PLANETCIVIC, a free, non-partisan civic engagement platform designed to transform the way New Jersey residents interact with their elected officials and candidates, launched throughout the state on June 16, expanding from its Montclair base. PLANETCIVIC hopes to inspire more New Jersey residents to become engaged with the issues and exercise their political power during this important gubernatorial and legislative election.

After years of political stalemate, New Jersey residents deserve progress on the issues that matter to them. Says Javier Guardo, founder of PLANETCIVIC, “Here in New Jersey, national politics have taken attention away from state issues, and scandals have left people disenchanted with the political system. But this upcoming election brings a tremendous opportunity for New Jersey residents to demand action. PLANETCIVIC is a way for ordinary citizens to speak to their leaders and candidates with a collective voice at this pivotal moment.”

A Social Network that Fosters Informed Democracy
PLANETCIVIC exists to help citizens quickly mobilize support for their ideas to better New Jersey. It all starts with what PLANETCIVIC calls “an initiative.” The system makes it easy to propose an initiative, rally votes for this idea, and demonstrate the number of REAL NJ residents in favor or against a proposal. This voting data can be used to persuade leaders to act. Says Guardo, “At PLANETCIVIC, we believe that the only sustainable solution to our state’s problems, is for we, the people, to be empowered to participate, to make our collective voice heard in a way that will inform our leaders’ actions. So we built a voting system that gives citizens and organizations the agency to shape the political debate. We want to make the opinions of NJ residents on key issues countable and transparent.”

A number of New Jersey thought-leaders have already proposed initiatives in the system, including Patty Cronheim, an environmental activist and the outreach coordinator at ReThinkEnergyNJ, Reverend Robert Moore, gun-violence-prevention activist and Executive Director of The Coalition for Peace Action, and Len Resto, NJ Association of Railroad Passengers President.

How is PLANETCIVIC different from other political apps and platforms?
Many of the other political apps and websites are focused on the national sphere, but New Jersey politics, state and municipal, are PLANETCIVIC’s focus. The system makes it easy for users to identify and contact members of the New Jersey Legislature. Accordingly, only New Jersey residents and community leaders can join PLANETCIVIC and vote on the issues that matter to people in the state. Also, PLANETCIVIC does not allow users to “like” proposals indiscriminately—each user gets 10 votes, so PLANETCIVIC can demonstrate the real priorities of its New Jersey membership through its voting tallies. PLANETCIVIC is not a news site, but rather a direct line into the cares and concerns of Garden State residents.

Statewide After a Hyperlocal Pilot in Montclair
Javier Guardo introduced the concept of PLANETCIVIC in a test market, his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, last November. As a result, PLANETCIVIC already has an active community in Montclair. Among other campaigns, PLANETCIVIC was involved in a citizen-led movement to make Montclair a Sanctuary City, garnering hundreds of votes that were published in hyperlocal news outlets and communicated at town council meetings on this issue. PLANETCIVIC was only one facet of the grassroots movement, which also involved email campaigns, Facebook, and live demonstrations, and ended in Montclair becoming a “Welcoming City.”

The citizens of Montclair achieved progress on a municipal infrastructure issue through PLANETCIVIC. When an initiative to improve street lighting in Montclair became the second most voted-on initiative in the system, PLANETCIVIC and Baristanet launched a campaign to gather actionable information for the town and PSE&G. Through crowdsourcing and a manual survey of streets, PLANETCIVIC discovered there were at least 88 broken or blown-out streetlights in Montclair and sent a map of the broken lights to local press and PSE&G. PSE&G reported that they fixed 55 of the 88 broken lights.

The Montclair community page remains open. Guardo wants to create transparency and engagement in municipal governments as well as state government, so he hopes to launch more NJ community-specific pages after the statewide launch. He welcomes input from concerned citizens who want to start a PLANETCIVIC community in their hometown.