No matter what cause you believe in, raising awareness and getting support from the community, leaders, and law makers is essential to making change. This article reviews seven different advocacy resource tools—apps, websites and guides. Whether you’re fighting for equal justice, climate control, or a new stop sign on your street, these tools help you get your voice heard and stay on top of laws related to your cause.
1. 5 Calls
Best For: Calling Congress members who represent your state and community
Format: Phone app and website
Use 5 Calls to easily and effectively contact your politicians about the issues you care about. It’s based on the notion that it only takes 5 minutes to make 5 calls.
Many sources agree that calling your representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives is the best way to be heard, and one of the easiest ways to be proactive. 5 Calls helps you by taking the hassle out of contacting your politicians and makes it as simple as possible. They give you the phone numbers you need and a script to help you voice your opinion about issues that matter to you.
How does 5Calls.org work?
The best thing about 5 Calls is that its easy to use because they’ve already done the cumbersome work for you. They’ve already found the right people you need to contact and their phone numbers. Also, they give you a sample script so you don’t have to get anxious about what to say. Here’s the quick, simple steps for using 5 Calls:
- Visit the website: Start by going to the 5Calls.org website or download their phone app.
- Enter Location: Enter your zip code or allow location detection on your browser or app. Your location information is used to identify your Congress members and the issues that impact your state or community.
- Choose Issue: You’ll be presented with a list of issues to choose from. 5 Calls has already researched each issue and determined which representatives are best to contact for each issue.
- Make the Call: Once you select the issues that are important to you, you’ll see a script of what to say when you make the call. All you have to do is make the call and read your script. Making a call typically take less than 1 minute.
What happens when you call your Congress Members about a political issue?
When you call, you probably won’t get your Congress member on the phone. But that’s okay! Instead, someone on their staff will likely answer the phone. The staffer will write down your opinion and tally whether you are for or against the issue you called about. Staffers help keep track of all calls and they present the information to your representative.
If you have a personal story related to an issue, the staffer will make note of this as well. Sometimes, your representative may call you back to learn more information about how the issue impacts you.
You may get a voice mailbox instead of a live person. That’s okay too. You can leave a message and the staffer will make note of your opinion and your location and add it to their tally. Some advocates believe the main goal is to be counted as for or against a bill or issue, thus leaving a voice message may be just as good as talking with a live staffer.
Will calling your Congress Members make a difference?
Yes! Calling your representatives in Congress can make a big impact. Calls get immediate attention and large call volumes help place issues at the top of your representatives’ list of priorities. Staffers at your representatives’ office will write down your concerns and make sure your opinion is counted.
What sets 5 Calls apart from other advocacy tools?
Because 5 Calls is an app with push notifications to your phone, it is arguably the quickest and easiest way to do something about the issues you care about. With just a few clicks on your phone, 5 Calls makes it easy for you actively participate in government and take meaningful civic action.
2. Call the Halls: Contacting Your Representative the Smart Way
Best For: In-person meetings and communications withCongress members
Format: PDF Download
Cost: Free, or whatever you’d like to donate for it.
Call the Halls is a 21-paged e-book with tips and information on how to be most effective in contacting your Congress members. The author is Emily Ellsworth, a former staffer for 2 Utah Congress members. She provides detailed information, from a staffers perspective, about how to effectively call, write or meet with your representatives.
Call the Halls is easy to read with guidance that is easy to follow. It shows how to be strategic about what we contact our representatives for and in how we contact them. It includes instructions on how to write your own scripts to make your communications more personable.
For those who are new to citizen activism, Call the Halls is a great resource and reference tool. It provides introductory information to help you understand the legislative process. As well as explanations about the differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives and their roles. Author Emily Ellsworth also has several articles on Medium.com with insightful information on how to be an informed and effective citizen advocate.
What sets Call the Halls apart from other advocacy tools?
Several tools we found will help you call or write your representatives in Congress, which is a very meaningful way to advocate. But if you’re ready to step up your advocacy beyond phone calls and emails, let Call the Halls be your guide. It provides information on how to get an in-person meeting with your representatives and how to organize a town hall. And the guidance of how best to pursue these goals is provided by someone who has first-hand knowledge based on her experience working for Congress members.
Best For: Keeping track of legislation and bills in Congress via automatic alerts
If you’ve ever wondered about what happened (or is happening) to a proposed law or bill, head over to GovTrack.us for all the details. GovTrack.us is a website resource that tracks legislation in the U.S. Congress. It helps you keep track of updates on bills via alerts, and understand the broad context of legislation through their statistical analyses. You can also review research about bills, see committee activity, and see how each Congress member voted on every bill.
The overall mission of GovTrack is to help Americans by providing information that is easy to read and understand so people can actively participate in their government. It began as a project to make the U.S. Congress more open, accessible and transparent.
What Can You Do on GovTrack.us?
GovTrack is like a one-stop shop for everything you want to know about specific bills in Congress and Congress member activity. Here’s some of the great things you can do on GovTrack.us to help with your advocacy efforts:
- Bill Finder: Narrow down a list of bills based on your exact interests. This is a great feature to use if you’re not sure what bills are related to the causes you care about.
- Bill Status: Check the current status of bills and resolutions (i.e. legislation).
- Bill History: Find historical information about the bills you’re interested in (or about any bill). For example, learn about what happened to them in the past, whether they were amended, reintroduced, etc. GovTrack allows you to see all activity on a bill from the time it was introduced to the time it was enacted (or died).
- Related Bills: Find other bills that are related to the bills you’re interested in.
- Who Introduced It?: Find which Congress members introduced or cosponsored the bills you’re interested in.
- Who Represents Me?: Find out who your Congress members are in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, and which Congressional district you’re in.
- How Did They Vote?: Find out how your Congress members voted on each bill and how many votes they missed.
- What Should I Say?: Get guidance on what to say when you contact your Congress members with GovTrack’s sample text and scripts.
- Congress Member Profiles: See a comprehensive summary page for each current member of Congress. It includes their “ideology-leadership” ranking, their ratings from advocacy organizations, their enacted legislation, their sponsored bills, voting record and missed votes.
- Congress Member Misconduct: Use GovTrack’s Legislator Misconduct Database to find out if a Congress member has had any investigations, settlements, felony convictions, or resignations related to alleged misconduct.
- Congress Member History: View the historical list Congress members and research individual members dating back to America’s founders.
- COVID-19 in Congress: Find out which Congress members have been quarantined or tested positive for COVID-19.
- Committee Activity: Look up committee activity to see where legislation is being debated.
- Congressional District Map: Find and view all congressional districts using an interactive map.
- Learn How Are Laws Made: Learn about how a bill becomes a law in Congress. There’s also information about how other types of laws are made outside of the US Congress.
- Teach Your Kids: If you’re a parent or an educator, you can use the study guides on each of GovTrack’s bill pages to teach children about how laws are made and how government works in America.
- Spread Your Message: As an advocate, you can share lists of the bills with others who support your cause. You can also publicly post position statements on bill pages to encourage others to participate in your movement.
Another helpful feature that makes GovTrack a great advocacy tools is that you can get automatic updates. GovTrack lets you sign up for alerts and create your own tracker lists. All you need is your email address to sign up and use this feature.
Here’s some of the alerts you can receive from GovTrack.us:
- Bill Alerts: Track bills by subject or keyword and get alerts as it moves through the legislative process. You can track a specific bill, or all bills in a selected subject area.
- Congress Member Alerts: Track a Congress member’s activity and get alerts when they introduce new bills or vote.
- Voting Alerts: Get alerts after every vote in Congress.
- Committee Alerts: Track committees and get alerts when legislation in a subject area of interest to you is introduced or acted on.
- Bill Status Widget: You can add a widget to your website that gives updates about specific bills and legislation you want to follow.
As you can see, GovTrack is an awesome and comprehensive tool. It is run independently and is not affiliated with any government agency, politicians or political parties. It began as a hobby project by a software engineer named Joshua Tauberer. It has inspired open government movements worldwide and testified before Congress on how to modernize Congress and make its work more transparent.
What sets GovTrack.us apart from other websites about proposed legislation?
- Comprehensive history and status of all bills, not just the ones that make the news.
- Comprehensive information about Congress Members and their activities, including voting records and alleged misconduct.
- Study guides to teach yourself and others.
- Multiple types of alerts you can set to stay updated about bills and Congress activity.
Best For: Easy-to-read summaries of active bills in Congress
Causes.com (previously known as Countable) is also a convenient place to find out what’s happening on specific bills and proposed laws in Congress. It’s similar to GovTrack.us, except Causes has a social media feel to it and allows users to add comments about each bill.
How to learn about laws Congress is considering on Causes.com?
Causes.com provides a very user-friendly way to learn about proposed bills in Congress. When you click on the Bills tab on Causes.com, you’ll see a list of most recent activity on federal legislation from the House and Senate. On each bill listed, you can quickly give your opinion about it by clicking the Vote link at the bottom of each bill’s thumbnail image. You can also easily comment on it or share it using the Comment and Share links.
When you click to open the webpage of a specific Bill listed in Causes.com, you’ll see a summary of the arguments in favor of it and opposed to it. Below that is a list of the top comments on both sides of the argument. And below that there’s more detailed information about the bill, its status in the House and Senate, and a complete listing of all users’ comments about the bill. In the right side panel, you can see when the bill was introduced, who introduced it, and access the full text of the bill.
What does the Vote feature on Causes.com do?
On Causes.com, when you click the Vote button on a bill you’ll be asked to sign up for an account. Once you’ve created your account you’ll be able to vote yea or nay on specific bills and have your vote sent automatically to your lawmakers. Causes.com will send your contact information with your customized message to lawmakers as verification that you live in their district. Your contact information is important because representatives are more likely to respond or take notice when hearing from their own constitutents.
How to build your own movement on Causes.com?
Causes.com has a feature to help build communities around issues and causes. This feature is similar to Facebook Groups where members with similar interests can follow your page and get updates about your activities. To get started, click the Discover tab, then click the Causes sub-tab. From here you can discover and follow Causes that you’re interested in, or start your own.
How to stay on top of Issues you care about using Causes.com?
Causes.com also makes it easy to find groups with similar interests. The Interests tab displays a list of categories, such as Civil Rights, Education, Health and many others. You can follow these Interest pages to see related legislation and get updates on the topics you care about.
What makes Causes.com different from other websites about proposed legislation?
Causes.com takes pride in explaining legislation in plain language, making it easy for citizens to understand what laws are being proposed and what’s at stake. They provide non-partisian summaries that answer questions people really want to know, such as how much will it cost and who is impacted.
To help minimize information overload Causes.com doesn’t provide summaries on every legislative bill because many bills don’t progress. Instead, they provide summaries only on bills that will likely see a vote, or that pose an interesting political question.
And Causes.com offers a place to see how other people feel and have conversations in a more authentic and constructive way than traditional social media outlets. Causes.com provides a platform to be heard by and make demands of corporations too, in addition to government officials.
Best For: Daily log of what’s happening in Congress
POPVOX is a good place to start if you’re looking for a summary of what happened today and daily in Congress. To get to the daily log of bill activity, you have to scroll down to the footer of the website and select “Federal” Legislation. Doing this will bring you to the Federal Overview page, where you’ll see a log of daily activity on Featured Bills and New Bills. Keep in mind that the daily log only works when Congress is in session. Also, there’s a tab for Recent Activity which shows the latest user comments and posted opinions.
POPVOX offers an email newsletter too. Their emails summarize what’s ahead in Congress at the beginning of each week, and explain what happened in Congress at the end of each week. They don’t promote any positions and instead communicate in a neutral non-partisian tone.
POPVOX encourages you to sign up for an account with them so they can send certified communications to your representatives that express your support or opposion to specific bills (i.e. pieces of legislation). POPVOX verifies that you’re a real person and only delivers your opinions to the lawmakers who represent your state or district. Thus, they help solve the problem of lawmakers being able to hear from their own states and districts through online contact.
You can also create a profile on POPVOX for your advocacy group, organization or company. Then use your profile to register your groups position by endorsing or opposing specific bills and regulations.
What sets POPVOX apart from other websites about proposed legislation?
POPVOX is working on a new feature that will help citizens track state and local legislation, not just federal. If this feature becomes available, it will be a huge accomplishment and much needed advocacy tool. The laws that impact people’s lives on a daily basis are created at the local and state level. Yet, as POPVOX founders have realized, “there are very few resources actually covering the state level, with fewer state house reporters. It’s the great unobserved level of government.”
The legislative directory on POPVOX is also helpf for learning interesting background information about Congress members, such as where they previously worked and where they went to school.
What’s the difference between POPVOX and Causes.com and which one is better?
You may have noticed that POPVOX and Causes have similar features. They both have similar goals of engaging citizens by connecting them to useful legislative information in a nonpartisan way. And they have similar goals of helping citizens be heard by delivering their opinions to government officials. But personally, I found Causes to be much easier to use than POPVOX and overall a better tool. Here’s why:
First, navigating the POPVOX website is not as user-friendly as it could be. Access to main features is located in the footer of POPVOX, instead of in a more visible menu at the top or in the body of the page.
Second, I didn’t find as much helpful information about bills on POPVOX compared to Causes. The daily log is great for seeing an entry of activity happening on bills. But too often clicking on the bill to learn more resulted in no additional summary or information about the bill.
Lastly, unlike Causes.com, the user comments on POPVOX feel like an unmoderated Facebook post, with no efficient way to bypass or report repeatitive or spammy comments that don’t add value to the discussion.
Nevertheless, POPVOX does have helpful features as discussed above and is planning to make some enhancements. Bookmarking POPVOX’s daily log in your web browser could be a great way to see what Congress is up to every day—if that’s your thing. And the new features it has planned for state and local legislation seems very promising and will definitely increase the usefulness of this site. So, I wouldn’t count POPVOX out completely. I encourage you to use the features you find helpful on POPVOX, and check back in the future for the upcoming improvements.
Best For: Fact-checking issues, trending stories and viral social media posts
In today’s era of misinformation and information overload, it’s helpful to have a reliable fact-checker. Snopes has been around for more than 25 years and is the oldest and largest online fact-checking site. Many people, including journalists, consider it to be a valuable tool for research.
How to use Snopes.com for fact-checking?
Using Snopes is easy. Just type in a few key words related to the topic you’re searching. Snopes will show you results of articles related to your search terms. Once you find the article containing the information you’re trying to verify or research, you can click on it to see Snopes’ full report.
The great thing about Snopes is once you find a topic, you don’t have to dig far for the answer. Snopes’ findings are clear and transparent. You’ll see a big green checkmark if the information is true, a big red X-mark if it’s false, or a diamond shaped icon if it’s a mixture, unproven or inconclusive. Snopes also provides a full explanation of the story’s origins and sources used in its investigation.
You can also submit items to Snopes to have it fact-checked. And sign up for their email newsletter to get regular updates about stories they’ve debunked and researched.
How does Snopes compare to other advocacy tools?
Snopes helps us make sense of the stories we see trending on the internet. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a social media post that’s turned out to be an urban legend or myth. Fact-checking websites like Snopes can help stop the circulation of false information and misleading stories about the issues you care about. Use Snopes to help you learn and verify facts related to important issues. This will help you be a better adovate and bring awareness to your community in a credible way.
7. A User’s Guide to Democracy
Best For: Learning the fundamentals about the US Constitution and how American government works
Cost: $16.99 List Price
Ok, so let’s be honest…many of us weren’t paying attention in our high school History or Civics classes. And now we’re adults doing our best to be contributing members of society and active citizens. We pay our taxes and go to the polls to vote for politicians. But we have only a general understanding of what’s in the US Constitution and how our government branches work. That’s where A User’s Guide to Democracy comes in handy.
A User’s Guide to Democracy was written by the hosts of a Civics 101 public radio show, Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy. Their goal was to provide a crash course on how the US government works. The book is easy-to-read with fun illustrations supporting the text. And the best part is that the book is a not meant to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, its a handy reference guide that you can use to quickly find answers to your questions as they arise.
The authors say, in the book’s introduction, that knowing how things work is “valuable armor.” Here’s a sample of the type of questions this book can help you answer:
- What does the Secretary of Defense do?
- Which offices make up “The Cabinet”?
- What’s the difference between the House and the Senate?
- What does Federalism mean?
- How does the Electoral College work?
This book also provides summaries of each section of the foundational documents that govern America, which include:
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Constitution
- The Bill of Rights
- The Amendments
What makes A User’s Guide to Democracy different compared to other advocacy tools?
Most of the resource tools mentioned in this article have information or features that can help you communicate with your legislatures. However, this book guides you further and takes your advocacy to the next level with dedicated chapters on how to lobby, stage a protest and run for office.
It also contains summaries of some of the most important Supreme Court cases in history. All of this valuable information is conveniently presented in a user-friendly format, and written in plain language for everyday people.
It’s important to understand the structure you’re working within and applicable rules so you can effectively give a voice to the issues you believe in. Each of the resource tools in this article can be used by average citizens or experienced activists to do just that, and accomplish your advocacy goals.