CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Political representation can sometimes feel like the proverb about trees falling in the forest: if you express your opinion to everyone except your local representative, did anyone actually hear what you had to say?
That was, in part, the inspiration behind OSAY–a new mobile-based application designed by the small, Charleston-based creative media service 84 Agency to help connect citizens with their elected representatives.
“Let’s direct this chatter that’s happening online and make sure that everyone has a unified voice and communicate that unified voice and message to their legislators,” 84 Agency Co-Founder and CEO Carling McManus said last week on “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network.
OSAY, which is not yet available in app stores, allows users to create their own political advocacy campaigns for $39 while providing streamlined access to contact information a user would need to bring the campaign to the attention of an elected representative. Additional users can then freely join those campaigns.
“That makes it as easy as possible to make contact with your representatives at the state level currently available in West Virginia and get your message out there,” McManus said.
OSAY has been in development for about a year, but officially launched in February. McManus said the original beta-testing for OSAY was encouraging.
“What we found is there was a lot of engagement,” she said. “Within just a week we had over 350 actions taken. Obviously, people were using the tools.”
Though OSAY can be used for any political issue that a user wants to advocate for, McManus said the program’s inception was a bi-product of the 2016 debate over a proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act in West Virginia. Critics of the law claimed that, rather than providing additional religious freedom protections, it would codify discrimination.
While an advocacy campaign was successful in reaching legislators in Charleston during that debate, McManus said that legislative battle inspired her, 84 Agency founding partner Jennifer Sussman, and their digital specialist Ankur Kumar to develop a more effective, 21st Century means for citizens to reach their representatives.
“Since we do monitor social networks all over the state for various different non-profits and groups, we see a lot of energy,” McManus said. “But we’re not seeing that energy reach the Capitol in any sort of meaningful way.”
McManus knows plenty of tools are available online for political advocacy, but said OSAY offers a chance for direct contact with a representative that those campaigns can’t always offer. She hopes that will set OSAY apart from other tools that can often turn from “activism” into “clicktivism.”
“Getting 1,000 signatures on a petition is great,” she said. “But when it comes to communicating with the legislators, the legislators just say, ‘Well that’s just people who clicked and signed their names. Their not actually putting their own social value–their own profile behind the issue.'”