I didn't know exactly what I was getting into when I started Capitol Bells. Since I don't know what I'm doing starting a blog either I'll start from the top.
I've been the intern answering the hourly, repeat calls of a select few crazies and taking constituents on tours. I've been the guy who goes through all the incoming district correspondence (calls, letters, e-mails, and faxes) to tally them up by issue and make sure they get a form letter response a few weeks or months down the line. And I've taken the meetings of the special interest groups and lobbyists (Time Warner's SOPA guy was my all time favorite).
More people are contacting Congress than ever before, and yet you're being represented less (see DecodeDC Episode 1 by Andrea Seabrook). Sure, the staff tallies up your form letters when possible, but sharing those tallies outside the office is a political liability Members always avoid. And let's face it, one percent of constituents writing in isn't statistically significant anyway. Constituent correspondence is noisy, and it's getting noisier with social media joining the fray.
Those special interests, lobbyists, colleagues, party leaders - they are the signal on Capitol Hill. They have regular access to congressional offices. They have relationships with Members and staff. Their voices are heard. And they are representing YOU to your elected official whether you like it or not.
It's not entirely fair to blame the politicians or blame the institution itself. There are Members like Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee who will spend 16 hours a day back in the district visiting as many of her constituents as humanly possible. It's not enough. And that's the crux of it. It is not humanly possible to be in touch with a "community" of 700,000+ constituents.
We need a system to track, opine on, and share the legislative issues important to us. We need a toolset to measure, display, and contextualize the performance of elected officials based on our personal and communal expectations. We need objective, quantifiable metrics of representation.
This is where my story begins.