“Avengers” fans know Captain America stands for freedom, justice and the American way. So how fitting, then, that Chris Evans, star of the Marvel franchise, should choose to take up the cause of promoting civic engagement.
Evans, along with actor/producer Mark Kassen and tech entrepreneur Joe Kiani, recently launched A Starting Point, a video-based website and app aimed at creating bipartisan communications between elected officials and voters. The trio spoke during the first day of NCSL Base Camp 2020.
Evans calls the divisive times we’re living in exhausting. “So the hope is to activate engagement, to try to create a little more connectivity between elected officials and their constituents, but really, in a way, also try to diffuse some of this vitriol,” he says.
A Starting Point features three sections: Starting Points, in which elected officials answer questions on a broad set of topics; Daily Points, a two-minute open forum for contributors; and Counterpoints, where politicians from both sides of the aisle discuss specific topics (from should students attend school virtually to will AI save or destroy the world?).
In its first six weeks, 10,000 folks have used the site to register to vote, while more than 50,000 have used it to contact their representatives directly.
“I really believe that democracy requires an engaged, educated citizen and I think too many of our nation’s population stay away from politics,” Kiani says. “I think a lot of that is because they think they don’t know enough and they’re afraid they might choose the wrong person. And I think a lot of those happen to be young people.”
Evans stresses that the site’s information provides direct access from the elected officials themselves.
“It’s their words, it’s uninterrupted, it’s unedited, there’s no journalistic spin on this, not to disparage journalism,” he says. “… Our filters are set to be aware that everyone has a bias, so to at least remove that, to at least say, I can hear directly from the people who are making decisions that affect my life, you can at least remove one bit of skepticism when it comes to politics.”
A better, informed democracy is best run by an informed citizenry, Kassen adds.
“So the more people who participate (in the site) on more levels of government, the better this thing will be and the more of-use it will be and the better society will be,” he says.
A Starting Point, which Evans hopes will eventually be used in schools and civics education, also aims to bring civility back to the political discourse.
“The idea of having elected officials from both Republicans and Democrats talk about the same issue is phenomenal and we’re seeing it work,” Kiani says. “ … I hope, looking forward, we have more people voting and we have more elected officials compromising. When I was a kid, my dad taught me democracy is compromise and it wasn’t a bad word. I think so many of our voters these days expect elected officials to go out there and not compromise, just hold the line, and that’s hurting our country.”
“There’s a thirst for good information, for a return to civility, for just a rational approach to dissecting issues, finding commonality in moving the ball down the field,” he says. “I think people are so desperate for something that feels truly bipartisan.”
Lesley Kennedy is NCSL’s director of publishing and digital content.
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