For all of the outlets for expression available on the Internet today, being heard in a meaningful way remains a challenge that keeps entrepreneurs busy busy busy. I’m not a pollster, but I’d venture to guess that one area people find it daunting, frustrating, distasteful, or hard work to air their concerns is politics. Co-founders Marci Harris and Rachna Choudhry want your voices to reach national legislators in Washington through their startup POPVOX.
POPVOX allows users to find out what congress is up to without being sedated by CSpan. Search for bills in the works on the Hill, find out where others stand, including your representatives, and send a message to Congress letting legislators know your thoughts and grievances. POPVOX assures that messages arrive to appropriate legislators–before submitting, users verify their address. This might sound insignificant, but it turns out that it plays an important role in your voice making an impact.
A Mutual Problem Exposed
Choudhry was working as a federal lobbyist, passionate about citizen advocacy, but dogged by a question: Does anyone actually read my letters? I’d be willing to bet my nonexistent fortune and give directions for depositing my winnings that a great many of us share that same question. Fortunately for those of us living outside the capital, a wine-emboldened Choudhry asked her dinner neighbor one night if anyone was listening. That neighbor was Harris–Tax, Trade, and Health Counsel to Representative Pete Stark.
Harris answered somewhat defensively, noting an obscene amount of mail that inundates legislative offices and remarked about the difficulty of determining who constituents are (because of missing information) and accurately gauging public sentiment. The view from the other side of the fence inspired the two to work together and come up with a new solution.
Loud And Clear
Turns out legislators do want to know what we think, and we do want to participate more than our grumblings might lead us to suspect of one another. POPVOX is a neutral, nonpartisan way of improving communication between citizens and Congress. The platform helps individuals and organizations direct their efforts by ensuring that messages at least fall into intended hands. A directory of organizations helps citizens connect with other like-minded individuals to amplify their concerns. Legislators receive real-time feedback on specific bills, which helps them better represent (or fail to) the interests of their constituents.
Doubt No More
Because the subject of politics is a lightening rod for cynicism, a clever tactic Harris and Choudhry used to deal with doubts while building POPVOX is worth mentioning.
I don’t know about you, but I find that it’s easy to talk myself out of a lot of ideas. How do you handle criticism or the skeptics? Harris and Choudhry decided to give the naysayer a voice as they were preparing to launch. They invented Cynical Cindy, an imaginary user that complained about their site and voiced reasons for them not to do things they way that they were. Trouble is always going to come up. While I have yet to meet anyone clairvoyant so far, it’s worth trying to foresee what’s going to go wrong and address problems early. Or, if you’re idea is sound, you’ll be armed to defend yourself against negative influences. This is a powerful, proactive practice for confronting problems.
OK, my fellow registered voters (yes, I’m baiting you just a little bit there), we shouldn’t have to wait every four years for the SuperBowl-like theater of the presidential election to make our voices heard in government. This tool is an easy way to stay connected to the issues and bills close to our minds and hearts.