Next week I'm joining 30 strangers on a hackathon competition to Austin, Texas. It's called "Startup Bus," and it's going to be a week of no sleeping.
We will have 72 hours to conceive, build and launch a startup as we travel by bus from various cities across the U.S. on the way to the South by Southwest conference in Austin next month. I have no idea who the others on the bus are, and we have no idea who's going to end up wanting to work together. It's a crazy competition where a select group of hackers, hustlers and designers come up with up with an idea and turn it into a real product. This year I'm joining the bus from New York City.
Given that I'm currently serving in the military, with a background in activism, some may question why I would choose to jump on such an adventure. It's simple: This is the future of activism.
Just over two years ago, my good friend Ty Walrod and I came up with an equally crazy idea to help move forward the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), the law that prohibited gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the U.S. military. We wanted to connect these service members' suffering under the policy using hidden social media. Many people told us that they didn't see the point, pointing out that there were already notable LGBT organizations working on the issue and asserting that creating a whole new organization would simply crowd the field. We had no money, but we believed in our idea. Thus OutServe, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, was launched, and a whole new battlefield was established for the fight.
We had some crazy ideas. We wanted to launch a magazine, and within weeks a team was formed to launch a magazine for LGBT service members. It landed on the front page of CNN.com for days and was being distributed on military installations worldwide. With zero money, we organized a conference in Las Vegas for LGBT service members just a month after DADT repeal. Innovation and creative thinking to create some of the largest ideas were our drivers. Now OutServe-SLDN has become the leading organization for LGBT service members, who work for the United States' largest LGBT employer, and there is no sign of our momentum slowing down. And it all started with a simple Facebook page and innovative ideas.
This is the mindset we must now use to move other initiatives forward. Capitalism is no longer the driver of activism; it's innovation and entrepreneurial skills. The way tech startups are happening in Silicon Valley is no different from the way activists can be in Washington, D.C. -- with no capital, but with a quick, innovative idea. A simple post on Facebook or a video on YouTube has the capability to go viral, which can instantly create a new platform overnight. If we as a movement do not take risks on younger, more tech-startup types of organizations, then we risk losing a new sense of energy in our movement.
For example, frustrated by the lack of millennial donations to organizations, Ty Walrod, the co-founder of OutServe, went on to co-found Bright Funds in San Francisco. That organization is now raising substantial financing and revolutionizing the way people give to organizations that they care about. Startups have become my generation's garage rock bands, and we are changing the world with it.
That's why I'll be on the bus.
Make sure to follow my adventure on one my social media channels and root for my team to win: