Despite a desire to engage politically spurred by the most recent presidential election and protests that followed, the postcards lay on a table, unsent.
“We got actual postcards,” said Mercedes Cooper, a former speech pathologist who’s now a part-time prenatal yoga instructor and stay-at-home mom of three. “My daughter covered them with Snoopy stickers and they never got sent out. This is the chaos of my life.”
Cooper and her husband, Christian Serna, like many Austinites, have felt the need to get more actively involved in politics, but real life has had a way of intruding. On the day that thousands attended a march for women in Austin in January, the couple was too busy to make it, but Cooper started making phone calls, about 110 in a week to the offices of Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. It didn’t take too long for her to get burnt out.
Cooper says she thought, “I wish I could just take my phone and send a postcard and have my civic duty accomplished for the day.” Her husband, who works for the Austin-based company SignUp.com, said, “I’ll build it!”
Within five days, Serna and Cooper had launched TinyHandsMail.com, a free service for looking up and sending a personalized postcard to your political representative. To date more than 4,000 paper postcards have been mailed.
“We like to say we’re using 21st-century technology with a 17th-century partner,” Serna said.
Though the name might imply that it’s a play on memes about President Donald Trump and a teaser on the site shows a postcard that reads “Greetings from the Resistance,” Cooper and Serna say they envision Tiny Hands as a bipartisan way to get a message to an elected official more easily. They believe a mailed postcard is more likely to be seen by the intended recipient than a social media post or a comment on a blog.
Some elected officials are unlikely to pay attention to letters that aren’t from their constituents. Serna says that Tiny Hands allows users to look up who represents them by zip code. So far, it appears the postcards are getting where they’re supposed to.
“We know they’re getting sent and we know they’re getting received because we’ve received letters back,” he said.
The creators of the site don’t read individual messages sent and will not post any of them publicly; the process is automated. Users can choose to get a digital copy of their postcard and post it to social media with their return address information stripped out.
While keeping the messages private, Serna has been aggregating messages to get a sense of the sentiment through data analysis. He says letters are typically using respectful language and he said he suspects users are more likely to keep their messages civil on a printed postcard than, say, online.
The couple says it encourages users to keep their messages focused on a particular issue and to use respectful language. They also have been regularly encouraging users to send notes of thanks to politicians when they do the right thing.
The message limit is about 600 characters, three times the length of a Tweet, and while new designs are in the works, the standard Tiny Hands printed postcard is an American flag design that doesn’t lean left or right politically.
The site is not a money-making venture. It’s being propped up by small user donations of about $5 to $50 and paper and postage is costing the couple more than the donations coming in.
But they both say Tiny Hands Mail is empowering them to feel more involved in offering a tool that make help others make their voices heard. The top three recipients of Tiny Hands postcards have been Cruz, Trump and Cornyn.
“You may not have time to march or make calls, but you can send five postcards out in 20 minutes. We take care of everything else,” Serna said.