Contact your Member of Congress with better self organizing tools

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Recently, OpenCongress, a joint project of The Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation announced a new and improved way of contacting your Members of Congress.

Open Congress version 3 is a new, free & open-source public resource website that helps both groups and individuals email their members of Congress from one webpage while tracking and sharing their correspondence. Two of the most engaging tools of OpenCongress version 3 are:

1. Contact Congress: which lets you write a letter to all three of your members of Congress and send it to their email addresses. It also enables you to track responses, and share your letter with the OpenCongress community and your social media followers.

2. My OC Groups: which is an open-source social network, provides members with the tools to share their position on an issue and work together on watchdogging, educating and organizing actions directed at Congress. My OC Groups can be used by both organizations and individuals.

My OC Groups can help you connect with established organizations and groups that are already working on the same issues that you are interested in. For instance, as I am interested in government transparency, I searched using keywords such as “transparency” and then joined the Sunlight Foundation OpenCongress Group (which you too can join). So now, together as a group, we can illustrate our position regarding a specific bill in Congress.

What is most empowering, however, is that as an individual, you can be a lead organizer by starting your own group and finding others like you to rally behind a common interest. In essence, it gives you the perfect resources to self organize!

If you’ve been following the debt ceiling debate and the recent creation of a “Super Committee” in Congress, you’ll know that this is the perfect time to contact our representatives to demand a more open and accountable government. So I wrote to my representatives — here’s how:

First I chose S.365  – The Budget Control Act of 2011 – as the bill I was interested in. The S. 365 is the debt ceiling negotiations bill which aside from increasing the debt ceiling, also required the creation of a Joint Select Committee now known as the “SuperCommittee”. Then I tracked it (one has the option to either support, oppose or track any bill).

After deciding whether you want to support, oppose or simply track a bill, the next step is to fill in your contact information (the letter can not be sent without all required information).

I used the message builder (which is great to use because it contains detailed information about the bill — including last action taken on the bill, committee assigned to it, the highest rated articles on it and most commented sections of the bill). In my letter, I also asked my Members of Congress to make sure that transparency is observed during the joint committee’s meetings including disclosure of all powerful interests connected to any Committee member.

Lastly, I got a message that all three of my Members of Congress have been emailed and was given the option of sharing my correspondence via social media.

You might notice below I got an error message for two of my representatives. This is happening in a small minority of cases (unfortunately, those include my district). It generally means that a Member’s webform isn’t configured properly in the OpenCongress “Formaggedon” module or that their .gov website has changed, but the bugs are being rapidly worked out.

If you notice other kinks while using the tool, please shoot us a note in the comments section.

Check this out to see what else OpenCongress can do for you and/or your organization including providing you with new widgets, Facebook Connect and API enhancements.

Note: It is advisable to check your account settings to “public” in order for other users to connect with you.

We hope you’ll join us in not just using Open Congress v.3 but also to let Congress know we need the new “Super Congress” to be open and transparent. Please join us! And feel free to leave your thoughts or impressions on the new tools in the comments.

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