@StateSe­na­tor, please vote yes! #copol­i­tics #co­leg

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Ian Sil­verii

Is­tarted my ca­reer in pol­i­tics as a leg­isla­tive aide in the Colorado House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ten years ago. I was un­der­paid and over­worked, but I got to walk into the Capi­tol ev­ery day, and af­ter an air­port-style se­cu­rity check, walk up six flights of stairs to my rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s of­fice. I be­came very good at putting to­gether tal­lies of vote re­quests, of con­stituent e-mails, calls, and let­ters, get­ting yelled at on the phone, and mak­ing cof­fee.

I spent the day help­ing real peo­ple nav­i­gate their state gov­ern­ment to ac­cess the in­for­ma­tion and ser­vices they paid for with their tax dol­lars, help­ing them tell their elected of­fi­cials how they felt on a par­tic­u­lar bill or is­sue, and mak­ing the great­est cof­fee pos­si­ble for law­mak­ers who each rep­re­sented 1/65th of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the state of Colorado.

I was pas­sion­ate about my me­nial work, but found whit­tling down

con­stituent e-mails to tal­lies and cut­ting down calls to a sum­mary sen­tence, fell short in a coun­try based on rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy.

Given the low wage of a lowly leg­isla­tive aide, I needed an­other job for ad­di­tional in­come. I was for­tu­nate enough to get a job writ­ing for a startup in Boul­der that was work­ing on a sort of pre-Spo­tify mu­sic app, which sadly never got off the ground. At this side gig, I saw my very first iPhone in per­son, turned a Nin­tendo Wii con­troller into a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, and heard early sto­ries about this “mi­croblog­ging plat­form” called Twit­ter.

I thought “Twit­ter” was a very stupid name for a mi­croblog­ging plat­form, per­son­ally, and I didn’t re­ally see how you could get any real in­for­ma­tion across in 140 char­ac­ters.

His­tory has proven the lat­ter to be an in­cor­rect as­sess­ment, though I still don’t love the name.

Ten years ago there wasn’t a very good way for con­stituents to reach their elected of­fi­cials di­rectly in real time, at least for peo­ple who didn’t have time off dur­ing the week to go visit them at the capi­tol. In­ter­ac­tion be­tween con­stituent and elected of­fi­cial was gen­er­ally asyn­chro­nous. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and sen­a­tors sent e-mail news­let­ters and held town hall meet­ings and con­stituents sent e-mails, made phone calls, and even sent the oc­ca­sional let­ter or post­card to 200 East Col­fax Av­enue. So there were fil­ters and gate­keep­ers, both hu­man and tech­no­log­i­cal be­tween elected of­fi­cials and the peo­ple they rep­re­sented.

The House Demo­cratic press of­fice was al­ways push­ing the mem­bers and aides to get on Twit­ter, Face­book, come up with “so­cial me­dia plans,” and post con­tent on their web­sites. The early at­tempts at utiliz­ing so­cial me­dia as a con­stituent com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ser­vices tool were gen­er­ally un­suc­cess­ful. “Get­ting a hot dog with Jimmy!” “It’s re­ally cold to­day, and it’s May, I thought win­ter was over!”

“A lot of Texas li­cense plates driv­ing around Den­ver to­day.”

And that’s how it went for quite a while; at least as far as so­cial me­dia and the state capi­tol were con­cerned. Most mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture didn’t have smart­phones, didn’t care to get one, and were per­fectly happy us­ing ex­ist­ing tra­di­tional me­dia and cor­re­spon­dence chan­nels to com­mu­ni­cate with the peo­ple in their dis­tricts.

In 2008, the or­ga­ni­za­tion I now work for, Pro­gressNow Colorado, de­cided that it would be neat to have a cen­tral­ized lo­ca­tion for the po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion in Colorado on Twit­ter. A place where con­stituents and law­mak­ers, re­porters and ac­tivists could en­gage one an­other in 140 char­ac­ter de­bates about is­sues as they were de­vel­op­ing in the state capi­tol and around the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, which was in Den­ver that year.

En­ter the #copol­i­tics, and later, the #co­leg hash­tags, which we helped or­ga­nize.

Within a few elec­tion cy­cles, Twit­ter had ma­tured as a place for law­mak­ers, lob­by­ists, re­porters, pol­icy wonks and ac­tivists to quickly pub­lish and in­ter­act with each other’s opin­ions in real time. Law­mak­ers signed up for Twit­ter in droves, smart­phones were nearly univer­sal among state leg­is­la­tors and I per­son­ally helped in­stall the app and cre­ate ac­counts for many law­mak­ers still in of­fice to­day. Twit­ter served as sort of a meta-de­bate go­ing on above the fray on the floor of the House and Se­nate cham­bers. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and sen­a­tors would snipe at one an­other while they were wait­ing for their turn to talk in the well.

And, to this day it’s a good bet that law­mak­ers them­selves, not some lowly leg­isla­tive aide or press per­son, but the per­son whose name was on the bal­lot and got elected, is gen­er­ally the one look­ing at their own Twit­ter and Face­book feeds through­out the day. Aides and other staff have ac­cess to their ac­counts and help mon­i­tor the in­for­ma­tion com­ing in and go­ing out.

How­ever, you should know that if you write a phys­i­cal let­ter, make a phone call, send an e-mail, and send a tweet at your rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Den­ver, the odds are that the tweet is the one com­mu­ni­ca­tion out of all of them that ac­tu­ally makes its way di­rectly to the law­maker, un­fil­tered by staff. This seems to ap­ply at the fed­eral level as well, though less so as a re­sult of pure vol­ume. We are all painfully aware of the pen­chant our pres­i­dent has for the 140 char­ac­ter mis­sive.

This is all to say that, be­lieve it or not, right now as it stands the very best way to speak di­rectly with your law­maker, out­side of a face-to-face meet­ing, is to tweet at them. You may even get a per­sonal re­sponse di­rectly from them. I never thought I’d say that, let alone write it down in the pages of Colorado’s News­pa­per of Record, but, at least for now, it’s true.

True and good: Say what you want about the pit­falls of so­cial me­dia pro­lif­er­a­tion but vot­ers, con­stituents and tax­pay­ers have a real voice un­der the gold dome if

they know how to use it.

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