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SpeakTogether: The Origin Story

Starting With a Question

Everything you will read below started during an episode of Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver. Specifically, the episode on the National Rifle Association(NRA) and the state of research into gun violence in the US. To summarize that clip: the NRA is effective because they have a mobilized and emotionally engaged constituency. They send emails, write letters, and make phone calls to their representatives on a regular basis.

Send emails, write letters, and make phone calls. Was that really the secret? None of those things is particularly difficult, they all just take time and effort.

So I decided to try this out myself. "Time and effort" turned out to be, "A lot of time and effort." What could I do that would make this easier?

From that point on I had a goal: create a tool that could help me write new letters to my representatives easily, quickly, and effectively on a regular basis.

Choosing a Cause

In Every Community, there is work to be done.

-Marianne Williamson

Fortunately(for me), the North Carolina state legislature has not shied away from controversy the last few years. NC is a battleground state, and was a critical swing vote in the 2016 election. So, I took my fight to the NC Voting Rights Laws; laws which were intentionally designed to disenfranchise African Americans living in North Carolina.

Half way through development, however, something amazing happened. The Supreme Court voted to uphold the unconstitutionality of the Voting ID laws, agreeing with Appellate Court decisions that they were clearly and egregiously designed to target minorities living in NC. (Side note: Governor McCrory continued to fight to have these laws reinstated, but recently, Governor Cooper has formally withdrawn any appeals in favor of Voter ID laws in NC).

At this point, the fight against North Carolina House Bill 2 had been gearing up for half a year. It was an easy decision to start building SpeakTogether as a tool to fight HB2.

Where We Are Today

Internet Privacy

At the end of March, 2017, two important things happened:

1. North Carolina HB2 was repealed. Despite the headline, this was a victory for opponents of LGBT rights. With this repeal, the fight for transgender equality in North Carolina has been set back 3 years, and the future of Trans Anti-Discrimination laws are at the mercy of a Republican majority in NC Congress.

2. The ISP Browser History Law passed the House of Representatives. At this point, it became very clear what my next step needed to be. I've been a computer geek my entire life, and at times I've had an embarrassing attachment to digital privacy. As my parents would tell you: whether it was 70-character passwords or full disk encryption on all of my hard drives, my paranoia over my digital info has occasionally bordered on the unhealthy.

This is where we are now. I'm currently putting the together the content that will form the basis of SpeakTogether's push against privacy encroachment, after which we, along with all of you, will be able to write hundreds of thousands of letters to Congress, the White House, and the FCC. We will let them know our privacy is not for sale, and we will let them know loudly and often.

What We Bring to the Table

Empowering Consistent Action

There are tools out there that can connect you to your Congressperson. There are also tools that can draft letters to politicians on certain issues such as Net Neutrality. However, the hardest, and most effective, part of speaking out politically is delivering your message loudly and often. John Oliver says it far better than I can while delivering a monologue about the effectiveness of the NRA, and the consequences of the Orlando shooting:

"This is where I would usually say, 'call your ​Senator and Representative'...and you should absolutely do that, if you want to. But you are going to need to do more than that. You're going to need to call them again and remind them...then call them on their birthday...on arbor day...on days where there isn't a mass shooting...because repealing [this amendment] is not asking much."

-John Oliver

Creating Meaningful Content

At this point you may be asking yourself, "That makes sense, why aren't more people reaching out?" That was the question I asked after watching that clip. So I tried. And here's what I found: Writing a compelling letter about issues you care about is hard. Doing it every week, while calling representatives, keeping up with new legislation, and still running your life is almost impossible.

So that's the problem I set out to solve. I built a website and a tool I dubbed Speak, that would help generate unique, personalized content that was tailored to me and to the law I was fighting: NC House Bill 2. At its peak, I(as well as a few others that helped test it) Could write 1 letter a week. I could write 2 letters a week. I could write 5 letters a week. Each one was unique, distinguished, eloquent, and tailored to me.

Our Vision

Advocating on Multiple Fronts

SpeakTogether was designed to be scalable. I am not focused on one bill, or one medium of communication. What we are trying to build is a engine that bring political data to you, and bring your voice to the government. Our tool will find bills at the local, state and federal levels. We will notify you of legislation on issues you care about, and make it easy for you to speak to those issues clearly and consistently, whether it be via email, phone, or in person, without disrupting your life to do so. 

Other Projects

Speak was created on the principle of giving power to individual voices. To that end, we are working on other projects that we think are useful and purposeful. Our speed and capabilities are primarily driven by our resources. If you are interested in hearing more about us, or getting involved, you can reach me at: matt@speaktogether.org

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