The House of Representatives may vote as soon as tomorrow to jettison rules that would have stopped internet service providers from selling your web browsing history on the open market. Next week, the Senate will likely vote on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Congress will likely wrestle with a new budget soon.
Chances are these vital decisions will affect your life. You want your voice heard. The most effective way to make sure your representatives listen, short of meeting in person: call them.
The problem is that in this contentious political era, congressional phone lines are often busy. Voicemail is often full. You might have to wait on hold to deliver your message, or keep calling back until overwhelmed staffers have a chance to clear clogged inboxes.
A new app called Stance has a plan for helping you overcome these democracy-hindering headaches. Stance lets you record messages for your representatives, then delivers them at night while the phone lines are less busy. If voicemail is overloaded, the app will keep calling back until it can actually deliver your message. You don’t even need to worry about navigating a phone tree.
Once you’ve recorded your voicemail, it’s automatically published online. So if you have a message for the government you’d rather not share with the world, you might want to find a different medium. But this also means that you can share your recording on social media and potentially inspire other people to join your cause.
Nathaniel Teichman came up with the idea at a political rally in January. “The organizers were asking people to call their representatives, and I saw the frustration people had getting through,” he says.
In that frustration Teichman saw a kind of disenfranchisement. Only the most dedicated people would have the persistence to keep calling back. And phone-shy people nervous about who or what might be waiting for them at the other end of the line might never speak out at all.
Teichman knew there had to be a better way. He works for a New York-based startup called Ense, which makes it easy for people to share short audio clips online–think of it as an audio-based Twitter. He pitched the idea of building a tool to automate the process of calling congress to his co-workers, and soon they were spending their nights and weekends building the app as a side project.
Yes, the app could end up giving already overworked staffers even more voicemail to sift. On the other hand, shifting some call volume to off-hours could make staffers’ jobs easier by spreading out calls. Eventually, Teichman says, Stance could smooth the way for a whole different way of handling voicemail. Instead of messages ending up in overflowing mailboxes, they could inhabit in the cloud, where callers could tag and share them, not unlike podcasts or Medium posts.
Since its launch earlier this month, Stance has already delivered more than 350,000 voicemails to 51 senators and 81 House members. Teichman says that thanks to the Twilio cloud service, which handles all the actual calling, the calls only cost a fraction of a cent each. Online storage, meanwhile, has become incredibly cheap. That’s good news for Teichman and team, who aren’t yet seeking donations or sponsorships for the app. But it also hints at a way chronically underfunded congressional offices might be able to handle the onslaught of calls they face.
Stance won’t give staffers more time to pour over all those messages–that’s a problem for another day. But it could get your voice heard. With so many pressing issues on the line, that matters a lot.
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