this Friday evening with a "Technology 4 Obama" fundraiser in the form of a cocktail party at the Six Lounge in Austin. Tickets are $500 a person, and those who pony up will get to meet the country's former first Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, the Obama campaign's Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter, the campaign's Digital Director Teddy Goff, and the campaign's Chief Technology Officer Harper Reed.

If you can't cough up $500, you can sign up to meet the Obama campaign's Chief Integration and Innovation Officer Michael Slaby, who will be holding "office hours" on Saturday between 3pm and 4.45pm. He tweets that he wants to hear from people who want to help the campaign, but adds on his office hours listing that he doesn't want vendor pitches or to meet the press. Ouch.

You can also catch Teddy Goff on a Sunday afternoon panel with our own Micah Sifry. They'll speak on a panel entitled: "Election 2012: Campaigns, Coverage & the Internet." Also scheduled to speak on the panel are:'s North American Editor Claudia Milne; University of North Carolina Professor Zeynep Tufekci and Time's White House Correspondent Michael Scherer.

Other than this, many of the movers and shakers who are changing the business of governing will speak at SXSW this year. And there'll be other intriguing panels on the origins of Anonymous, what it was like to live-tweet Osama Bin Laden's death, how 21st century tools are undermining traditional forms of power, and how "slactivism" can be turned into "activism," among other things:

  • Beyond SOPA/PIPA: Moving Forward With Engine Advocacy
    Speakers:Andrew Rasiej, founder & president, Personal Democracy Media/NY Tech Meetup; Laurent Crenshaw, legislative director, Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif;) Mark Stanley, new media director, Center for Democracy & Technology; Mike McGeary, founder, Engine Advocacy, strategist, Hattery Labs.
    Hashtags for Twitter Conversations: #sxsw #SopaPipa
  • SOPA/PIPA: Why the Open Internet Needs Us
    Speakers:Andrew McLaughlin, VP, Tumblr; Elizabeth Stark, Stanford/Ideas for a Better Internet; Gary Kovacs. CEO/Mozilla.
    Hashtags for twitter Conversations: #sxsw #SopaPipa
  • Do People Really Want A Participatory Government?
    Speakers: Jed Sundwall, president, Measured Voice. Sundwall has developed social media strategies for,, The World Bank, PayPal, and Unilever; Michelle Chronister, program analyst for the US General Services Administration (GSA.)
    Hashtags for Twitter conversation: #sxsw #govengage
  • Future of Cities: Technology In Public Service
    Speakers: Code for America's Director of Strategy Abhi Nemani; Chris Vein, deputy United States chief technology officer for government innovation, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; John Tolva, Chicago's chief technology officer; Nigel Jacob, co-chair of Mayor's office of New Urban Mechanics Boston City Hall; Rachel Sterne, New York City's chief digital officer.
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #FutureCity
    The New York Tech Meetup is also hosting a "Made in New York" party on Sunday night.
  • Austin 2032: Shaping Future Cities with Mobile Data
    Speakers:Alexander Howard, Government 2.0 correspondent, 
O’Reilly Media; Chris Volinsky, director, statistics research, AT&T Labs-Research; Chris Osgood, co-chair, Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, Boston City Hall; Eric Paulos, associate professor, Carnegie Mellon University.
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #cityfuture
  • An Unusual Arsenal: Tech Tools to Topple a Tyrant
    Speakers: David Gorodyansky, CEO & Founder AnchorFree; Jamal Dajani, vice president for the Middle East and North Africa Internews Network; Neal Ungerleider, reporter for Fast Company, Peter Fein, Telecomix, Sonja Gittens-Ottley, manager, Business and Human Rights Program, Yahoo!
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #overthrow
  • How Social Media Imperils Political Parties
    Speakers: Joe Trippi, founder & president, Joe Trippi & Associates; Marci Harris, CEO, POPVOX; Mark McKinnon, vice chairman, Hill + Knowlton Strategies; Matt Bai, chief political correspondent, New York Times Magazine and author of The Argument; Nathan Daschle, CEO,
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #ruckus
  • But Hasn't Politics Always Been Social?
    Speakers: Adam Conner, associate manager for policy, Facebook; Katie Harbath, associate manager for policy, Facebook.
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #FBpolitics
  • Big Data: Powering the Race for the Whitehouse
    Speakers: Patrick Ruffini, Engage; Josh Hendler, Jumo; Kristen Soltis, The Winston Group; Dan Siroker, Optimizely; Alex Lundry, TargetPoint Consulting
    Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #data2012

      Siroker was in a recent Financial Times article that described how the Obama campaign in 2008 was able to raise millions more in campaign donations by optimizing its web site by testing which images most appealed to the site's audience. Not surprisingly, a picture of the Obama family reeled in more bucks than a photo of Obama on his own giving a speech.

    • Occupying Media: 24 Hour Protest People
      Speakers: Boyd Carter, Managing Director, Artisan Technology Solutions; Charles Wyble, co-founder and chief technology officer, Free Network Foundation, Colin Delany, Democratic digital politics strategist,; Kira Annika, and Priscilla Grim, OWS.
      Hashtags for Twitter conversation: #sxsw #OccuMedia
    • How Digital Softened Brazil's Iron Lady, a session on the 2010 election of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president who connected with millions online during her campaign.
      Speaker: Andrew Paryzer, director of accounts, Blue State Digital
      Hashtags for Twitter conversation: #sxsw #DigiBrazil
    • Internet Power: After Cyber-Optimism and Pessimism
      Speakers: Chris Bronk, Rice University professor, Mary Joycem founder of the Meta-Activism Project, Patrick Meier, director of Ushahidi's of Crisis Mapping & Partnerships, Richard Boly, the U.S. Department of State's director of eDiplomacy
      Hashtags for Twitter conversation: #sxsw #NetPower
    • Your iPhone Is Political: Mobile Democracy
      Speakers: Josh Levy, Internet campaign director, Free Press (and formerly of techPresident!); Katherine Maher, fellow,; Nilay Patel, managing editor, The Verge; Parul Desai, communications policy counsel, Consumers Union
      Hashtags for Twitter conversation: #sxsw #openmobile
    • Turning Slacktivism Into Online Activism
      Speakers: Boyd Neil, former trade union activist and national practice leader, social media and digital communications, Hill & Knowlton, Canada
      Hashtags for Twitter conversations: #sxsw #activism

      This post has been updated