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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:

At its most basic this mobile app would be a simple quick-dial application to call your senators and represenatative about any issue you might need to discuss with them, from the possibility of another government shutdown to securing a recommendation to a service academy for your child. Pull out your phone, bring up the app, hit the "Call Sen. Murray now" button and your phone's dial screen comes up, populated with Senator Murray's phone number. You're on your way to being connected to her staff in Washington (or, as we say around Seattle, the other Washington.)

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips? Flames? Ideas? (5+ / 0-)

    Thanks for reading. While I'm unemployed I have two choices when I'm not looking for a paying job. Work on side projects like this that keep me busy and learning things, or go crazy. And I've been going crazy since high school, so there's really no challenge in that.

    Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    by Omir the Storyteller on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 02:42:18 PM PDT

    •  Sounds like this has possibilities. (2+ / 0-)

      Local phone number contacts would be important.
      Key emails would also be helpful.
      To take it a step further, campaign contacts for those who want to volunteer or donate.

      •  Thanks for the feedback (0+ / 0-)

        I agree that emails and local phone numbers would be great to have. I'm still looking for a good API I can query to get local office information. Emails are a little trickier; congresspeople almost all use contact forms on their websites.

        And campaign contacts . . . yeah, I have a couple of ideas along those lines too.

        Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

        by Omir the Storyteller on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 04:56:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This Is A Very Good Initiative (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Omir the Storyteller

    Anything that helps to get citizens engaged in public policy is worthwhile.

    I don't know whether this can be easily monetized or not - simply because the average citizen is yet to realize how much of their liberty, and economic well being is dependent on the political process.

    It's almost like to trying to sell shoes to a tribe of primitives who have never worn shoes - they need to first attach some value to the idea of shoes, before being willing to trade their money (or other medium of exchange) for shoes.

    •  That's an interesting analogy (0+ / 0-)

      I don't think I could monetize it from consumer side, except maybe for a donate button – and I want to be careful about that because I don't want to just be another guy in line at the Progressive ATM. I hate to sound crass, but the idea would be to get the app into the hands of people who will use it, and then tell the advocacy groups, "Here is a platform you can use to get your message out, with X numbers of users for $Y, with better results than an email campaign, and here's why." There's a bit of a drawback in that some of these advocacy groups are in it for money first, progress second; but maybe this will point out who is really in it to make the world a better place, and who's in it for the money.

      A better analogy to the shoes might be comparing this to malaria shots. There are demonstrable benefits to having the shots, but you look to someone from the outside to both provide the shots and explaining why you should have them. But you can only take an analogy like tha tso far. :-)

      Thanks for the input.

      Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 05:09:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Which advocacy groups? (0+ / 0-)

    If you are selling users to advocacy groups, why should users trust you that you will be looking out for their interests? How do they know that you are promoting progressive legislation and not a "Bill to Preserve Trees and Apple Pie" that actually enables coal companies to blow up mountains (and that pays you a big fee to misinform people)? Ensuring that trust is one of the most important parts and the most difficult to arrange. People who know you may trust you, but what about everyone else? How can you build that trust?

    And what is progressive? Is PETA progressive? Is Emily's List progressive? Deciding who gets to advertise on your app is a big decision. You'll find that it is a lot more difficult than it seems at first.

    So think long and hard about how to solve those two problems.

    •  Those are good questions (0+ / 0-)

      and definitely deserve some thought. The quick answer to the first is, "The same way you determine whether the ads flogging petitions on Daily Kos or that show up in your inbox from AARP, Truthout, MoveOn and the like are legit." You let the group present its case in an ad that appears before the dialer screen, and the user has an opportunity to do their research and get the facts before they press the button.

      Keep in mind also that if the group that wants to run 18 coal trains a day across Washington puts an ad up on the app, there's nothing stopping the user from making the call and telling their representative to vote against approving the coal ports. That's a two-edged sword, because right-wingers could use the app to do the exact same thing, but that's the chance you take.

      As for the second, I'm still in the "get the app written" stage of the project. If the only people wanting to advertise are the Louie Gohmert For President campaign and the Alliance To Strip Mine West Virginia, though, I may have to rethink things.

      Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 06:52:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You might consider writing the app for DailyKos (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Omir the Storyteller

        or MoveOn, or some other progressive organization with a wide agenda. They could distribute it to their supporters and their supporters would value it because they trusted DailyKos/MoveON/etc. This would address the trust issue and would also give you a way to distribute your app to potential users. But you would then need to give up control over the use of the app to these groups.

        P.S. You probably don't have to worry about the Louie Gohmert For President campaign and the Alliance To Strip Mine West Virginia, but you might be approached by People for a Grand Bargain, the Anthony Weiner for Mayor campaign, and People United Against Fluoride and High-Voltage Transmission Lines. Do your users want action alerts from them?

        •  Actually a Daily Kos action alert app (0+ / 0-)

          would be a fine idea. The sponsor would have to be someone with enough of a user base to make it worth the organization's time to send out the alerts.

          Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

          by Omir the Storyteller on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:39:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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