For The 99% – Online Engagement As The New Democracy

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PopVox CEO Marci Harris talks about increased political engagement via the Internet.

By Ellie Cachette (Founder & CEO, ConsumerBell)

While the female entrepreneur momentum brews within the community, I had a chance to sit down with Marci Harris of PopVox to talk shop about her startups focused on political transparency. Marci agreed not all female founders are limited to the “Pink Ghetto” and how her life of inspiration has evolved into a flourishing product.

Listed as one of 15 Female Founder startups to watch in 2011, Marci ramps up PopVox just in time for the election season, we had to ask – what does the future hold?

Women 2.0: What do you think is the single most important change that Americans are making related to politics? Has anything evolved or improved in the last few decades? What trends are you seeing related to consumer behavior and government?

Marci Harris: The single most important change Americans are making related to politics – hands down – is to use technology to become more engaged. The rules of the game are forever altered – individuals are more connected and empowered than ever before. The transparency afforded by technology upends power structures based on limiting access to information or participation. That is not just true in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt but in communities across our own country.

We hear a lot about money in politics. While it is certainly a factor, its impact will be blunted over the long-term and eventually overtaken by the force of an engaged people with the ability make their voices heard. Getting a message out to millions used to take immense resources – now it is in each of our hands. That genie that will not go back in the bottle.

Women 2.0: What got you so passionate about politics and tech?

Marci Harris: Passion for politics comes from my family (dad is the super conservative Republican mayor of Madison County, TN; mom is a liberal Democratic activist in another small Tennessee town.) My first political memories are attending League of Women Voters events with my grandmother, working the polls for my dad, mom talking about the Equal Rights Amendment, and Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee in a red flannel shirt.

The work we are doing with POPVOX – and so many of the other wonderful efforts in the poli/tech space – is just the 2012 version of those grassroots efforts that have been taking place in small towns and big cities since the country’s founding.

Women 2.0: Tell us what Popvox does and how it (it? product?) can be used?

Marci Harris: POPVOX is a neutral, nonpartisan advocacy platform that meshes legislative data with personal stories and public sentiment. The site is designed to get messages through to Congress in the most effective way possible.

Individuals can ?nd information about every bill pending in Congress and see what advocacy groups, trade associations and other issue organizations have to say. They can “Weigh in” by choosing to support or oppose the bills and write a message to Congress, which POPVOX delivers to the appropriate Congressional of?ce.

Anyone with a website can use our “widgets” to direct their network to weigh in on bills. All information is aggregated and displayed in public “bill reports” that show for the first time what Congress is actually hearing. It’s a powerful too for showing true grassroots sentiment and holding Congress accountable to constituents.

Women 2.0: Did the STOP SOPA campaign work? Besides changes a twitter icon, are there other ways to show unity?

Marci Harris: Absolutely – it was successful at both its stated mission and in setting a new dynamic in motion. It was not just the changing of a Twitter icon, the in-person NYTech Meetup, the blacked out websites, or the thousands of messages to Congress that stopped that bill – it was the combination of all of that, which produced a collective “Oh $#!*” on Capitol Hill.

That single effort put large legacy organizations with big-names and years of Beltway connections on notice: old assumptions don’t always apply; old assurances don’t always hold. I say “don’t always” because we have yet to see what kind of attention and engagement will be maintained out of this effort.

Women 2.0: What do you think is more important? To win or be right?

Marci Harris: I think it’s most important to have a good idea and work transparently to convince others of its merits – and to be open to critique and new evidence.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Ellie Cachette is Founder and CEO of ConsumerBell, helping companies and parents manage recalls while keeping kids safe. Recognized by the California State Senate as an “Outstanding Educator” in AIDS and Public health in 1997, Ellie has been an active supporter in the campaign to cure AIDS and promote healthy living. A Springboard Enterprises alumna, Ellie also contributes to Huffington Post on topics about Women and Business. Follow her on Twitter at @ecachette.