Chris Evans Seeking straight talk from elected officials
A few years ago, actor Chris Evans was watching pundits debate, when he realized that he—someone who’s passionate and outspoken about politics, particularly on social media—didn’t actually know that much about the policy being discussed. “When I went to try and educate myself a bit,” he says, “I thought it was shockingly difficult to find a simple way in.” What he realized he wanted was straightforward and not necessarily journalism: a place to hear directly from elected officials on what they believe about different subjects—not mediated through think pieces or filtered by talking heads on cable news. He tapped a friend, actor and director Mark Kassen, to develop it with him; they brought in Joe Kiani, a tech entrepreneur who was well networked in Washington. Together, the three fleshed out their vision for a hub where politicians could speak, in brief videos, about where they stood on issues from immigration to trade. “When you have a democracy,” says Kiani, “you need an engaged, knowledgeable citizenry.” They called their site A Starting Point.
If only it were that simple. Evans is the first to admit it was an uphill battle to earn the trust of politicians in D.C., who knew him best as Captain America, not as someone trying to change the way Americans formed opinions about policy. To that end, whether users who have become increasingly siloed in echo chambers of confirmation bias will want to hear from polarized politicians at all remains to be seen. A planned unveiling at South by Southwest was derailed after the conference was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic; now, they’re regrouping on a launch date as the world moves into an unprecedented era. But with more Americans staying home and looking for clear information about where their elected officials stand on issues like health care reform that have immediate and urgent consequences, there may be more need than ever for a site like this—though Evans resists the suggestion that the current crisis could be advantageous for his project. “I will say that when things like this happen, people just long for functional, effective government,” Evans says. “In times of crisis, we crave efficacy. Then, once it’s passed, we look for accountability.”
Mark Kassen, Chris Evans and Joe Kiani photographed in Los Angeles, CA on March 11, 2020.
When A Starting Point launches later this year, users will discover that it is a well-organized inventory of information untangling arcane issues in plain language. The utility of a project like this is clear, especially amid a public-health crisis with a critical election looming. Evans hopes it helps inform: “I’ve been guilty of participating in political debates where I didn’t have all the information,” he says. And after working through so many challenges—like implementation of exhaustive fact-checking standards, working with politicians who were reticent to answer sensitive questions, and concerns that the site would become a means to propagandize—he’s now sanguine about its eventual prospects. “In three months, I could look back at this endeavor and realize I had incredible moral and cultural blind spots,” he says. “But right now it feels like a pretty decent step in the right direction. All we can do is try to increase knowledge and understanding of how government works, and who the people are in power, and what policies they’re writing.” For Evans, it’s a fitting pivot: right now, Americans may not need a superhero—they just need answers. —Sam Lansky