The Scrappy Startups Using Text Messages To Fight Trump
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of news flowing out of the White House under the new administration. And you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know about every protest that has sprung up in opposition to the new president’s executive orders and cabinet appointments.
In a time of such turmoil, many people feel like they have to do something, but what, and where to start?
In the midst of such chaos, some leaders are helping citizens figure out which actions to take that could actually influence legislation. The Women’s March organizers started 10 Actions for the First 100 Days to enable people who want to voice their disapproval with Washington’s policies to easily do so (by providing guidance and templates for correspondence) while riding the momentum of the movement.
Laura Moser was one of those people who woke up the day after the election wanting to do something. “I was groping in the dark,” she confesses. “I knew I wanted to be of service” to change the things she could in order to make the country a better place for her children, ages 3 and 7.
“I kept thinking about my long-dead grandfather, who had stayed in Berlin perilously late, until September 1938, because he—like so many other educated, prosperous Jews—in the words of my father’s cousin, “thought Hitler would fold.” There was no reason to upend his whole life for a cheap used car salesman of a popular agitator, until suddenly there was,” Moser recalled in an essay she penned for Vogue.
Although she’d done some “light canvassing” in previous elections, Moser didn’t consider herself a political activist. However, her husband was part of the Obama campaign in 2007, and he’s currently one of the four partners behind Revolution Messaging, a D.C.-based digital agency that provided the technology for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign to raise $218 million online.
With that technology accessible, and armed with the knowledge that phone calls to legislators were more effective than emails, Moser conceived Daily Action, a digital nonprofit for political activism.
“I settled on this as a solution for me,” she explains, “because I’m a writer and journalist and good at research.” The idea was that she would research the issues and then make it easy for people to make that call to their legislators on one issue every workday.
“I’m pretty shy,” she admits, “and it was scary for me, initially.” Most people have never placed a call to their representatives, Moser observes. Still, she explains, “Once you realize you are talking to young college graduates (who answer the phones), it’s not scary, and it’s your right.”
The way it works is straightforward. Text the word “DAILY” to the number 228466 (or “ACTION”), and enter your ZIP code. Those who don’t want to subscribe can dial 844-241-1141 to hear the day’s “action.” Subscribers subsequently get one text message every weekday with a number to call to hear a 30-second message from Moser before it connects to the appropriate office. On February 1, for example, those calls were directed to Customs and Border Patrol and prompted callers to voice their concern over the enforcement of Trump’s controversial migration ban. Other days the calls have asked senators to “hold” on Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination to become attorney general, or urged them to vote against Betsy DeVos’s nomination for secretary of education.
The text of Moser’s call and some talking points to use when getting through to policy makers’ offices are also listed on Daily Action’s Facebook page.
Daily Action launched officially in mid-December, but since inauguration day, Moser says the number of calls placed each day and the number of subscribers has shot up. “We have about 10,000 calls a day,” she asserts, and the user base is over 157,000.
Moser’s efforts are not the only ones available to a new and burgeoning group of activists. Startup Phone2Action connects businesses and citizens with policymakers via mobile calling and texting. Their latest tool enables citizen advocacy through Twitter, email, Facebook, or phone. The latter works when you enter your phone number on the platform, and it calls you back when it connects with your representative.
Countable’s platform and app allows you to read brief summaries of active and upcoming legislation and click “yea” or “nay.” The site posts the latest news and issues, as well as trending topics and profiles of elected officials. It’s interesting to note that during the flurry of executive orders, Countable’s site was experiencing downtime due to increased demand.
Moser says to deal with the rapid increase of users, Daily Action took steps to divide messages by time zone, but notes, “Not everyone picks up the phone at the same time.” She is now planning to post multiple actions per day, after success with setting up two calls to the House in the same day and not having any problems, she says.
As for the challenge of keeping members engaged in the long term, Moser says, “If [the administration] keeps acting like this, unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Moser is quick to point out that it was not her original idea to be anti-Trump, but rather anti-extremism. “He was pro-Planned Parenthood,” she recalls, and says she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until the cabinet appointments. The president’s cabinet, she observes, is comprised of the far-right minority of the Republican party, which has steered her choice of causes to surface for subscribers to Daily Action as “responding to the triage of horrible things.”
Moser believes she’s not alone. She notes that a friend who is a right-leaning Catholic marched to protest the recent migration ban. “I was astonished to see that she felt he’d gone too far,” she says. “I’d like to continue to mobilize reasonable people.”