As I announced a few months back I’m now at Be the Change, Inc where I head the efforts in all things Technology (mostly web) with the support of very capable vendors and staff. As part of my role, I help identify technology and develop strategy that will help the organization spread its message and lead to people become invested and take action in our first campaign. To fulfill this part of my job, I’ve started attending various conferences and Panels around the City. One of the Roundtable that I attend pretty regularly is the Internet Advocacy Roundtable hosted by Center for American Progress Action Fund and lead by Alan Rosenblatt. The Last round table I attend was titled “The future of E-mail Congress – New Solutions Offered and Old Myths Busted“( word doc of the preso) and there speaker was Daniel Bennett who is Co-author of “The Net Effect: How Cyber advocacy is Changing the Political Landscape” and was a columnist for The Cloakroom.
The gist of Mr. Benett’s presentation is that he has developed a technique that will more accurately group emails that each representative receives from various advocacy group so that s/he will not waste staff time reading all the emails and will have a better tally of where constituents stands on any particular issue by looking at the total number of emailed received. According to him but unverified by anyone in the room, the system works with 95-99% accuracy and is easy to install and works with current e-mail systems on the Hill. He claims to have tested in some offices with great result and received positive feedback. In plain English, the system group letters according to a token or URL included each email. So any given e-mailing campaign would have the same token. For the techie crowd, see some documentation at http://advocatehope.org/tech-tidbits. Mr. Bennett then called on all the orgs present at the lecture to lobby the vendors to start implementing this new system. He claims that there is no financial benefit to him and I don’t have any reason not to believe him. Lastly, Mr. Bennett claims staffer don’t read the letters already so his solution would a least make sure they have a accurate count before the vote.
I have two thoughts about this improvement by Mr. Benett. As someone whose organization is trying to lobby congress to get legislation passed, this is fabulous. It’s a great tool and we can use to hopefully sway a representative’s mind and maybe get to move away from voting along party lines when we can get people from his district to e-mail him or her. As person that has friends that work on the Hill, I know this will make their live easier and they will be a little more efficient while at the office and maybe get a few more things done.
As a private citizen, this “improvement” is outrageous. Call me be crazy but I’d like to think that my representative or his staff would read the vast majority of e-mails and letters that come to them. It’s their job! They were elected to serve the people of their district and that includes reading constituent’s mail how ever outrageous they are. The Reps and their staff are supposed to do what is good for the constituents and the for the country as a whole. Just because 4999 people emailed about one side of the issue and 50001 email about the other side, doesn’t mean the rep should cast a vote in favor of the highest bidder. While I appreciate Mr. Benett’s persistence and hard work (he’s been working on this solo for 5 years), I think his solution is the wrong way to go. His solution is fixing the wrong problem. I would even go as far as to say it’s making Congress worse. We, as citizen and their employers, should not accept the fact Reps don’t read our mail or letters. We should def not make it easier for them not to read our letters. While Mr. Benett’s claim about staffers not reading mail may be true, I refuse to give in his cynicism and make easier for them not to so. And I sincerely hope others won’t either.
Was that too harsh?…….Naaaaaaaaaah.