CALLING YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
HOW TO DO IT
AND HOW TO GET GOOD AT IT
by Jake Beckhard
So you woke up pissed off! There’s a lot out there to be pissed off about. We’ve got our backs against the wall. You remember vaguely: this article, where a former congressional staffer gave some sincere tips on how to influence your elected officials. You remember: Congressional staffers (and therefore their bosses in elected office) don’t pay attention to tweets or facebook comments, and they have a hard time reading or responding to every letter and email sent to their office. But, calling them - you can almost always get someone who’s willing to talk to you, however briefly.
You resolve to call your congresspeople! But there are two obstacles in your way:
That’s where I come in!
HOW TO CALL THEM
Let’s get the easy part out of the way first. It’s fabulously easy these days to figure out who your congresspeople are. In the United States Congress, you’re represented by:
First, identify your representatives. I’d suggest collecting information on both state AND federal legislators, so my favorite website for this is www.whoaremyrepresentatives.org. Enter your street address and zip code and the website will list iterally every representative that you had the chance to vote on based on your district.
Every one of these people cares about your vote - and the smaller they are, the more they care what you think.
Ok! Before you jump right into civil action, put these people into your phone. Just like you would a good Tinder date or the friend of your boss that might have a better paying position opening up at her company, add their name and position to your phone. Now you never have to visit this stupid website again - as soon as you see something that pisses you off, you can get Kirsten Gillibrand (or whoever) on the phone.
One drawback of whoaremyrepresentatives is that for federal legislators, the phone numbers they give you are DC-based. You are more likely to get someone on the phone -- and get your voice recognized -- if you call your federal representatives at their state offices.
So, take your senators and your congressman and google them to find a number for their state office. Find their home website and do some clicking around. Some legislators try to trick you into submitting an online form. Ignore it. Their office numbers are available somewhere. Find them and save them for quick use.
Fabulous. You’re ready to give someone an earful.
HOW TO TALK TO THEM
Don’t laugh. This can be incredibly daunting. You’re talking to the people who run the free world - or, at least, to the people who run the people who run the free world. You want to come off as well-spoken and impressive. At the very least, you want to come off clear.
When you call your congressperson, there is a high likelihood that you will get a voicemail recording. If you feel so inclined, leave a voicemail and follow up later. If this is a high-volume time (and it may be for some time to come), your representative may have set their phone to automatically ring to voicemail.
However, if you’re feeling really ballsy and you want to speak to a real person, call during regular office hours and press 0 when you hit the voicemail. This will redirect you to a switchboard, where you can confirm the representative you’d like to speak to and get redirected to a phone line where you can speak to a real-life staffer.
When a staffer picks up your call, they’ll say something along the lines of “Congressman/Senator/Delegate XX’s office, how may I help you?” In fielding calls from the public, staffers have a long checklist where they mark various concerns so that they can report a wide variety of calls simply and clearly. Keep this in mind.
One way to preserve clarity on your part is to use a script. There’s no shame in this! There are a number of fabulous action groups that send regular missives to their communities, which include scripts for talking to your representative. Here’s an example regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General:
I’m ---- ----, a constituent. I want Senator _____ to vote AGAINST Sessions’ confirmation. The Attorney General must make sure that our laws apply equally to ALL Americans, and Sessions’ record shows he’s not up to the task. In addition to the accusations of racism that resulted in his rejection for federal judgeship, he has a long history of civil and human rights opposition. He has staunchly opposed immigration reform, the Voting Rights Act, and efforts to address pay equity for women. In addition, he supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, voted against expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation, and criticized a federal law that protects disabled children in the classroom. Jeff Sessions’ values are in direct opposition to an America that upholds liberty and justice for all. I expect Senator ____ to reject Sessions’ confirmation and I’ll be paying close attention to the vote.
This script is from my favorite action group, called We’re His Problem Now which plans three calls a week, including follow-ups on earlier issues, and updates their scripts weekly. I encourage you to bookmark it! There are some others, like flippable, holy fuck the election, and dumbledore’s army. Look for the one that you like the best.
But let’s say you want to freestyle. Bad ass! This ups the likelihood that your particular message will make it to your representative. Here are some tips for practice:
Once you’ve voiced your concern, the staffer may ask you for your name, address, zip code, and various modes of contact. You are not required to provide this information - they will still take your concerns seriously and log them. However, if you are able to prove (or trick them into thinking -- shhh!) that you are a constituent who is capable of voting for (or against) them, it ups the value of your opinion significantly. For obvious reasons.
Most of all, don’t give up. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The more you do, the more what you do will pay off. There’s going to be an awful lot in the next few months that feels dispiriting, and turns our hills into mountains. Keep your fire stoked. When you’re done calling senators, call friends and tell them you did. Bookend your calls by texting people who care as much as you do before and after. They’ll be proud of you, and you’ll get a little burst of affirmation to keep you going for next time.
Don’t. Give. Up. Your perseverance - your furious will to leave this world more loving than you found it - will arc history towards justice.
Thank you for everything you do.
Jake Beck is a theater artist and director.
A collection of pieces by our network
Want to write for this blog?