Our founding fathers envisioned a government where we would govern ourselves by electing representatives to make laws on our behalf. In order for this to work the citizens of their fledgling nation would need to be informed on the issues of the day, and to convey their wishes to their elected representatives.
Unfortunately, our democracy has been watered down and bought out to where the loudest voices are the ones with the money to lobby congress and
offer substantial bribes finance congresspeople's re-election campaigns. We ordinary citizens – the ones who aren't transfixed by the panem et circenses offered up by the entertainment-industrial complex – often feel powerless in the face of such political inertia.
We write letters, but letters get held up for anthrax screening, and by the time the letter gets to the congressperson, the vote is long past. We sign petitions, but they have no real effect other than to make us feel good about signing something. We go to the congressperson's web site and send an email, but we seldom have an indication that the message is read.
There is, however, one tool that works and can make a difference. Read on past the kumquat-flavored dental floss for an explanation, and how I want to put it to work, and how you can help.
Personal contact with your elected officials is the key to having your voice heard. That's why lobbyists get paid the big bucks – they have the influence and money to be able to get face-to-face meetings with senators and representatives.
You and I can't do that, except under exceptional circumstances, but we can still make our voice heard, and most of us have a tool that will allow us to do so easily. If there's an issue that catches our eye or ear, we can pull out a mobile phone and wherever we are, call our representatives in Congress to ask for action on a particular topic. We likely won't get the congressperson on the line, but their staff keeps track of the number of calls on the various issues in front of Congress, and a deluge of calls for or against a particular topic can sway a vote.
Especially if the undercurrent of the call is "This issue is important to me, and if you don't vote in the interests of the people of our state, I'll work to elect someone who will." Because even with all the money they spend, they still can't buy votes, and you can spend all the money you want to try to get a turd elected, but if people see it for the turd it is, no amount of money will put the turd into office.
All of us get emails from advocacy groups all the time, requests for a withdrawal from the ATM at the Bank of Populist Voters wrapped in a veneer of issue advocacy. I swear, "Please donate to us so we can continue our work of sending you scary-sounding emails!" is not far from the truth. I've got some time between paying employment at the moment, so I decided I was going to work on a project that combines issue advocacy with a direct means of contacting those who can do something about the issues, and not adding to the begging for bucks that passes for advocacy in some quarters.
What would such a tool look like? Take a look at these mockups:
Ah, but I have more in mind.
Where did the anti-fracking text come from? In an ideal world an app like this would be available as a platform for, say, an anti-fracking group to place a display ad in front of the dialing page to let the app's users know that an important vote on fracking is coming up in Congress and to educate them as to why the fracking bill under consideration is a bad idea, and to encourage them to call their senators and representative to urge them to vote "Nay" on the bill in question. Tomorrow that ad might be replaced by a message about confirming an agency head nominee, or passing a farm bill, or strengthening the social safety net, or maybe just asking you to call and thank them for a particularly courageous stand they took.
Yes, the idea would be to sell that ad space. I don't have any illusions I could live off the proceeds, although that would be lovely, but having enough money to pay for the server costs and maybe occasionally buying some chile rellenos at the local Mexican restaurant would be nice.
Some of the other possibilities I'm thinking about for something like this would be to add buttons for local (e.g. in-state) offices, which might be easier to get through to (and if you call DC and two state offices, that's three calls, right?) and possibly changing the code so that the sponsor can designate who they would like called. This would be similar to the thinly-veiled attack ads similar to "Call Representative Pettifogger and tell him you don't want to see oil drilling at Old Faithful" you see on TV all the time. And after all this is designed for a smartphone; there could be leaderboards and other social aspects to the app.
But before I start getting too fancy with this app, I would like to be sure there's a market for it. So friendly and helpful progressives of Daily Kos, this is where you come in. Please be honest with me:
1. Would you be interested in installing and using an app like this? At first it would be Android only because that's what I have the tools to develop for, but iPhone and Windows Phone might be around the corner.
2. What features would you like to see? What have I left out? What features that I described are dumber than a box of rocks?
3. Anything I've left out, glossed over or forgotten?
Among the things I firmly believe are: (1) The mobile web is the way of the future, and taking advantage of it now will give us a leg up as more and more people switch from desktops for their internet experience to mobile phones and tables; and (2) Americans are by and large good people who will do the right thing if presented with the facts, and this is one more way to get people interested in, educated about and involved in the political process. And the more they know, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.