Bring Tech to Rayburn Cafeteria

The Capitol Bells team was excited to join CES on the Hill yesterday. We hung out with other tech companies from small start-ups to Google and Samsung. The best part of the evening was when Members of Congress came around to our booth. Most pointed at our Capitol Bells sign and exclaimed "Oh I use that!" So here are a few pictures from last night of the team in our suits, schmoozing in the Rayburn cafeteria. 

Ted being interviewed by CSPAN's Peter Slen.

Ted, double fisting Iphones, showing Representative Erik Paulsen from Minnesota's 3rd our new app Cloakroom. 

Representative Carlos Curbelo from Florida's 26th was nice enough to come say hi. I decided it would look cooler if I closed my eyes. 

Team selfie.

Big thanks to the Consumer Electronics Show for putting on a great event!

- JMac

Cloakroom Troubleshooting 101

Cloakroom is protected by the Google Cloud's own high tech security, and we here at Capitol Bells go to great lengths to keep you completely anonymous by never tracking or storing your personal data. However, this kind of identity protection can have some unforeseen consequences.

For instance, in recent days a couple users have had trouble viewing messages within Cloakroom.

For those of you mysterious political operatives who are too cautious to contact us directly to help with your technical difficulties, we have created a quick troubleshooting guide for you to try out. 

Option 1

  1. close the app
  2. double tap on the home button for Multi-task screen to show up
  3. swipe up to close the Cloakroom app
  4. tap on home button once to end Multi-task screen
  5. re-open Cloakroom

Option 2

  1. delete the app and re-download
  2. press down on any app icon until all icons on phone screen starts to 'wiggle'
  3. a little 'x' at the top left corner will show up on each app icons
  4. press the little 'x' ton the Cloakroom app icon
  5. re-download Cloakroom
  6. restart iPhone

If these don't work feel free to shoot us an email at cloakroom@capitolbells.com. Thanks for using Cloakroom!!

- JMac

Come on Down to CES on the Hill

The Capitol Bells team will posting up in the Rayburn Office building from 6 – 8pm with dozens of other companies to discuss Hack4Congress and how we keep you secure and anonymous on Cloakroom. We’ll be showing Members of Congress and their staff that our suite of apps can make their jobs easier. We can deliver real-time vote alerts, foster constituent engagement, and enable Capitol Hill insiders to discreetly talk about policy with one another. Big thanks to the Consumer Electronics Association for hosting us. If you’re on the Hill, come by our booth and say hi. More info.

-- JMac

Join Us in DC and SF for #Hack4Congress

Hi Everyone,

I had a blast participating at the first #Hack4Congress event at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I am super pumped that OpenGov is turning it into a hacking franchise! There are already two more hackathons lined up, one in SF this weekend and another here in DC next month at the Capitol. What makes this experience unique is the opportunity for technologists to pair up with policy experts so they can learn from each other, throw a bunch of crazy hack ideas at the wall, build some prototypes, and see what sticks.


Seriously, make time to participate in one of these.


Here's more info from Leili at OpenGov:

#Hack4Congress, a series of “not-just-for-technologists” events, brings together political scientists, technologists, designers,  lawyers, researchers, Congressional staffers, and lawmakers to create new digital tools, policy innovations, and other solutions to address the dysfunction in Congress.  

To get a sense of what a #Hack4Congress event is like, take a look at this great recap video from the first hackathon: 

There will be a total of three #Hack4Congress events. The first took place at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in January; the second will be this weekend, March 21-22 at Code for America’s headquarters in San Francisco; and the third will take place in DC, April 29-May 1, at Google’s new headquarters. The winning team from each event will come to DC to present their ideas to members of Congress and their staff.

Event details:

San Francisco, CA

  • When: March 21-22, 2015

  • Where:

    • Panel discussion at SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission St San Francisco, CA 94105

    • Hacking at Code for America HQ, 155 9th Street, San Francisco, CA, 94103

  • Registration: Click here to register for the panel discussion and here to register for two days of hacking!

  • Logistics Questions?

Washington, DC

  • When: April 29-May 1, 2015

  • Where:

    • Panel discussion and reception on April 29 at Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center, 901 K Street NW, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20001

    • Two days of hacking at Google DC, 25 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20001

  • Registration: Will be free, but the event is limited to 100 people. Look for another email from us soon!

  • Questions?

Be discreet! Be productive!

Download Cloakroom

Congress: when it's all said and done, ain't nothing being said, ain't nothing being done. Yeah, we've heard the special order speeches served up in seven-second sound bites, but we need a dialogue – honest conversation, meaningful words – the kind that leads to action. 

Welcome to Cloakroom.
 
Our new iOS application is set to establish a more productive discourse on Capitol Hill. It offers members of the Hill community a secure and casual forum to discuss House and Senate business.


Cloakroom is a place where congressional insiders can slip away from the blind, hungry glare of cameras and speak openly and off the record.
 
Cloakroom is discreet. All comments and posts are pseudonymous, so users control their own identities.
 
Cloakroom is exclusive. Access is restricted to members of the Hill community. To join the conversation, users must prove they are in the Capitol's campus by “checking-in” using location services.
 
Cloakroom is secure. Users control how much information about themselves they disclose. Your location and personal data are never tracked.
 
Interested in engaging in a cloakroom tête-à-tête? Take a look here: https://appsto.re/us/3e5Y5.I


Introducing the the new "Constituent Correspondence"

Today Members of Congress are reaching out to the public using Capitol Bells to urge House Leadership for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.  It's the citizen discharge petition. Writing and sharing "Motions" allows proponents of the same legislation to form an instant coalition to champion a cause.  As these Motions build momentum, the Congresspeople and citizens behind the actions will be able to measure support for the immigration bill HR 15 using social media.

Over the coming days, these Members and the public can openly track support for their initiative across the country, with opinion data broken down by congressional district. Furthermore, everyone can gauge the exact level of engagement generated by their own content based on who "agreed" to their Motion. 


Think of it like constituent correspondence for social media. Many citizens are interested in having their voice count in Congress, but most people aren't interested in calling or writing their representatives -- and, in my opinion as a former legislative correspondent, those messages may as well be sent to a black hole for the good they do. Motions are an easier way to engage with Congress, reach more people, and create transparent data you can count.


Real engagement goes both ways.

CapitolBells.com Going Live, Bringing Social to Congress

I am proud to announce the launch of the new social network for Congress, www.capitolbells.com. My goal is for it to modernize the way Congress and constituents interact on pressing legislation, letting us objectively grade the performance of Representatives and reach our friends who don't otherwise participate in national politics.

This new site is my next step in connecting Capitol Bells's massive congressional user base to Americans at home.  It provides Members of Congress and constituents alike a unique way to share and evaluate their own legislative priorities via ‘Motions’ posted to other social networks. Motions are brief, tweet-ready posts written by users to communicate their reason for supporting or opposing a piece of legislation. For example, my friend Sean would like to put pressure on legislators to actually move immigration reform.  What's your position?

As users weigh in, their actions are compared directly to their representatives’ official positions -- 'yea' or 'nay.'  Unlike phone calls and letters, CapitolBells.com is designed for the increasing importance of social media as a means of mass communication, and it will facilitate Members’ ability to harness and gauge the level of support on any legislation.

“My staff and I use Capitol Bells to make sure that I don't miss important votes,” says Jared Polis, a Congressman from Colorado and a former tech entrepreneur himself. “I am excited that now Capitol Bells will be offering another way for my constituents to communicate with me and other members of Congress about their views on legislation. I am proud to support efforts like Capitol Bells that demonstrate how technology and innovation can both ensure greater transparency as well as foster increased civic participation.”

The proceedings of Congress have been largely out of the public view for more than two hundred years.  While C-Span brought the theatre of the floor to a mass audience, I am working to adapt the legislative process into an interactive experience while bringing the people’s voice to Capitol Hill. Today as constituents vote on bills and share content, they will be able to personally gauge their Congresspersons’ voting records. Soon the most active users will themselves be able to share their own voting records as virtual candidates for Congress, and the functions of the site will be rolled into the mobile platform as well.

Capitol Bells on iPhone and Android now boasts usage by over half of the Members and their staff in the House of Representatives.  Since I launched it in the spring of 2013, the app has transformed the way Congress tracks the House and Senate floor in real-time by generating up to the minute vote alerts derived from the radio-controlled legislative clocks in the Capitol building. I hope CapitolBells.com can have as profound an effect on civic engagement.

Bypassing the Gatekeepers of Congress *Without Their Permission*

The Internet “allows awesome ideas to win because people like them, not because some gatekeeper said so.” — Alexis Ohanian, Without Their Permission.

On Reddit a wild sketcher can become a star, at DonorsChoose.org a special ed teacher can become a life changing philanthropist, and through Tumblr an unemployed recent college grad can hijack a national debate. The most powerful platforms across the Internet are those that cede control to the people and dismiss the notion of gatekeepers. As the web is democratizing nearly every aspect of our society from angel investing to pop culture, isn’t it ironic that the reins of democracy itself remain firmly in the hands of old institutionalists? After reading Without Their Permission I realized that I have already been designing Capitol Bells as a platform that helps everyone circumvent the gatekeepers of politics. I think that’s pretty exciting.

Two weeks ago I began the next phase of Capitol Bells — “Motions” — with major help from Brian Painter, a bad ass developer from South Carolina. Soon, Capitol Bells will let anyone lead legislative lobbying campaigns, personally gauge their representatives’ performance based on real congressional actions (not hype!), and even become political leaders and declare candidacy in their own communities — all without anyone’s permission. By combing social networking with user voting on bills, Capitol Bells has the potential to bypass every type of political gatekeeper: party leaders, media pundits, campaign contributors, lobbyists, you name it.

The SOPA protest was a huge inspiration for me as a cynical congressional staffer to see that Congress really is accountable to the public. I want to witness that happen again and again by facilitating a system of constant public feedback and accountability. Congress’s first job is to work for us. I look forward to demonstrating how Capitol Bells says no to political gatekeepers and yes to winning ideas from you and me.