On a hot Sunday afternoon, in the wake of the killings of Mike Ramos, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people, one of our team members, Kate McArdle, was on the lawn of Huston-Tillotson University listening to Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition speak about what reparations meant. In his words, reparations did not have to be limited to a large governmental program. They can also take the form of daily acts that each person undertakes. These words struck a chord in Kate, and she immediately messaged the rest of our team and asked a question:
“Is there any way we could allow Black candidates free access to Blue Squad as a form of reparations?”
The short answer to this question is:
Starting today, Blue Squad will offer all Black candidates access to our platform for $50/month through their primary election.
After the primary, Blue Squad will be available to Black candidates at a 50% discount through their general election.
How to apply for this program
To access this program, simply contact us and tell us you’re interested in participating. You can use this form to contact us.
Things you should know
If you’re applying to this program, you should know a few things:
Due to campaign finance rules, we cannot legally offer our platform at a discounted price without accounting for the remaining portion of the fee as an in-kind contribution to your campaign. Therefore, if you participate in the program, you must be prepared to record and disclose the relevant in-kind contribution from Blue Squad. Since we charge larger fees for larger campaigns, the exact amount of the in-kind contribution will depend on the size of your race. We will assist you as much as possible with the information you need to stay compliant.
Additionally, depending on your race, there may be limits on how much in-kind contribution you can receive. Once the discount exceeds your campaign’s limit, we will have to resume normal pricing for continued use of Blue Squad.
Who this is for
Saying we will provide this discount to all Black candidates raises the question of “Who is Black?” We are not qualified to determine who is Black and who is not. If you tell us you identify as Black, we will accept your claim at face value and offer the discount. We will likely make a list of all program participants publicly-available.
Perhaps this should go without saying, but we are not offering this program to Black candidates that are not progressive, as defined here.
Why We’re Doing This
With the announcement and mechanics of this program now covered, I wanted to dive deeper into our reasons for the program.
It’s Our Mission
Our mission at Blue Squad is to build a lasting progressive society. We have five key components to how we define progressivism, but perhaps the most pertinent one in this context is:
The belief that all people should have the freedom and accessibility to lead a fulfilling and secure life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity.
While this statement doesn’t explicitly mention the concepts of equity and inequity, it’s inherently tied to them. If we want a society where all people have the same freedoms, we have to recognize that not only does inequity exist throughout our society, but that it has been put there by design, and that we must combat it at every turn.
Electoral politics are not free of inequity’s reach. Running a political campaign means undertaking a daunting financial risk. It’s a full-time job that doesn’t actually pay anything. Combine that with the inequities already imposed upon Black people in the United States, and what you get is an enormous racial disparity in the number of Black people running for office. According to this Marie Claire article, there are 204 Black candidates running at the local, state, or federal level (props to Marie Claire of all places for putting in the work here) as Democrats or non-partisans. Our own data in Blue Squad shows there are 5,567 active Democratic candidates, which means that only 3.6% of them are Black.
That needs to change, and everyone should be doing what they can to create a more representative government.
American Progress Comes From Black Progress
Significant research has been done to show almost every structural change toward progress in American society is a result of the work of Black people. Black voters (women in particular) are often cited as a determining factor when electing progressive candidates. Black legislators have been instrumental in shaping civil rights policy that benefited everyone. We should then conclude that if we elect more Black candidates, we will see more progress in America, and if we want more Black candidates, we must reduce the inequity they face when running for office.
Note: This is not to say that non-Black candidates or people are exempt from their own responsibilities in the fight for progress. Instead, we are merely recognizing the pronounced effect Black people have had on this fight.
An Experiment in Socially-Driven Business
As stated earlier in this post, our company’s mission is to build a more progressive society. That mission extends to the very nature of Blue Squad’s existence. We are structured as a for-profit entity (specifically, a public benefit corporation), which means our costs must be supported by revenue from customers. The reason we chose to operate this way is that we want to prove that it’s possible to build a viable business that not only supports progressive values but is directly incentivized to fight for those values. Blue Squad itself is an experiment designed to prove that viability.
Our program for Black candidates is an experiment within the experiment. We want to learn what will happen to our business if we change a core part of our model (pricing) to align with a highly progressive idea (reparations). An ideal outcome is that doing so actually increases our overall revenue and even profitability as Black candidates use our product, bring in more users, and allow us to attract even more customers because of increased activity on the platform. It’s also possible that the program will have a negative financial impact on us. E.g., we may attract only a few Black candidates as customers that require a significant amount of time to support for reasons independent of their race. Whatever the outcome, we are committed to seeing the program in its current form through November. We know the experiment itself will have been valuable, and, as I discuss later, we will use any results to improve our ability to reduce inequity.
In reading this section, you might have a gut reaction that a non-Black-led company potentially benefiting from reparations is wrong, but we want to show that a highly-progressive policy like reparations is not just the right thing to do, but economically beneficial for every party involved.
Why We’re Not Doing More
It’s fair to ask why we’re not going all the way and just offering Blue Squad for free to Black candidates. Here are our reasons:
Startups have to manage their burn rate
We’re a startup and are currently supporting our costs through seed funding. It’s very important for us to keep our burn rate as low as possible so we have enough time to refine our product and prove out our business model. This is already hard; offering the product for free makes it harder.
Customers should have skin in the game
Customers tend to be more invested in a new product if they’ve actually paid for it. Early on in a company’s life, it’s very important to have customers that are willing to invest the necessary time to use the product, which tends to result in feedback on what works and what doesn’t. That feedback is invaluable as we refine our product to better meet the needs of our customers.
You might disagree with these reasons or feel unsatisfied with them - that’s ok. We’d like to hear your feedback. Feel free to contact us and express your opinion.
What Comes Next
Change does not come instantly, and the fight for progress is long. It’s no different with this program. Although this election cycle will end on November 3, 2020, our interest in fighting inequity will not. That means we are thinking of this program as “version 1”. We’ll continue to iterate and improve it over time and across election cycles. In other words, we recognize that as a company we are only taking our first steps in helping Black progressive candidates achieve equal representation in elected office. We have many more steps ahead of us.