Meet the reformer: Troy Fritzhand, who wants to provide the medium for your message
He's only 22 and a year out of college, but Troy Fritzhand's resume describes experience in commercial real estate, investment banking, event planning, high-end athletic shoe sales — and good-government websites, created with the help of older brother Tyler and younger brother Brad. First was the boldly named Ballot, software local governments can purchase to verify the authenticity of signatures on absentee ballot forms. (While pitching that product two summers ago the brothers got arrested in a restricted Senate hallway. The Capitol Police alleged the trio falsely claimed to work for Sen. Chuck Schumer when confronted. They denied that but agreed to perform community service to settle the case.) For the past six months Fritzhand has been pitching Let Them Know, a free civic education and grassroots advocacy site. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
A mobile and web-based civic engagement platform that helps educate Americans on the issues important to them, reach out to their members in Congress and easily register to vote.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
That's hard, since I've been working to assist the community around me for as long as I can recall. In high school on Long Island it was educating fellow students on HIV/AIDS and working with the local special education population. At Ohio State I started a food banking club to feed the local homeless community, which still exists today, and made a volunteer consulting trip to a women's economic development center in Kathmandu. All these experiences opened my eyes to the possibility that when the effort is right, change is not only possible, but necessary.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
Getting arrested in the Capitol definitely stands out as a turning point in my career. I got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of a clear misunderstanding, I ended up held for almost 24 hours in D.C.'s Central Cell Block. Some of the men I met there may have committed unspeakable crimes. Most were there for petty crimes, but their circumstances and backgrounds likely led to some time behind bars — stifling their voice, and for a time their chance to vote. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion on issues important to them and getting a short glimpse of hopelessness behind bars motivated me to do better, be better, and launch Let Them Know.
And your most disappointing setback?
I've been taught that every setback, no matter how disappointing, should be viewed as a chance to grow. My stay in Nepal included a three-day hike in the Annapurna mountain range. We reached the peak at dawn and got ready for a beautiful sunrise overlooking some of the largest mountains on Earth. But the clouds were thick and completely blocked the sunrise. The other hikers all left, but my group stayed to wait out the storm. Sure enough, we had it all to ourselves when the most incredible vistas appeared — the clouds tumbling over Dhaulagiri Mountain and its surrounding peaks as the sun burst through. Utter disappointment yielded to something breathtaking, and an even better message: Patience is key, so never give up no matter how bad it may seem.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
Growing up in the very diverse and family-oriented town of Great Neck outside New York, I was taught to love everyone I met unconditionally. This helped me when I left home for college, where I arrived knowing only one person. The culture of my hometown enabled me to make friends from many countries and backgrounds — and to recognize the true power education offers to bridge gaps. That's why Let Them Know. Our goal is to educate voters in an unbiased, fact-based manner.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
I was 4 years old and ready to fall asleep when my dad sat down by my bed. He told me about the time he first went skiing. It was with a group of experienced skiers. Rather than hold them back, he went up the mountain and told himself that under no circumstance would he fall. He didn't. The lesson: If you believe 100 percent in what you are doing, no matter what it is, you will be successful. I have lived by that motto ever since.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
I prefer Haagen Dazs. I also love ice cream. A new Ben & Jerry's flavor should be Caramel Cookies Compound: vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough, brownie and caramel.
What's your favorite political movie or TV show?
"Fauda," an Israeli television series on Netflix. It is a political thriller showing the human side of both Israelis and Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Usually I check Twitter to see if anything notable has happened, but then I read myself to sleep with a paperback.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
Although I am on the phone speaking to people all day long, I hate my phone and would like nothing more than to go off the grid abroad for a year. Maybe after the election.
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