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The “FYI App”



Let’s take democracy back to the people.

None of these members of Congress care what I think, I suddenly realized. And you’re probably in the same boat.

This moment of insight occurred as I was printing out yet another letter on gun control. I have mailed almost 200 by now, and in spite of my revelation, I will speed things up in preparation for floor action on legislation next month. It makes me feel good that at least I’m trying.

But let’s be realistic. The best response I have had so far was from Vice President Biden. It was on real paper, dignified, courteous, and intelligent. Someone on his staff is a fine writer, and it reminded me of the good old days somehow.

By comparison, I have received only one response from the five members of the New Mexico delegation whom I wrote on the day of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Senator Tom Udall emailed a response about a month later, and it was, as is to be expected, designed to avoid commitment. He speaks of the will to consider any “reasonable legislation,” to support “forceful prosecution,” and “to achieve a sensible solution.” He wouldn’t want to barrel ahead on such a touchy issue. He would want to get the lay of the political land first.

And therein lies the problem. Let’s consider the hierarchy on the totem pole of legislative decision-making. First comes the innate response of the individual, which is only fair. Next is the general party position, then the position of party leadership in the particular house. After that comes the orientation of colleagues in the particular house and Congress in general.

Then we get to the outside world. The outside world includes the media. How are the big television stations going to come down on this issue, and what kind of response will generate the most beneficial exposure? Next come the individual, wealthy contributors who may want to have a say in this matter. Then how about special interest organizations with a lot of members and a lot of money to invest in ads and lobbying? How about political action committees—corporate, issue-oriented, party, or just operating at the bidding of an activist billionaire?

At that point, influential figures on the home turf come into play. These include individuals in state government and power players regarding interests vital to the economic well-being of the legislator’s state. If there is good staff back home, they’ll keep him or her apprised of the way regional winds are blowing.

And then finally, way down at the bottom of the totem pole, are little you and little me. We can email letters and send paper letters and sign petitions and donate to groups lobbying on specific issues, but the only time we really count is when an election is coming up. At that point and for maximum clout, funds will be accessed to produce material critical of opposing candidates, not to promote what the legislator has achieved regarding issues vital to you and me. The shortfall in the latter is an important reason why political ads have gotten so vicious lately.

So I had a thought: Let’s take democracy back to the people. How about an “FYI App” through which every single one of us can express our will on the salient issues of the times? Pollsters only sample opinion. This would be a way of collecting accurate statistics on a national scale.

This could be fun. Say everyone who has a Social Security number is given an FYI App number relating to state and district of residence, which is the number by which one votes. If it is used more than once, it becomes null and void. At the App headquarters, the issue is presented very simply with three of the most forceful arguments both for and against a certain action. Twenty words or less for each one, let’s say. (I would love to have this job.) Then over the course of a week, so everyone has time to get access to the technology, all who wish to participate can vote using their device or someone else’s.

Then comes the wonderful part. The votes would be tallied by district, by state, and finally by the country as a whole and then publicized. When the numbers come out, then members of Congress would be informed of the will of the people, not of special interests. When the issue is decided in Congress, we would all have the right to address our nonconforming legislator with a very direct question: Since you don’t seem to represent us, whom do you, in fact, serve?

For the first time in history, we have the technology to be able to do this. That would spare us that growing, hopeless feeling that, just as individuals, we citizens don’t really matter. We might become more engaged, and this could result in a different presence in the world. For example, if it comes up that we are thinking about launching another invasion somewhere overseas, I want to have something to say about that. We should all have something to say about that.

So I wish some techno-wizard would take this on, the FYI App for the benefit of our representatives in Congress. Nothing binding about it, just a way to let them know what we think. And if they’re not paying attention to what most of us think, they might need to consider a career change.

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