Get Ready for Geek Day, Washington

Reddit co-founder Ohanian hatches next possible Internet advocacy campaign

Alexis Ohanian is not one to let a passing thought escape him. 

At a panel event bluntly titled "Startups + Politics: Why You Should Give a Shit," Ohanian, a local startup founder, and three speakers from the legislative side (two Colorado senatorial aides and a former chief of technology for the Federal Communications Commission) joined a passionate crowd of Colorado startup denizens to talk about Internet advocacy—what they're doing right, and how to keep the Internet free. Surrounded by an audience of deeply invested  startup employees and Internet activists, Ohanian assumed his familiar role of Internet ambassador to the crowd, which aired its grievances toward the lack of communication between startups and politicians. With seemingly nothing to lose, Ohanian offered up his own spur-of-the-moment idea.

Coyly prefacing with "so, this may be terrible," Ohanian asked the panel and crowd, "What if we chose a day to 'geek bomb' D.C.?" He went on to hash out the idea on the spot, suggesting an organized day where tech-savvy individuals from every district could come to lobby their representatives and educate a Congress that many feel is well out of touch with the tech and startup communities.

The idea was met enthusiastically by the crowd, including fellow panelist and co-founder of Boulder startup Simple Energy, Yoav Lurie, who jokingly told the audience he'd already booked his flight to "Geek Day."

For audience members and journalists in the room, Geek Day's conception was almost surreal, with the idea picking up steam to the point that potential dates (March 14th—Pi Day—was Ohanian's first thought) were being bandied about. With the panel not even half over, Reddit gm and panel moderator Erik Martin appeared ready to make plans. "This is something Alexis and I will probably go back and—probably over a couple of drinks—start to think about. This is pretty much how the bus tour started," he told the crowd. Later, after the panel, ideas of a Geek Day test run at the state level before the main stage of Capitol Hill were also discussed.

The whole stream of consciousness process provides a small insight into the way that today's entrepreneurial class works. It's fast, casual and extremely iterative, with no idea left undiscussed. In many ways, it embodies the spirit of Reddit's proposed bus tour. For fellow geeks, it's why many look to Ohanian as the figurehead for Internet advocacy. It's a role he plays with considerable grace, despite its pressures. (During one revealing instant after an audience member voiced his frustrations on the inefficencies of a two-party system, Ohanian smirked with a sense of faux nervousness. "Everybody is looking at me," he said quietly to nobody in particular.) For Ohanian though, Geek Day was just one momentary thought that, much like this tour, serves the end goal of attracting attention to what he and Reddit see as an under-covered issue. 

"If you create something that gets a lot of attention it doesn't matter if you have an in with a major news network or a prime-time slot," he told a small gathering of reporters after the speech. "You can have millions of people see and know about an event like this before the news producers wake up in the morning and people will say, 'Oh this is a big deal we need to cover it.' Then it becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy." 

As for the name choice, Ohanian appeared reticent but didn't completely walk back the use of the word "Geek" for the day. "The Internet will probably have a better idea," he said. For Ohanian, who seems to have had only success letting the Internet be his muse, the odds are good that's true.