Our political system doesn't represent us. So what if the tech we use everyday to grab Ubers and find cute cat pics on r/aww could also strengthen our voices in Congress and in the White House?

Hey, I’m Ted. The Capitol Bells team and I are launching a new Reddit-like civic engagement app today. Our original app hacked Congress’s radio-alerts to track Congressional votes, and now hundreds of Congressmen use it. The new Capitol Bells app also lets you upvote important news, polls and debates to the front page while voting on bills alongside Congress. In real-time.

You can learn more on Alexis Ohanian’s Small Empires & download Capitol Bells for:

Hi, I’m Alex, a Golden Globe-winning singer/composer by day and a civic hacker by night. I launched TheNewIRS.com as an experiential tool that gives we the people the power to allocate our personal income taxes as we see fit. No Taxation Without Allocation. Try it out here and help crowd-source our representative federal tax allocation.

Other civic engagement apps you should try include Brigade, Countable, DemocracyOS, and PopVox.

The more tech can help us organize and quantify our civic priorities the better we’ll be heard by our elected representatives.

Ask us anything.

Alex's Proof: http://i.imgur.com/ElW8Fou.jpg Ted's Proof: http://i.imgur.com/CLN04Jp.jpg

UPDATE: Alex: This was a blast chatting with yall on reddit! Keep the Courage blazing. gotta split! Ted's going to stick around a few more and I'll check back later too!

UPDATE: Ted: Thanks for all the questions guys! I'll check back later for more, but we are heading out to CES first thing tomorrow morning and we need to get ready! Hasta!

Comments: 282 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

wehadamoment14 karma

First of all - how cool does this sound. Looking forward to checking it all out. Alex - when did you write "Feel the Bern" and did you work with Bernie on it?

AlexanderEbert11 karma

Ha I wish I worked directly with Bernie on it! that would be some fun... no, I wrote it maybe 6 months ago. Its nice to just sit with a guitar and write a simple singalong that might have some real-world, off-stage application.

CapitolBells8 karma

Maybe we can help make that happen? I Know a guy who knows a guy =P

MyFO0T14 karma

What do you think America will look like in 20 years?

CapitolBells24 karma

I have no idea! But I hope it includes hyperloops, space elevators, and next gen nuclear reactors.

alirawk5 karma

The biggest challenge of political activism seems to be overcoming a sense of impotence in the face of corporations and billionaires. It seems so easy to suppress the voice of change with soma/entertainment/distraction. Activism so often leads to little actual change. In a world of Trumps and Oregon Militias, what do we do beyond the app?

CapitolBells8 karma

Hi alirawk! Cool question. The easier it is to engage politically, the more people will do so. The more people who do so, the easier it is to counter big money in politics. In the end, elections come down to votes cast. Those votes should be cast by informed voters who've heard more than the SuperPAC scare commercials on TV.

BigAmericanTuna3 karma

Does sharing my opinion on the app actually have any "real life" value?

CapitolBells2 karma

It's about the community and the data. Sharing your opinion has value if it can help inform other members of your community. For instance, can we help each other understand complex issues like balanced budgets and climate change through discourse? Next, if we form positions and share those positions, can we quantify them in relation to real life actions? Just saying 1 million people want gun control is okay, but it doesn't do anything. Being able to tell a Senator that 1 million people in his state want him to pass one SPECIFIC gun control bill would have a lot of value, because he could risk reelection if he ignores his people.

heatherwally3 karma

Hi! I had no idea Alex was so involved in congress and politics. I listen to Edward Sharpe all the time, and think the messages of the music should be shared with everyone! What you guys are doing together is great, and is headed in a wonderful direction, especially with the continuous rise of digital age. I am a UX designer that works closely with hackers and developers, and often think about ways to help the public become more involved in congress and politics, because often i find it difficult to understand our government system myself. There is so much opportunity for a more informed society with the majority of the population having mobile devices, yet there seems to be a lack of business dedicated to this. How plausible do you think an app like this could become as mainstream as using Uber or Facebook? Also, do you think that if this app continues to catch on, could it lead to the government implementing a more accessible digital voting or polling system, and in return, being able to feel closer to our representatives?

CapitolBells2 karma

I certainly this it's plausible or we wouldn't be pouring our blood sweat and tears into this, but I do realize the odds are against us. Politics is so corrosive and our government is so dysfunctional, it's no wonder the average American wants nothing to do with it. Even the "democratic" party of our country is incapable of holding a democratic primary election -- they already chose their nominee a couple years ago and it's Hillary, and it's not up to you to decide. However, I think if we could build a community around a piece of viral tech like Snapchat, that makes it easy to connect to each other and help each other stay inform and take action, something that's part of your daily life like reading the paper and chatting with friends, then our voices can overcome the billions of dollars being spent to pay off our so-called democratically elected representatives. Maybe Capitol Bells can help make this happen, but maybe the barrier to entry is still too high and there's a better solution out there.

[deleted]3 karma


CapitolBells2 karma

Thank you, Swazniak! The easiest way to get involved is to participate in civic hackathons, like hack4Congress. The BEST way is to start coding an idea, or think about joining a startup like ours ([email protected]). We started out 2016 by building Cloakroom to help get pros who work in Congress invested in our platform. The last few months we've been grinding away without seeing the light to build the Capitol Bells we really want to share. Give it a shot and let us know what you think please!

canadian_intransit3 karma

This is great, especially in an election year! You said there are Congressman using this ... do you know if any pres candidates use anything 'techy' to reach voters?

CapitolBells3 karma

The more people we can get onto Capitol Bells and other civic engagement networks the more they'll have to use tech to reach us, the voters.

oliolioxonfree2 karma

Hello! I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what is going on (hungover), and I'd like to participate. Anyone care to ELI5? Thanks.

CapitolBells2 karma

Are you on Android or iOS? Download one of those and let the app do the work of ELI5. Basically, it's like Reddit, but it's mobile, and it's to help keep each other informed.

dukduk552 karma

Where did the idea for Capitol Bells come from? How do you see it being used by individuals casually interested in politics?

CapitolBells3 karma

When my last days as a Congressional staffer were running out, I was wondering how I was going to keep up with the action if I didn't even know when votes were happening. That was what led me to think, hey what if it were easier for the public to know what Congress was doing? Could we help each other make them more accountable to us? Could we better measure how well they represent us?

johnfoof1 karma

This question is for both Ted and Alex: what breakdown did you give in your New IRS pie chart thingy?

democratmandy1 karma

As a recovering political hack, I am always interested at new ideas for governing. What I have seen in the quick review of this chat is interesting and I would be interested in learning more. Here is my question: Which presidential candidate from each party do you think would be most supportive of such an idea? Do you plan on doing any campaigning for any of the presidential candidates?

PS I, too, am a huge fan and will always remember my first show. My friend convinced me to join him at your performance at ACL Festival by saying, "Its a bunch of shoeless hippies, you will love them!" He was right!

CapitolBells1 karma

Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders would be great candidates for Capitol Bells. They are both running issue-based campaigns and they are both current Senators, so we could compare their vote records directly to your voting records in the app.