The House of Representatives may vote as soon as tomorrow to jettison rules that would have stopped internet service providers from selling your browsing history. Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Congress wrestles with a new budget soon.
These vital decisions almost certainly affect you. If you want your voice heard, the best way of ensuring your representatives listen, short of meeting them in person, is to call them.
But congressional phone lines are often busy. Voicemail is often full. You might spend ages on hold, or keep calling back until overwhelmed congressional staffers clear clogged inboxes.
A new app called Stance helps overcome these democracy-hindering headaches. It lets you record messages for your elected representatives, then delivers them at night when phone lines aren’t so busy. And it keeps calling back until it delivers your message. You don’t even have to deal with navigating a phone tree.
Once you’ve recorded your voicemail, Stance publishes it online—so if you have a message you’d rather not share with the world, find a different tool. 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 during 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 disenfranchisement. Only the most dedicated people keep calling back. Anyone nervous about who or what might be waiting on the other end of the line might never speak out at all.
Teichman thought there had to be a better way. He works for Ense, a New York startup that makes it easy to share short audio clips online–think of it as Twitter for sound. He pitched the idea of a tool that automates calling congress, and his co-workers spent their nights and weekends building the app as a side project.
Yes, the app could give already overworked congressional aides even more voicemail to sift. But shifting calls to the evening could make the job easier by spreading them out. Eventually, Teichman says, Stance could facilitate a different way of handling voicemail. Instead of messages landing in overflowing mailboxes, they could inhabit the cloud, where callers could tag and share them, not unlike podcasts or Medium posts.
Since its launch earlier this month, Stance has delivered more than 350,000 voicemails to 51 senators and 81 House members. Teichman says using Twilio cloud service to handle the calling means each call costs a fraction of a cent. And online storage costs next to nothing. That’s good news for Teichman’s team, which hasn’t sought donations or sponsorships for the app. It also suggests one way chronically underfunded congressional offices could handle the onslaught of calls they face.
Stance won’t give congressional aides more time to hear all those messages—that’s a problem for another day. But it could help ensure your voice is heard. Given all the pressing issues on the line, that matters a lot.