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October 4, 2017

Students Create Online Platform for Civic Engagement

Two University students recently created an online platform called Gather to enhance participation in political activism. The mobile application for the platform was launched this weekend.

Third-year students Alexander Swerdlow and Ryan Kuang founded Gather in June in an effort to bring together activists with similar interests. The platform customizes users’ recommendations according to the topics of political and civic interest in their user profiles.

“When you [are on] Spotify, for example, it shows you music that they know you will be interested in.... We are going to be able to match people with organizations and calls to action and gatherings based on the [political and civic interests] they’ve identified. It makes it stupid easy,” Swerdlow said.

Organizers can use Gather to host and advertise a gathering, initiate general calls for action, and get in touch with a network of activists ready to participate in political action. People can also create new communities within the platform and attract new members.

The idea to build the platform was born during the College New Venture Challenge at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in May. Gather won third place in the challenge, receiving a $3,000 reward. The original Gather, however, served a different purpose. The Polsky Center’s announcement said that “Gather streamlines and centralizes communications and engagement for student conferences such as Model United Nations.”

Swerdlow thought of the possibility to focus exclusively on political conferences. “We saw this big opportunity to capitalize on the waves of...democracy that’s kind of taken over right now. You see massive protest on a regular basis both on the left and the right,” Swerdlow said.

Swerdlow and Kuang told The Maroon that the platform is nonpartisan. Gather allows both progressive and conservative groups to use the platform but prohibits any form of hate speech. Neither student is associated with any activist group.

“We are going to make sure that groups that represent the “alt-right” and white-supremacy organizations are not able to have a voice on our platform. [They are not conducive to] any sort of meaningful discourse in the political space,” Swerdlow said.

According to Swerdlow and Kuang, Gather is for-profit and registered as a corporation in the state of Illinois. While the basic functions of the platform are free for all, paid subscriptions provide organizers with further information, marketing tools, and increased publicity in activist feeds. Partnering with third-party operations and providing a platform for advertisements will also bring revenue to the company. So far, Gather has partnerships with six civic organizations in Chicago, including ACA Consumer Advocacy—an organization that educates how the Affordable Care Act benefits Americans—and Direct Action Everywhere, a group that advocates for animal liberation.

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