Map Your Story: Introducing Firsthand

FILE - In this file photograph taken Feb. 23, 2009, a foreclosure sign blows in the wind in front of a home under foreclosure
FILE - In this file photograph taken Feb. 23, 2009, a foreclosure sign blows in the wind in front of a home under foreclosure in Antioch, Calif. More than 1.5 million older Americans already have lost their homes, with millions more at risk as the national housing crisis takes its toll on those who are among the worst positioned to weather the storm, a new AARP report says. Older African Americans and Hispanics are the hardest hit. "The Great Recession has been brutal for many older Americans," said Debra Whitman, AARP's policy chief. "This shows that home ownership doesn't guarantee financial security later in life." (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

With 36 days until the presidential election, I'm delighted to introduce Firsthand, a project that uses all the tools at our disposal to expand the conversation and put the spotlight on what really matters most in people's lives. Firsthand will be all about engaging our community, allowing you to share the ideas and images that tell the story of our country during this campaign season, as you see it.

Every month, drawing on reader input, we will ask you, our Firsthand contributors, a broad question -- for example, how a certain challenge or trend is affecting your community. Using HuffPost's platform, you'll then be able to share your response. It might be an Instagram photo with two sentences of explanatory text; a brief video clip; or a scan of a flyer that is landing on car windshields in your neighborhood. The result will be a vivid multimedia mosaic that captures the everyday events that are a testament to the changes underway in American communities -- the stories that define our lives but rarely show up on the news.

When it comes to these stories, nothing is too small. They may not make the evening news, or stir debate on the political talk shows, but that's exactly the point. They have emotional resonance, and the potential to cultivate empathy, one of the qualities that is so abundant in our daily lives yet so lacking in our political discussions. Part of what's so exciting about Firsthand is its potential to reflect the full range of experiences in our country. I won't try to list all the possibilities here, but here are the kind of glimpses we imagine Firsthand will provide: the neighbors loading their furniture into a rented moving van and riding away, surrendering their house to foreclosure; the local retailer shutting down, succumbing to the pressures of big box competition; the neighborhood opening a community garden; neighbors coming together to launch their own local library to replace the official branch shuttered by budget cuts.

To tell these stories -- or more accurately, to enable you to tell them -- we're launching a mobile app for the iPhone and Droid, in partnership with Ushahidi, the open source platform that uses crowdsourcing to map crises around the world, from the earthquake in Japan to election violence in Kenya. You can use the app to send photo and video "reports," which will appear on a map on our Firsthand page.

This page will be monitored and curated, but it will be both organic and immediate, displaying submissions in real time. At HuffPost, it has always been our goal to put flesh and blood on all the poll data that are out there. We see this as a powerful way of putting storytelling in the hands of the real experts -- not the journalists helicoptering in to cover a story, but the people who are living those stories every day.

So please check out Firsthand and help tell the story of your community. And as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.

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