THE BLOG
12/18/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

New Year's Resolution: Help Bridge the Gap Between Politics and the People

By the time the 114th Congress convenes next month, the midterm election will be a fading memory. On Capitol Hill, attention is expected to turn to a range of issues from international trade and immigration, to healthcare and energy. And when statehouses gavel in, they'll also get down to business proposing, debating and voting on laws that will impact hundreds of millions of people locally. While it's true that elections capture the national zeitgeist and mobilize tens of millions of people to be politically active for a single day, the vast majority simply don't know what their elected officials are doing (or in many cases not doing) in the 23 or 47 months between casting ballots.

And this is a problem. Ongoing political disengagement throughout the year (aside from election time) leads to a clear disconnect between the people and their government. And that leads to an anything-but-virtuous cycle of incumbents getting re-elected at shockingly high rates as their public approval ratings sag at near-record low levels. In fact, Gallup poll results released Monday show Congress' approval rating over the past year averaged 15% among Americans of all political affiliations. Meanwhile, upwards of 95 % of federal lawmakers were awarded another term in November.

A big part of fixing this broken system is empowering people to take direct action on issues that matter to them and encouraging them to hold politicians accountable while they're in office, rather than waiting for the next election to roll around. We can bridge this gap by creating tools that facilitate informed conversations about important topics as well as simple but meaningful actions between citizens and their elected officials. That's why we recently announced that as Brigade rolls out next year, connecting people with some of the country's most engaging advocacy organizations will be part of our overall strategy.

The initial group of partners span the ideological and political spectrum because we believe that a full range of American beliefs and opinions should be represented on Brigade. They include: Represent.Us, Generation Opportunity, Drug Policy Alliance, FreedomWorks, Rainforest Action Network, Americans for Tax Reform, Forecast The Facts and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Not only are these groups thought-leaders on a range of topics that drive national dialogue and debate, they have consistently turned their supporters' voices into real political influence -- not just during elections, but year-round.

Our hope is that partnerships like these (and others we'll announce down the road) will help people understand how issues that affect their daily lives are directly tied to who they elect and what happens once those politicians take office. These types of connections will be essential as Brigade and other organizations in this space attempt to bring citizens together around shared values and enable them to act collectively within the existing political reality.

Consider the fate of the just-passed 1,600 page 2015 omnibus appropriations bill into which lawmakers quietly added controversial policies that had little or nothing to do with funding the federal government. For example, the $1.01 trillion measure rolled back Washington, D.C.'s passage of marijuana legalization, made changes to campaign finance laws, and loosened Wall Street regulations. These additions likely would have been the focus of intense debate had the provisions been widely discussed prior to the bill's passage.

What if you and your friends and your friends' friends who cared about any of these issues joined forces with advocacy groups that align with your beliefs on these topics and made your feelings known? Or what if you and your social network ensured that members who helped usher in those riders (and other omnibus provisions) know that it would meaningfully impact your vote the next time they were up for election?

With a shift in power as the new Congress is installed - and with different political parties controlling Congress and the White House - robust political engagement is needed now more than ever. Although midterms are behind us and the 2016 campaign cycle is approaching, decisions are being made every day that impact our lives and laws are being decided, often by small margins of votes.

So as we prepare to ring in the New Year, let's commit to making 2015 a time to bridge the gap between politics and the people. The Brigade team stands ready to do our part -- and we hope you'll join us.