Complaining about the government has taken a cue from Peter Finch's line in the 1976 movie "Network" when he encouraged the masses to yell out an open window "I'm as mad as h---, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
A new Internet service is giving individuals and advocacy groups an electronic window to yell through and promises to forward gripes to the appropriate public officials.Called E-ThePeople, functioning at the Web site (http://www.e-thepeople.com), the program is in the final stages of beta testing and should be a functioning component of digital democracy within a few weeks.
"In the past, it's been hard for people to participate in the affairs of their community because they have so little free time," said Alex Sheshunoff, who founded the company after attending a public hearing in his hometown of Austin, Texas, and finding it positively monotonous. "And when they have a problem, people usually don't know who to call or how to reach them. E-ThePeople makes it easy."
Promoters were in Salt Lake City as part of a coast-to-coast awareness campaign for the new service, which is supported by advertising at the Web site. Traveling in a bus painted to resemble a giant mailbox, E-ThePeople representatives are demonstrating the new service to public officials and advocacy groups.
E-ThePeople developers have built a database of more than 140,000 federal, state and local officials. Web site users can climb on a high-tech soapbox and describe their feelings about local, state or national issues in an electronic letter or petition. The service helps them find the appropriate official to send the gripe to, based on the scope of the issue and a geographic locator using the sender's ZIP code.
People can also initiate petitions to be forwarded to a public official or sign their name to electronic petitions already on file with the system. Individuals or groups or-i-gin-at-ing electronic petitions can instruct the service how many signatures to collect before the petition is forwarded to the designated public official.
E-mail is the default delivery mode for letters and petitions, but the services will fax the material to public officials if they do not have e-mail.
Programmers aware that some of the input might be strongly worded have crafted the service so it will either replace strong words with asterisks or bounce the letter back to the originator for a revision. The "Network" expletive would clear the filter, but stronger language will not, said spokesman Kevin Spence.