New Online Activism Tool

I saw MailCongress via Hacker News. It’s promise is simple, to weld an online interface to the form of correspondence to which most Congress critters respond best, snail mail. There is precious little information on the site though, beyond a video showing a very easy to use interface that even alleviates chore of knowing your representatives and where to mail them. The most concerning lack is that the privacy policy and terms of service links go to placeholder pages.

At first I thought this was brilliant but on reflection, I am not so sure. One of the reasons I’ve heard that postal mail trumps email is the postmark. It is a reasonable heuristic with which staffers can filter the correspondence from real constituents vs. anything from anywhere else. I cannot imagine MailCongress being able to preserve the postmark, not at one dollar a letter.

Beyond that, I think hacks and workarounds like this are delaying better considered solutions. We need to develop a good enough means of verifying constituency that lets citizens choose their own preferred means of communication. We have so many great ways to communicate with each other, why should we be so crippled when exercising one of the most basic elements of participating in an open democracy?

3 Replies to “New Online Activism Tool”

  1. You’re spot on about the privacy policy/terms of use pages. That’s my fault, I’ve got to fill those out. I’m a developer, not a lawyer. Everytime I start to write it the legalese becomes overwhelming.

    As far as the postmark, each letter is being sent through the USPS. Each should still have a valid postmark. Unless you were referring to something else?

    While I’m all for a push towards better forms of communication history has shown (and you even say so in the opening paragraph) that politicians have yet to adjust. One of the nice things about my tool is that when the letter arrives in the politician’s office you will receive an email notifying you along with the phone number to the office. We encourage you to make a follow up phone call to drive your points home.

    1. Postmarks include some indication of the location from which the letter was sent. That’s the reason Congress critters prefer postal mail, they have come indication it came from within their constituency. Same for phone calls. Of course, both can easily be spoofed so it shows how little basis these traditions have in reality.

      I do like the idea of your tool and I apologize if that was unclear. I just worry that by providing a convenience on top of an antiquated medium it decreases the motivation to solve identification for newer channels like email and social media.

      1. I actually appreciated the criticism. When putting out a new app all feedback is valuable.

        For me, I built this to scratch an itch I had. I’m pretty politically motivated but even so I find it annoying to search for an envelope, stamp, etc… these things I never seem to have ready when I feel the need to have my voice heard. Then of couse I get distracted by something else.

        Barney Frank spoke to the power that a letter carries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHjPcgb0pZI&t=1m37s I think having a service like this gives power to the generation that is not used to writing letters.

        The next step is to release advocacy group tools. In the next week or so I hope to allow groups to sign up and create letter writing campaigns. Then after that putting out an API so other sites can integrate this service into their own applications.

        However, this is just an experiment. I’ve put about a month of development into it, most on the side. It’s been a passion project. It would be cool if it worked out.

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