One of the great responsibilities and privileges of a democracy is that each citizen must participate in the government and election of those officials who we allow to run our government. Even if you do not vote, you are making a choice for the status quo, one way or another. We are all lucky to have the choice to decide whether we want to vote or not, and who we want to vote for. Whatever your political viewpoint, citizens are more galvanized to make a difference now than ever. Although technology is NOT a substitute for calling your elected official to voice your opinion, going to a town hall meeting, starting a petition, or participating in a march, technology CAN help you do these things more easily. The first step is to know who your representatives are, and you can find them at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.
To keep up with the issues, you can read most of your favorite newspapers and magazines on your iPad or iPhone. I try to read a few different sources to get different viewpoints, all from my iPad: the New York Times, The Economist, the Atlantic, and I read through the PBS app as well. I also skim the Washington Post. Your favorite resources may differ depending on what your political opinions are, but I urge you to learn as much as you can from reputable resources, no matter what your political leanings.
There are a number of apps designed to help you keep track of legislation. I’m currently using Countable (https://www.countable.us, free), which is available on both iPad and iPhone. I’ve been pleased with it- the app gives you news related to executive orders and political issues, as well as legislation currently passing. You have the ability to “vote” and comment on the issue, and the website reports that they deliver your vote, comments and address to your representative so they can get back to you. I have no idea if they do or not- it seems unlikely that they would be able to respond to that volume. To me, the main benefit is being aware in real time what the bills are which are being voted on, and what the results were. The site seeks to be non-partisan, and can also tell you who your representatives are. Clicking on your representatives’ photo in the app leads to a page that shows you how they have voted on issues. Clicking on the icons below their name can take you to their home page with contact information, Facebook page, twitter account and you tube accounts. I do feel like the one liner that Countable gives you for why you should or should not support a bill, while meant to be brief for clarity, is not enough information in many cases to decide- which is why I suggest reading broadly.
Another app similar to Countable is iCitizen (https://icitizen.com, free). The ratings on the iTunes are lower, partly because of the perception that the app skews right. I am not sure if this is true or not, because I found it difficult to find anything of real substance in terms of legislation- it seemed like polls such as “Do you have a favorable opinion of Obama and Trump?” I do not think that these sorts of polls really help us be more engaged with our government, or for that matter, engage in any genuine way with each other. Perhaps there is more information on the site about bills, but about 10 minutes of reviewing the site did not reveal this, so I feel the layout could probably be improved!
The app Trackbill (https://trackbill.com, free, upgrades super pricey) is another app designed to follow legislation. I think this would be excellent for someone like a journalist covering legislation or a staffer even. I do not need to have the level of detail that this app has- but I can imagine someone might. For instance, on an upcoming bill, it gives the date, location and committee for the hearing, a list of the actions taken on the bill, etc. It could also be helpful if you are really interested in one particular bill, so you can see EVERYTHING that has happened with that bill. Also, there are upgrades to track unlimited bills, committees, legislators, keywords, etc, and that comes with an extreme cost: nearly $1000 per year!
A lesser considered opportunity to get involved with your democracy- volunteer work! I like the site volunteermatch.org, where you can sign up for volunteer work based on your interests and your location. For example, if animal rights are your interest, there are 94 opportunities to get involved in the San Francisco area as of this writing! If education and literacy are important to you, consider one of the nearly 500 volunteer positions open!
I hope you were inspired to get involved with your community and your country. Do you have other ways to stay involved? Please let me know in the comments below!