Coding Political Change
The app, which provides tools and information for activism, is the Holy Cross student’s way of making civic engagement simple.
By Kayla Kibbe, Connecticut College
Like many students nationwide, Anthony Saltarelli awoke on November 9, 2016, to a campus in mourning.
Saltarelli, a junior Computer Science major at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, is one of many Americans who found themselves in a state of shock in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election. Unlike a lot of them, however, Saltarelli found a way to not only take action, but to empower others to do the same.
“Seeing everyone that night and the next day on campus was really eye-opening to me in terms of seeing how genuinely scared and overwhelmed everyone was,” Saltarelli says. “I saw that so many people were inspired by this most recent election to get involved with politics and start participating.”
With this in mind, the student and CEO of Chin Up Technologies, LLC, got to work on a new project. The result? Stand Up for Change, a mobile app designed to simplify and encourage political activism by connecting like-minded individuals and providing them with the resources to find protests and demonstrations, contact congresspeople and local representatives, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
Partnered with the Action Alliance, a collaboration of websites, apps and other organizations devoted to the progressive movement, the Stand Up app organizes and streamlines the often confusing political system, putting everything you need to get involved literally at your fingertips. “Our main goal is to make it as easy as possible to get involved,” Saltarelli says.
What began as an idea for a protest finder eventually grew to include other resources and opportunities to get involved, and currently the app consists of three main components: Action Items, Events and Discussion.
“There’s different levels of getting involved,” Saltarelli explains. “Some people might only want to call and donate, others might be calling a senator or showing up at a protest. We’re really providing people with a ton of different ways to get involved.”
The first section of the app features a variety of constantly updated calls to action, which vary from donating and signing petitions, to calling senators to voice opinions regarding current issues. Partnered with other progressive organizations, including the Center for American Progress, the app aggregates the most relevant action items nationwide, so app users only have to go to one place to get the most up-to-date information.
Above all, the app prioritizes ease and user-friendliness, so whether you’re donating to a cause, signing a petition or sharing an article, the Stand Up app makes almost any action as simple as pressing a button. Linking directly to Facebook and Twitter, the app features pre-written tweets, posts and emails that can be sent with the touch of a finger. The app even makes contacting elected officials a one-step process. All you have to do is select the action item, and the app automatically dials your elected officials, even providing a brief script to guide you through the conversation.
“Anyone can get involved and it’s very easy,” says Saltarelli. “We’re really just providing you with a way and a guide to do that. A lot of people might be intimidated to call their senator because they’ve never done it before, but inside the app we provide you with the script and the phone number immediately, so all you have to do is read what’s there.”
The app also includes an events section, dedicated to encouraging activism on a local level. In collaboration with Rise Stronger, the app provides users with a list and map of political events within an adjustable radius of a user’s zip code, including protests, demonstrations and educational opportunities.
Finally, the app features a discussion forum divided into a variety of topics concerning important political and social justice issues, from education and government reform, to women’s and LGBTQ rights. Using this discussion forum, Stand Up users can engage in conversation and debate with like-minded individuals, either by participating in an existing thread or starting their own.
The Stand Up app launched last month, and is already getting attention from individuals and prominent organizations nationwide. However, as Saltarelli emphasizes, the app is not just for political savants.
“I have a strong interest in politics, but I wouldn’t say I’m by any means an expert. I made the app because I thought it could be really useful for someone like me, actually,” says the student and CEO. “My target user is someone who really wants to start participating and getting involved, but doesn’t exactly know how.”
The app is designed to be a resource for users of any interest or experience level, turning what can be an intimidating and overwhelming task into something simple, accessible, and powerful.
“If you don’t like what’s going on in the country and you want your voice to be heard, definitely consider downloading the app,” says Saltarelli. “I want people to know that their voices can be heard, especially if there’s a lot of us coming together,” he continues. “If a lot of people come together and actually voice their opinion, people will listen, the senators and representatives will listen and we can be very powerful that way.”
Stand Up for Change is not Saltarelli’s first success in the mobile application industry. In August 2015, the then-sophomore launched the Chin Up app along with friend and Columbia University student John Benenati. The app, an anonymous-compliments platform similar in format to YikYak, aims to fight cyberbullying by promoting positivity in social media. With a strict positivity-only policy, the app is dedicated to providing a safe and upbeat online community.
Following the app’s initial success, Saltarelli and Benenati were able to partner with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through this collaboration, children involved in the Make-A-Wish Connecticut program are featured on the app, and users can leave messages and comments for the children, which are then compiled into a book and delivered to each child.
“Make-A-Wish is doing such great work with all these children, so I thought, if we already have this community of really positive students, let’s put it to good use and provide these children with the support they need,” Saltarelli says of the collaboration.
Looking forward, Saltarelli hopes to create a separate app dedicated entirely to the Make-A-Wish children, expanding the collaboration nationwide.
“I hope to eventually partner with the entire Make-A-Wish foundation so that in a few years’ time, every child who has a wish granted will also receive a book with that wish,” he says.
Meanwhile, between collaborating with some of the nation’s most prominent organizations, creating and running two successful apps, and operating as CEO for both Chin Up Technologies and Stand Up Tech, Saltarelli still manages to balance his academic career.
“It’s definitely a balancing act, and week by week it changes dramatically,” he says.
But, ultimately, Saltarelli sees his burgeoning tech career as a manifestation of his academic success.
“I feel like I’ve developed a strong knowledge base, and at this point in my Holy Cross career, I’m very focused on implementing those ideas and actually putting them to work. So making this a project of mine is really great for me. It takes my education to the next level in the sense that I’ve learned different things, but now I’m actually putting them to use.”
With a fast-paced career that has already developed significantly in the last year alone, it’s hard to say where Saltarelli will be a year from now after graduation.
“It’s very dependent on what happens in the next year. At the beginning of this year I had no idea I was going to make a political app, so things change very quickly,” he says.
Right now, Stand Up for Change is a top priority.
“If, after graduation, I’m able to continue it full time, that would be great. I’m so passionate about the issues and getting the word out about what we can do,” he says.
Regardless of where he ends up, it’s clear Saltarelli’s talents won’t be wasted.
“I want the work I do in tech to really have a lasting impact,” he says. “I don’t really want to make a game app or something like that where people are just wasting their time, I want to make something that will better the greater community.”