When there’s an issue that you care about or a bill that you would like to see passed or blocked—whether it’s a domestic-violence-related concern or another topic—pick up your phone. Calling your senator or congressman/woman is one of the best ways to exert your influence.
And yes, these calls can work—when a lot of calls come in, people take notice. Sometimes, the calls push a representative to quickly put out a statement clarifying his or her position, reports the New York Times.
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Before You Pick Up the Phone
Know who to call. First, a civics refresher: The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives make up Congress. Each state has two senators representing it. Each state also has a number of representatives, based on population. So sparsely populated states like Delaware get one representative while packed-with-people California gets 53. Each representative is elected by the people in a geographical district. If you want to voice your opinion about a topic that pertains to the entire United States, like a proposed federal law, you want to call your U.S. senator or representative.
You also have state senators and representatives. These are the people who pass the laws that pertain only to your state, so you want to call them for any state-level issues.
You can enter your address with Common Cause and quickly find all of your elected officials, their phone numbers, and links to their websites.
Know your facts. You don’t have to be a policy expert, but you should at least know the basics about the issue you’re calling about, and what you would like your representative to do. Have some notes in front of you if you feel that would help. If you’re calling about a specific bill, write down the number.
For a hot-button issue, you might be able to start from a script. (Here’s an example from earlier this year.) Or you can just say something like: Hi, my name is [your name], and I live in [your city or town, so they know they represent you]. I am calling to find out what [representative’s name] position is on [the issue you are calling about. If it’s a bill, try to have the number available]. I am requesting that the [senator/representative] vote [for it/against it]. I feel [share your reasons for requesting their vote].
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Try not to be intimidated. It can feel scary to call the office of an elected official, but it’s their job to represent you. You have a right to share your thoughts and opinions about issues with them. Plus, an assistant will likely answer the phone and these people are generally nice—after all, it’s their job to take these calls.
When You Call
- Call during business hours, and give yourself some time. It could take a while to get your call answered. You might want to try calling a local office rather than the office in Washington, DC, or in your state capital.
- Don’t expect to talk to your rep. There’s likely a staff member or intern assigned to answer phone calls.
- What if you get voicemail? That’s okay. Follow your script and leave your message. Your input will get logged.
- Make sure they know where you’re from. Elected officials value opinions from the people they serve, so let them know that you live in their state or district.
- State your case. Say who you are, where you’re from, what issue you are calling about and what you would like your representative to do. Keeping your call short is fine—lots of other people are probably trying to call, too. Thank the staffer for their time.
- Answer simple questions. The staffer might ask for your full address, and whether you would like a call back. It’s unlikely you will be grilled on the details of the issue you’re calling about.
Should You Call Again?
That depends. If you’re told your representative is undecided on the issue, sure. Call every couple of days until you get a decision. If it’s an ongoing issue and new information comes to light over time, call again. But if a slew of people are calling, it might be better to leave your message and free up the phone lines so more voices can get through.
What if I Really Don’t Want to Call?
Because phone calls need immediate, personal attention, they pack power. Emails can get batched, but that doesn’t mean they are useless. They still get seen. If you choose to send an email, make it personal and share how the issue impacts you.
You can also try the free service ResistBot, which will turn a text from you into a letter and fax it to your representative for you.
Calling, emailing, faxing, or writing a letter can all make a difference—and give you a chance to have your voice heard.
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