I came across this project whose one of the founders should be familiar enough to you – Captain America himself Chris Evans. A Starting Point (ASP) is created in order to “create a bipartisan channel of communication and connectivity between Americans and their elected officials with the goal of creating a more informed electorate“. Elected officials, whether they are Governors, Senators, Congresspeople or state officials, can use this platform to communicate their thoughts, demystify some complex issues or debate with colleagues with different ideologies. On my count, there are approximately 150 contributors already on the site on various levels and from both parties. Below are a few key features of ASP
In this section, you’ll find some popular questions that can help viewers understand a little bit better some complex issues. In each question, you’ll hear from several officials from both sides of the aisle articulating their thoughts and explaining their answers to the questions.
In this section, you’ll listen to two officials, each from a different party, debating in one-minute videos on an issue. There are back-and-forth arguments followed by closing remarks.
This section is an open forum that allows officials to connect with their constituents on a daily basis about all kinds of topics in one-minute-long videos. Some Democrats already talked about the importance of masks on this section.
On this sub-section, you’ll learn a little bit about the background of these officials, such as what inspired them to go into politics?
My thoughts on this project
I think it’s a great idea. I used to work for an IT company in Omaha, Nebraska. Once, I talked to a couple of my American colleagues and to my surprise, they said that they didn’t actually know much about the elected officials in their districts or state. I bet it’s not uncommon. Our daily hustle and distractions don’t leave us much time into knowing about prospect or current officials; which is a shame, but understandable. The problem is that who we vote for matters a lot in our life. Not only can officials represent us on a state and national level, but they pass legislations that directly and significantly influence our life. Hence, being informed of what the officials are about and what stance they have on certain issues is hugely important in elections. And this project is clearly helping constituents across the country with that.
I think short videos are a good choice to deliver content. The limitation on length of videos forces officials to be concise in their delivery and not to digress. Policies are not sexy. People tend not to spend a lot of time on long videos on policies. Therefore, short videos can be more appealing. However, there is also a drawback. Most issues are pretty complex. Short form videos may unintentionally lead to generalization and omission of important nuances.
It is essential that voters are as informed and have a balanced view as much as possible on issues. An appearance by an official on a news channel doesn’t come with counterpoints from the other side. There are debates on the House and Senate floors, but who will watch those debates that can last for hours? Having different viewpoints on one issue in one place is beneficial to voters who want to learn more about pressing issues. Throughout its website, I think ASP wants to accomplish that. Either StartingPoints or CounterPoints, you can see Democrats and Republicans present their thoughts and ideas. As a result, viewers can take away different points of view and leave with a balanced dose of information.
Even though this is a good starting point, pun intended, there are challenges. First of all, there are A LOT of big topics that are not covered on this website. Under each existing topics, there are a lot more questions to be asked and discussed. Chris Evans and his team still have a long way to go, but everything has to start somewhere and the website has been live for only a couple of days. So, I wanna give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they’ll make the content richer.
Secondly, ASP needs to build an audience in order to get politicians speak their minds more. Nowadays, politicians have multiple channels through which they reach constituents such as news channels, op-eds, social networks or their own websites. The only way that they will generate content for ASP is that their constituents frequent the website, giving politicians a reason to spend time on content for ASP. The star power of Chris Evans will initially bring traffic, but the site cannot rely on Chris forever. It has to grow organically.
The next challenge that I can think of will be content moderation. At some point in the future, what if some politicians deliberately made false claims and post their videos on ASP, what would the site do? Taking the videos down would result in accusation of hampering free speech while leaving them intact would lead to voters being misled. In a nutshell, ASP would run into the same trouble that Twitter or Facebook is facing now and I don’t think they want that. ASP needs to build a culture that fosters communication only in good faith by officials.
Lastly, and this is why I think the website is aptly named “A Starting Point”, even though we can benefit from this project, we still need to do our homework. The information presented on ASP is just the beginning. It falls on each of us to do further investigation and keep these politicians honest. Let me give you an example. If you listen to Republican officials talk about the Tax Cut in 2017, they reason that they passed the law in order to create jobs through tax incentives given to businesses. Well, although there may be more jobs created, we have to ask: what kind of jobs are we talking about? More waiting jobs at restaurants for college graduates aren’t what we have in mind, aren’t they? Or $7-per-hour jobs don’t necessarily solve entirely our issues, do they? Plus, at the time of unprecedented economic expansion at the time in 2017, wasn’t there anything else to encourage job creation other than a giant tax cut for the rich and corporations?
In sum, ASP started to do their part in bringing elected officials from both sides of the aisle and voters together and we need to start doing ours as well. The job of understanding pressing issues should not only fall onto ASP. There is only so much they can do. As mentioned above, I think Chris and his team will do more to keep this project running well. We have big elections coming up till the end of the year. You have seen what is going on in the country. Your votes matter. They are the most powerful weapon in each voter’s arsenal. Use it well. Get informed. I appreciate what Chris and his team did. Have a great weekend and stay safe!