A toolbelt for the next 2-4 years and beyond

Jan 15, 2017 Personal

I was going to present all this information in a Twitter thread, but then I realized my descriptions could easily stretch into dozens of tweets. At that length, it should be in a blog post. Still, I'll try to be brief.

  1. www.whoismyrepresentative.com: If you only bookmark one site, let this be it. Plug in your zip code, get a list of your members of Congress. Click on each members' name to get a directory page with urls and phone numbers. Extra credit: add those numbers as Favorites in your phone contacts and use them often. (Also, check out the public API.)
  2. www.senate.gov and www.house.gov: These are the official web sites of our legislative branch. The Senate web site is a little more useful in terms of finding the results of things like roll call votes and upcoming legislation, but both require some navigating around to find anything useful.
  3. projects.propublica.org/represent/: While I recommend bookmarking the above Congressional sites for reference, ProPublica's Represent project is eminently more readable and useful for finding the latest on House and Senate votes. They also have an API.
  4. www.sunlightfoundation.com: Although ProPublica took over a lot of Sunlight Foundation's data tools last year, the Sunlight Foundation is still active! Especially useful is their local open data policy page.
  5. www.opensecrets.org: This is how you find out where the money comes from. The Center for Responsive Politics maintains a comprehensive database of publicly available political contribution data. Their search/navigation is not the most intuitive, but with a little work you can figure out, say, who were the top contributors to the Republican Party in 2016. Or see a record of your own political contributions.
  6. www.ballotpedia.org: BallotPedia is probably best known for their sample ballot lookup; I rely on it to learn about candidates and initiatives in local elections when local voter information resources fall short. But they also have a comprehensive calendar of upcoming state and local elections, something that's going to be important in the coming years (yes, you should be paying attention to what's happening at the local level - it's a great opportunity to start effecting change).
  7. www.regulations.gov: Did you know this was a thing? There are a lot of Federal policy changes that don't even happen in Congress - they're announced by Federal agencies, and the public gets to comment. This site lists proposed changes and gives you, a presumed member of the public, a place to make those comments. Getting through the language and legalese can be cumbersome, but it's worth skimming this site every few days just to get an idea of what's going on.
  8. www.govtrack.us: GovTrack is another great site for tracking information about bills and activity in Congress. It's a Django project (yay!) with links to the codebase on GitHub. What I really love is the ability to customize alerts about legislators or legislative activity.

Coming soon: A post about reliable news sources I read every day, and another one about who needs your donations right now (hint: it involves @ProgressGive).