Directly after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 there was a massive wave of citizens contacting their representatives, so much so that phone lines began to only give off busy signals. After a few months of Trump however, many activists and citizens suffer from resistance fatigue and the phone calls stop. It feels like a full time job to constantly stay up to date and outraged on every issue. Many congress members have set up online messaging systems on their websites to provide another outlet for constituents. Other groups have set up mass petition websites or apps like countable to make it easier to raise issues to representative, however these tactics are less effective and often ignored by the staffers that read them. It remains true that phone calls are more difficult to ignore and take up more time. Many platforms such as 5calls.org or thesixtyfive.org have tried to mitigate this effort by providing scripts, but I still found that many of my friends, students, and colleagues weren’t making calls to those representing them in Washington. I set out to take a piece of e-waste and turn it into a civic engagement party machine to see if I could convince people to make a call. SoapBox Karaoke allows participants to call their state senators and representatives directly from a salvaged piece of e-waste formally presenting as an early 2000’s karaoke machine.
For my Thesis show I equipped the machine with six karaoke lyric CDs with over 60 tracks on topics ranging from funding planned parenthood to raising the federal minimum wage. Participants first view a picture of their politician as well as their phone number and party affiliation. They are then prompted to read along to the scripted messages displayed on the CRT monitor to . To create the CD+G files, I was forced to use outdated software to create something that the machine could play. The low fidelity of the graphics caused by the outdated software gives the images a kind of late 90’s 8-bit nostalgia. All of the politicians to look absolutely cartoonish. To add to the levity of the piece I conclude each Karaoke performance with meme-like images relating to each topic. By using these images I aim to help break up the often rage-inducing issues participants are asked to call about. Finding commonality is the first step to starting a conversation from a spark of curiosity instead of distrust and I think humor is a way to find that common ground. By giving participants a choice on which topic to call about, they do not have to choose topics they disagree with me on and might find something they do support.
To include this piece in my open source practice, I will be opening up my website to include a space where people can contribute their SoapBox messages on topics they feel strongly about for me to continue the series with a wider range of topics written with different voices and perspectives. In the future I plan to work with local activist groups to throw SoapBox Karaoke parties within the community where constituents can call their representatives in a more social and fun setting while also learning about ways they can be more engaged in local action.