EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Actor and activist Chris Evans was watching the news one day when he heard something he didn’t quite understand, so he decided to research it. That subsequent search led him to team up with actor and filmmaker Mark Kassen and entrepreneur Joe Kiani to start the civic engagement platform, A Starting Point, to create a bipartisan channel of communication aimed at fostering a more informed electorate.
“It wasn’t enough just to understand the issue — I wanted to know what elected officials thought across the board and it just felt like there was a little bit of a hole in the market,” Evans told Inside the Issues. “I know a lot of people turn away from politics because it's a daunting landscape and it felt like there was an opportunity to try and demystify some of these issues for those political neophytes who wouldn't mind getting a bit more acclimated with politics.”
Getting politicians on the record to talk about political issues wasn’t easy, Kassen said on starting the project. It took humility and begging in the beginning, he continued, as well as explaining their mission.
“In the beginning, and I’ve said this before, we didn’t have a great response and fair enough, because there was nothing to show them that we were doing,” said Kassen. “I’d say within one visit, the word got out that we really were of our word, or trying to be, and now that it’s up, I think our participation, our content, has more than doubled in the three months we've been up, than the two years it took to get to where we started. So, now we’re up and running and people sort of see that our intent is pure.”
Video clips include Senators and Representatives talking about topics like the economy, education, immigration, and more. Many times, Evans himself is conducting the interviews.
“It’s just been about transparency,” he said. Participants are involved in picking the subject matter and approving the questions. “I think a lot of politics is about prepping for the pivot. Not to disparage politicians, but that's what you have to do. A lot of times when people give interviews they want to kind of hit them with the gotcha question, so I think offering them a safe place and saying, ‘Listen, we just want you to put your best foot forward. We're trying to show the electorate what you believe in and where their opinions lie.’ When you give them that comfort and then follow through, I think you actually end up getting really, really good results.”
He said it’s important to stay objective on any given subject as the nature of the site is to be “unbiased and impartial.”
“It’s about trying to take out our own beliefs to just try and offer information to the American people,” said Evans. “So, you know, at first that was tricky but over time it’s become an old hat and I think we’re very comfortable with that now.”
“We have no likes or dislikes, we have no message boards, there's no way for us to galvanize for or against anybody based on how people respond to the information on our site,” added Kassen. “They are just incumbent upon being moved to action somewhere else, or on our site through actually looking into their positions more, or registering to vote, or reaching out to their congressman, or mayor or governor, which they can do through our site, but there’s no other way to get feedback and there’s no other way to use that feedback for or against anybody.”
With misinformation circling online and media outlets fighting to be the first to break news, Kassen said the project isn’t encumbered with filling a 24-hour news cycle, which allows them to talk to politicians about anything they are interested in.
“Elected officials can put up their points whenever they want and then they're there for people to visit,” he explained. “They’re reacting to something that happens in the world of politics or in the news that policy affects. That’s when the information comes up and we don't do anything to stoke that cycle and because we don't have that pressure, the hope anyway, and so far what’s happened, is the information stays a little more pure and a little more on point to the policies that affect people's lives.”
Evans said he wants people to engage with the site in hopes of increasing voter turnout for elections to come.
“There's no way the government can work the way we need it to without participation. It’s understandably a hopeless field. It’s easy to look out and realize that it's so hard to change certain things,” he said. “But, voting is this right you have. The hard work is done. We're allowed to vote. We can go out and do it and we have the numbers, we have the power. We just have to all do it. So, hopefully this site demystifies certain issues that, hopefully, is a catalyst for participation.”
“The long-term goal, I think, is to have a place that people can have productive dissonance; they can talk about issues that affect their lives in a way where they don't always have to always agree but it's going towards something because it really matters,” added Kassen. “We’ve partnered with a bunch of different, great organizations that help give us tools and resources or us, we've used our mechanism to filter to other resources so people could do all the things you need to do to vote early, to find any information on your state, the rules, where you can drop off your ballot, where you can’t drop off your ballot — any of the nuances around the challenges in voting, especially during this time. I think this, whatever the reason is, I'm hoping that that won't go away and that people then, because they sort of tasted the ease in which they can be a part of the process, that will continue.”
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