Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.
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What’s the elevator pitch for your project?
Our goal for the Dear Senators campaign was to mobilize people to take action in order to block justice Brett Kavanaugh from being seated on the Supreme Court.
We came damn close to achieving our goal, and we did so by showcasing real stories from real people throughout the country, and bringing those stories directly to their senators. They told stories of fear: fear of their health care being taken away, fear of going back to a time when people lost their lives to back-alley abortions. Fear of losing their immigration status. And when the accusations came out about his sexual assault: fear of never feeling safe again.
What was the impetus for this project? What real-world challenge were you trying to solve?
When Justice Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as his replacement. Trump had pledged to nominate only anti-abortion justices, so we knew that abortion access and reproductive health were under threat.
Our challenge was to hold all of the Democrats in the Senate — and move enough Republicans — to vote against Trump’s nominee and prevent his nomination. We also knew from experience that the best way to let senators know about the massive opposition to Kavanaugh was to tell personal stories from their constituents: #DearSenators was born.
I think our biggest ah-ha moment was in the voicemail collection. Hearing the voices and stories of real people brought this fight to life in a way that really inspired our team.
Once you settled on your idea, what was your first step in moving it forward?
We started off with a number of hand-written letters to a few senators that PP state affiliates had collected. Then we publicized a phone number that people could call to leave voicemail stories for their senators, as well as an online story collection form. We also worked with PP affiliates to collect hand-written letters from local supporters, and used Soapboxx to collect video stories. We featured these stories on a dedicated website and Instagram account.
Was there a moment during the project where you ran into a hurdle; or faced a problem you didn’t know how to solve? Take us to this moment, what happened and what did you do next?
We had hand-written letters, we had voicemails, and we had form submissions. What we didn’t know at first was exactly the most strategic way for displaying and disseminating these stories. We decided to keep the hand-written letters as-is and display them primarily on an Instagram account. We redacted personally identifying information but l retained the authenticity of each story. We listened to hours of voicemails and created a video that highlighted some of the most powerful voices, and our design team displayed their words on the video in a beautiful way. And for form submissions, we again relied on our design team to display pull quotes in social media graphics.
Did the real-world impact meet your expectations? Can you share an example?
We unfortunately didn’t stop Trump’s nominee. But we did hear from senators — Republican and Democrat — that the stories were immensely impactful. Our Government Relations team met with senators, and brought them letters and showed them the instagram account.
I think also, frankly, allowing people to see themselves in the fight, to see their stories at the forefront of a nationwide Supreme Court battle allowed them to feel more connected to what was at stake. The engagements were so real.
What technologies/media did you use to develop this project (AI, Social Media, WordPress, etc.)?
We created an Instagram account, we mobilized our web properties (operating on Django), and we utilized Hustle to organize letter-writing parties. We also used Soapboxx to collect video stories, which was incredibly helpful because it automatically captions and chyrons the videos.
Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?
Yes. We knew that our Government Relations team would meet with individual senators and show them letters in person. But we also knew that in order to further influence their decision, we needed to show an immense volume of stories from real people in the constituencies they represent. Displaying stories on the website, the Instagram account, and via hashtag on social media was critical to showing senators that these stories weren’t isolated.
How did this project defy your expectations?
We've done work like this before: in 2017 when Trump attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the ACA, we also collected stories. But the difference here was in the name, and in the platforms we used. Using "Dear Senators" not only gave our supporters a connection to our targets, but also meant that the Senators couldn't ignore the many voices telling them to vote in opposition.
How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?
I don't know if we can really answer this question. It's what we strive to do every day: use technology to create inspiring campaigns that make a difference. At Planned Parenthood it feels like we are constantly fighting back against attack after attack by this administration, constantly evolving with ever-changing technology and social media, constantly bringing our patients, volunteers, and supporters to the forefront of these fights because ultimately they are who we are fighting FOR. And we are always trying to use technology to do this: from SMS, Hustle, and Slack as organizing and mobilizing tools, to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc., as content engagement tools.
At Planned Parenthood it feels like we are constantly fighting back against attack after attack by this administration, constantly evolving with ever-changing technology and social media, constantly bringing our patients, volunteers, and supporters to the forefront of these fights because ultimately they are who we are fighting FOR.
- Planned Parenthood Action Fund Team