Coder turns AWS IoT Button into ACLU donation button

Nathan Pryor programmed the AWS IoT Button to create the ACLU Dash Button, making it easier to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union

Coder turns AWS IoT Button into ACLU donation button
Nathan Pryor

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered people of Japanese descent, many American citizens, to be relocated to internment camps. Even those with as little as one-sixteenth Japanese blood were interned. Over 110,000 Japanese Americans from California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona were affected. Many had just six days to sell all their possessions before being interned!

President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-partisan, non-profit argued against these internments. The ACLU aims "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."

What does that have to do with IoT? How can technologists apply their skills for good?

Nathan Pryor's IoT Donation Button shows how technology in the hands of an inspired individual can be a force for good. He's created the ACLU Dash Button, adapting the Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT button to make it easier to donate to the ACLU. 

How the AWS IoT Button works

The AWS IoT Button is a simple Wi-Fi device that’s easy to configure and integrate with AWS IoT cloud services. It costs $19.95 and lasts for 2,000 clicks on a single battery.

aws iot button AWS

Developers can program the AWS IoT button to control internet-connected devices and services. The button connects to the AWS Cloud where settings determine what should be done when the button is pressed.

The AWS IoT Button is first configured to connect to the AWS cloud through a Wi-Fi network and then provisioned with an AWS IoT certificate and private key. The button securely connects to AWS IoT and publishes a message on a topic when it’s pressed. Rules set up in the AWS IoT rules engine determine what action should be taken. These rules invoke a Lambda function, which can be custom code (in Node.js, Python, or Java). Applications using DynamoDB and Simple Notification Service can be configured to connect to third-party services.

ACLU Donation Button Skilled Analysts

Creating the ACLU Dash Button

Pryor describes himself as a “designer, programmer, tinkerer and crafter.” He explains in a post on Medium, “It got me thinking: Why reserve that instant gratification for physical goods? Why not push a button and do some real good?”

He developed a Python script and built it into a function at Amazon’s AWS Lambda service. Pressing the button triggers the script, which loads up the ACLU donation page. It fills in the donor’s details and credit card information to make a donation. The script sends the donor a text message to confirm that the operation was successful.

Pryor's Donation Button is just a proof of concept. He shared code for the donation button on GitHub with the caveat that others use it at their own risk. More important, his project is an inspiring example of how an individual developer can make a difference. A little inspiration, the Amazon IoT button and a Python script now direct donations to the ACLU, empowering it to do more good.

Volunteer opportunities

Even if you’re not a developer, you can still volunteer your expertise in a range of ways. Here are four groups that welcome volunteers who have technical skills:

  • Rise Stronger: Founded by Andy Kim, a former White House Director for Iraq at the National Security Council, the group has 30,000 members across the country working to ensure that elected officials and government are both responsible and accountable to the people.
  • Progressive Coders Network: This network of volunteers creates open-source tools for the progressive movement to champion a platform centered in social and economic justice.
  • Tech For Campaigns: TFC is a community that matches volunteer technical skills with campaigns.
  • Ragtag: This volunteer community leverages experience and expertise in technology to boost and facilitate offline community building. They develop applications to enable civic activism, and they offer technical support.

Non-profits and campaigns rely on both donors and volunteers. Technical volunteers, however, are especially valuable for their ability to make a huge impact quickly through the creative application of technology. So, if the idea of forced internments and erosion of civil liberties concerns you, now is the time to get involved.

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