April 26, 2014– Earlier this year, I attended a presentation Harold Peterson (my father) gave at a local community center on Long Island on political reform in New York. The audience included retired executives who were present to hear the many alarming political spending trends in the state. Mr. Peterson, author of the website “Reform Albany Now Registry”, shared with the audience efforts to restore New York State to fiscal stability and provided several examples where state spending was not aligned with voter interests. Several of the stories generated hardy laughs for the sheer incompetence of the system.Yet, when the laughing started to subside and the mood of the audience became somber, it was evident the audience in the room struggled to communicate how best to stop the madness. One gentlemen in the audience asked a very simply question “so Harold how can we help?” Mr. Peterson provided the typical correct response which is to write our congressman to voice our concern.
As I looked at this room of retired executives and thought of their extensive network of business, political and social connections, I was thinking we have taken their extensive influence and asked them to write a letter. I want to believe in the power of the pen but I prefer the electronic pen versus the kind that requires a stamp to get delivered. In my opinion, writing a letter though noble, does not create a ripple for change. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Writing a letter that gets mailed might make the writer feel good but has the same impact as writing Santa at the North Pole. You hope it gets there and Santa reads it.
- A physical letter does not advise others in your world of influence that you are concerned about certain issues and have issued a call to action.
- The writer is hoping the political office staff does not become the gatekeeper which prevents the letter from reaching the proper audience. In fairness to the staff, it is looking for patterns of concern from voters over time that they can then summarize and present for review to the political official.
Learning from the Next Wave
Carl Miller in a recent Wired Magazine article about changes in Britain titled “Only social media can fix the crisis of modern politics”. Miller stated that “In 1950, 84 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. In 2010, it was 65 percent, and less than half of voters were under the age of 24. Turnout is predicted to continue to decrease as the younger voters comprise a higher and higher share of the electorate.”
“The second trend is the rise of social media, and the increasingly political uses to which it is put. Over half of adults now regularly log onto a social media platform. “Young people are not disengaged about political issues — actually, they are probably as engaged as any other generation. They are turning to social media to pursue their beliefs and passions for a better world outside of those mainstream institutions that they trust so little.”
So whether it means using your Facebook account for more than sharing photos, vacation travel or connecting with your old colleagues via LinkedIn, social media has the potential to create a ripple when you write or comment on a political issue. LinkedIn recently passed over 280 million users. Facebook has made popular the simple yet effective “Like” button. As more friends and colleagues see you raising issues about various topics, they will share, “like” or add to the discussion thereby extending the reach of the message until a tsunami develops.
Technology Can Shift the Balance
A Redwood City, CA company called POPVOX.com is using technology to provide a greater voice to citizens. According to a recent Forbes Magazine article, POPVOX is a “a non-partisan platform providing you with a 360-degree view of every bill and resolution, organized by issue area to enable easy discovery, and aggregating personal letters from people just like you, as well as professional opinions from advocacy groups and trade associations, and using location-based data to show you what Congress is actually hearing from verified constituents? What if all you had to do was click, and you’d be taken to an online tool where you could write a letter to the appropriate lawmaker, be guaranteed delivery, and then see how your story is “appreciated” by other people interested in the same issue? Well, that reality is here, and it’s being made possible by a startup called POPVOX that’s translating grassroots ideas into action on Capitol Hill.” This is equivalent of using your wave machine. Use technology to create the wave of comments.
As the author explained, “people who write letters to members of Congress can share them via social media,” says Choudhry, “so that helps to increase awareness, and puts the personal story before the issue which is helpful from an engagement standpoint.” And once users submit a letter, POPVOX’s recommendations engine surfaces other related bills à la Netflix or Amazon, encouraging them to further explore.”
Says Choudhry, “We’re going after a big problem of helping people engage with their lawmakers, and while we cannot promise that lawmakers will actually read each and every letter — there’s a lot of power in hundreds of thousands of verified constituents taking the time to share their own voice.”
To watch a YouTube video, click here to learn more about POPVOX.
Creating the Wave of Change One Message at a Time
So here are some simple steps every person can take to have their voice heard.
- Write that letter to your congressman but this time before mailing make a copy
- Make your friends know your concern by sharing on your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts the letter.
- Visit your congressman’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account and post your note there as well.
These small steps start the ripple of a brewing storm for change. It is how governments around the world are seeing the impact of social media and in some cases started a revolution.
To borrow from a classic movie released in 1976 called “Network”, the television anchor had the following famous movie line. “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
Social media, properly used, can have a much larger impact than anyone can imagine. Just remember, Obama won a Presidential election when “he reached over 5 million supporters on 15 different social Networks in 2008” and went from an unknown candidate from Illinois to Presidential front runner. It is time to adapt to the new medium to make our voices heard.
About the Author
Steve Peterson is the Vice President of Marketing and Channel for CellarStone Inc. and was Co-Founder of Business Intelligence Provider webKPI. CellarStone is a SaaS provider of sales commission management solutions (Easy-Commissions and QCommissions). Mr. Peterson has also been a guest speaker at UC Berkeley and has spoken to various industry and CEO groups on KPIs. Steve has been a CFO and Sr. Financial Manager for numerous private and public companies plus is a CPA.
 Wired.Co.UK – February 12, 2014 – Only social media can fix the crisis of modern politics, Author Carl Miller
 Forbes Magazine, February 1, 2014 – The Future Of Political Engagement Is Here (And It’s Called POPVOX) Author Sarah McKinney