This Week, I Called My State Senators and Representatives for the First Time. It Shouldn’t Have Taken Me This Long.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.
I’ve always been interested in politics and have always tried my best to stay informed on the political climate of our country. But before this week, I had never taken advantage of my right to call my politicians and voice my opinion.
Why? For one, I felt too nervous to call. What would I say? How would I say it? How could I clearly articulate my position on an issue I’m so enraged by? Even more terrifying: what would the person on the line say back? Would they disrespect me? Would they take me seriously? Would they even listen?
I also didn’t truly believe my calls would make a difference. As politically inclined as I may be, I had also grown cynical about how much politicians actually listened to constituents. I assumed that politicians never tracked these calls, or paid them any attention. I worried that I’d waste my time thinking I was “taking action” when really I would be consistently ignored and dismissed.
What changed my mind? I came across this series of tweets from former Congressional staff member Emily Ellsworth. In the tweets, she argued that phone calls to the office were noticed, and often forced the office to create time to discuss the issue at hand.
I began reading more articles arguing that congressional leaders actually receive constituent reports tallying how many people had called about each issue each week.
Then I came across this website that helps you easily find the politicians who work for you based on your zipcode. Later, a friend shared this amazing document which makes it even easier to go through the process. The document has numbers for all state senators and representatives, along with mock scripts you can use if you’re worried about how to articulate your point of view.
So for the last week, I’ve decided to try it. Here’s what I learned.
1. These calls take way less time than I thought.
It took me just 6 minutes to leave three voicemails with my state senators and the Speaker of the House, and speak directly with a staff member at my representative’s office.
It quickened the process to save all of their numbers on my phone with “Politician” before their first names. That way, when I call again, I can search “politician” on my contact list and quickly have all their numbers at once.
2. You don’t need to give an eloquent speech on the issue. You just need to voice your concerns.
No one I spoke with challenged my opinion, or even asked for more specifics. I was allowed to speak freely about whatever concerned me. The person who answers the phone is required to simply take down your information and summarize your thoughts. From what I’ve experienced so far, it’s not nearly as intimidating a process as I previously imagined.
3. It helps to mention that you are a local constituent.
Politicians are most concerned with the opinions of their constituents, so mentioning that you live in their state or district will make sure they know that your opinions directly influence whether they get re-elected.
One office asked for my address to verify that I lived in their congressional district. Another just took down my name and hometown.
4. If you have professional expertise on the issue you are calling about, mention that too.
Again, this could help make sure your call is taken seriously.
5. If the national office has “all lines busy”, call the local office.
National calls reach the politician most directly, but local calls give you a better chance of speaking with a human being directly. So it’s probably best to call both. I could only leave voicemails at my state senator’s D.C. office, but when I called their office in my home state of Florida, I spoke to their staff immediately.
6. These calls work best when you only speak about one issue at a time.
In the political situation the US is in right now, I’m sure most of us could rant for hours about everything we’re upset about. But since staff members track these calls using some kind of form that lists specific issues, it’s important to stick to only ONE issue per call. That way, when others call about the same issue, the staff member will be checking off the same box over and over again, documenting that multiple constituents have called about that issue in particular.
It shouldn’t have taken me ten years into adulthood to make my first call to my political representatives. As a citizen of this country, I should have taken advantage of my right to make these calls any time I felt unsatisfied with the political decisions of my representatives.
If you want to learn more about how to begin personally lobbying Congress, read Emily Ellsworth longform piece about the topic in Jezebel here.