Let your voice be heard.
Five years ago, Steve Katzman knew change was needed.
Katzman, who’s been involved with Jewish organizations in Metro Detroit such as JARC, Kadima, JFS and Friendship Circle for many years now, was trying to put together a coalition to bring all those entities together.
The reason for seeking the coalition was significant funding cuts coming down from Lansing, reallocating funding for those organizations to other counties.
“I got involved with those organizations, and the answer from most of them with regards to the funding cuts was to do letter-writing campaigns,” Katzman said.
Katzman got together with Allan Gelfond, who had done fundraising for the Jewish Federation for years, and got involved in those letter-writing campaigns, but quickly realized it was an archaic process. Individuals had to figure out who their elected officials were, type up written letters in their own words, get addresses to all their elected officials and then mail it to them all separately.
Katzman knew there needed to be an easier, more convenient way to go about contacting one’s elected officials. It was at that moment when he started researching and crafting what that vision might look like.
“What kept resonating was getting politics down to a one-to-one level, making sure that you have a voice and letting your voice be heard, so that it’s not going into a dark hole,” Katzman said.
That vision turned into Contact My Politician, which became a passion project for Katzman, who didn’t have the ability to dedicate full-time attention to it due to his other business endeavors such as Camelot Venture Group and Smile Direct Club. The website slowly became a reality over the last five years, until it finally opened for business in June.
Contact My Politician allows users to simply type in their street address, which immediately brings up all their elected officials. The users can then send a written or video message to one or many of those officials, with any comments, questions or concerns they may have about pressing political topics.
The politician is notified through the platform of any messages from their constituents, and they’re able to respond through the platform in both written and video form, as well.
There’s also a portion of the website geared toward nonprofits, which allows the nonprofit to write a form letter in support of a specific position or initiative. The website provides those nonprofits with a dedicated link for that campaign, which they can then send out to their supporters.
The supporters for the nonprofit can then contact their local politicians through the website to support the specific position or initiative, with an option to personalize the form letter.
When users create a profile on the website, they’re asked a list of questions, including if they’re registered to vote, as well as if they voted in the most recent presidential, primary and midterm elections. The site also asks what issues are most important to the user, with drop-down options including everything from civil and LGBTQ rights to drug and gun control policies, to economy and healthcare.
Contact My Politician is looking to build awareness and a base by targeting traditionally non-online media that have an online presence, such as local television stations, radio stations and magazines, and by allowing them to integrate this functionality into their platform.
“We’re working on interfacing this, being able to allow a Fox 2 Detroit or Detroit News to integrate this functionality into their website, so when they’re reporting on a political story, they can encourage their audience to come to their website and let their voice be heard,” Katzman said.
While the obvious incentive is there for the constituent, Katzman also stressed that there’s significant value in the website for politicians as well.
“We’ve already had a couple politicians who have asked for access to mailing lists or if we can facilitate a town hall meeting with people who are engaged in our website that reside in their district.”
While the main focus of the site is about strengthening the communication between constituents and their politicians, Katzman agrees Contact My Politician could also help to combat voter suppression; with how unnecessarily arduous the process of contacting an elected official previously was, so much so that it may have prevented individuals from getting involved in the political process in the first place. Katzman also agrees that the site could provide voter education, for November and beyond.
“What we’re seeing is a high percentage of users that didn’t vote in the most recent election,” Katzman said. “But now you can tell they’re very concerned and engaged, more than likely because we’re giving them a platform to make them feel that they have a say in the process, and they’re more than likely to now come out and vote.”