We are living in the midst of a technological revolution the like of which the world has never seen.
The internet has changed the landscape of news and politics. It allows us as individuals to not only choose the reliability of our own sources of information, but also to have our opinions heard by all manner of outlets.
Social media has become a means of crusade for eager-minded political aficionados. A place to voice their up-to-the-minute love or disgust at trending issues with regards to government or congress. Articles are shared, petitions signed, and when words just can’t do the feeling justice, there’s an emoticon to fill the void.
The trouble is, such plentitude can become overwhelming. It is the equivalent of a constant ‘Orange Alert’ terror threat or the unending ‘Breaking News’ sections of 24 hour coverage. It will raise your heart rate, but leave you feeling like there’s so much to do, that there’s nothing you can do.
Social media has become a means of crusade for eager-minded political aficionados. Articles are shared, petitions signed, and when words just can’t do the feeling justice, there’s an emoticon to fill the void.
Unfortunately, for those who do become more involved in the political system, change is often a slow going experience. The instant gratification provided by social media ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ becomes far less abundant when concerned with a daily plan of action to instigate real change. It can become an almost tedious task of phoning senators, emailing offices, and attending town-hall meetings. It becomes an area of dedication that most are too busy to fill – we have lives to lead, after all!
Resistance is fertile
But thankfully, there are solutions to the problems. The technicians are answering the call of those with the will, but without the time.
Resistbot is an app that allows users to send a personalized fax to their senators in Congress by way of a text message. All one has to do is text ‘resist’ to 50409, where a bot will ask you for your zip-code in order to find out the names of your congresspeople. Once located, you will be able to type and send your message, which will be faxed to the offices of both. You will receive a picture of the fax within minutes.
“In a week, we’ve seen tens of thousands of what are clearly very personalized and authentic letters from constituents,” says Jason Putorti, a volunteer who helped build the free app service. “Resistbot is just one more experiment in a long lineage, and our goal is that the user experience will help people engage regularly with the people that represent them.”
According to the Congressional Management Foundation, phone calls and emails to many representatives have at least quadrupled since Trump has taken office. Such an increase means that many concerned citizens attempting to reach their senators are now being met with busy phone lines or full voicemails. Given the severity of many of the decisions being made, a lack of communication of this magnitude could indeed become a real threat to democracy. If the voices of the constituents cannot be heard, how will they be represented?
“In a week, we’ve seen tens of thousands of what are clearly very personalized and authentic letters from constituents” – Resistbot volunteer
Writing for Product Hunt, Resistbot co-creator Eric Ries says: “Resistbot was born out of my personal frustrations with trying to contact my members of Congress. I know it’s important to do it every day, and there are dozens of blog posts and websites that tell you only a certain way “counts”. Ries, upon realizing his frustrations when trying to call and email, decided to give faxing a go. “I started faxing every day. And I wanted to make sure my faxes were getting through, so I started learning about how Congressional offices handle messages.”
He learned that most of them sifted the messages through a software in order to recognize whether they were ‘for’ or ‘against’, to verify that they were from a real constituent, and also that they were not a pre-created form letter.
With this in mind, Resistbot was born.
Demystifying the political
The beauty of the app is its intimacy. Many constituents may feel intimidated by the thought of calling or showing up to an office of their representative to voice their concerns, but with Resistbot, it’s a simple action that most do tens of times a day. Furthermore, it demystifies the spiderweb of politics for the uninitiated – it finds your congresspeople for you, and does all the work of transforming your text into a letter, before sending it to the correct number.
It is a chance for every constituent who has been affected by policy to become engaged, without the added hurdle of jumping through political hoops. The crucial component of Resistbot is the personal message behind the text.
“Our research shows that form letters are totally ignored by Congress. Only original, unique messages count,” their website states. “But they don’t have to be complicated or fancy. Just a few sentences from a real-life voter gets their attention. Don’t worry about typos or mistakes, that just further shows you’re a real person.”
The app service has been met with some hesitation. One congressional office highlighted the fact that since faxes aren’t the most popular form of communication, some offices might not have a proper procedure for dealing with them. Furthermore, Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, cautions that, because Resistbot does not ask for your address on the first message, the aforementioned screening of messages might result in the letter being discarded. “Who am I going to blame if I don’t get a message back? You’re going to blame the member of Congress; you’re going to think you’re ignored” said Fitch. “And so that really doesn’t facilitate a good democratic dialogue in a society – that actually has the opposite effect of creating more distrust about democratic institutions.”
It’s [Resistbot app] foremost goal is to get you politically engaged, and the designers believe that by eliminating the need for an address on the first encounter, more people are likely to use the service.
In defense, Putorti states that: “Our most critical goal is daily civic engagement, and everything we’re doing is guided by that north star.” Resistbot requests your address the day after you send your first message. It’s foremost goal is to get you involved, and the designers believe that by eliminating the need for an address on the first encounter, more people are likely to use the service: “On the second day when we set up a user’s member of Congress, there’s an understanding of why that’s needed without explanation.”
The future is now
Resistbot has plans to expand its offerings in the future. Since it’s launch, it has already developed the capability to help users write letters to newspaper editors and has reminded voters of registration deadlines.
With the political pendulum as it is, it is imperative that we as constituents are able to voice our concerns.
The creators, whose design improvements on the service are open source, also have ambitions to help find town hall meetings or make it easier to call congress – but for those of you too anxious to wait, check out the following:
This website and app is your go to for up-to-the-minute bi-partisan information on trending issues and bills. Not only can you sign up for information and alerts about bills that you care about, but you can also send personalized emails and video messages to your elected officials through the site!
5 Calls is a site that is founded on the idea that you can set aside five minutes a day to make five phone calls to local and national elected representatives. The app highlights key or trending issues in government, and allows you to enter your zip code to find which representative to contact in relation to your state. Once found, a script is generated that you can read over the line, making the process as painless as possible for those phone-phobic among us!
With the political pendulum as it is, swinging so far in one direction that so many people are forced to feel marginalized or ostracized, it is imperative that we as constituents are able to voice our concerns to those elected to power. It is also important that we are able to keep our heads above the muddy waters of instant opinion and information overload.
Services and apps like Resistbot, Countable, and 5 Calls, are the beginning of a designer-created focus that can bring about real change. They allow us to keep sight on the issues at hand without becoming burned out by over-engagement. They act as reminders that our voices can, and must, be heard, if we are to be of any positive influence upon the running of government.
They truly are the new tools of our democracy.