More Tools: How To Be Heard
I'm not going to explain why calling is the single most effective way to reach your Congressperson. There are plenty of resources online to do that for me:
- Here’s Why You Should Call, Not Email, Your Legislators [New York Times]
- The Best Ways to Contact Your Congresspeople, From a Former Staffer [Lifehacker]
- "Don’t just write to your representatives. Call them — and go to town halls." [Vox]
(And if that's not enough, here.)
I understand that getting on the phone can be a challenge if you're an introvert, but I can tell you this: The first call is terrifying, and after that it's easy. Unless something bizarre has happened at your Congressperson's office, you'll be talking to a staffer. They are generally friendly - I've only once had a staffer be impolite, and that was on a day when they were clearly dealing with a high volume of calls.
Take a few minutes to write out a script before you dial. It can be very simple - remember that you're just trying to convey your opinion on one issue.
"Hi, my name is Mark, I'm a constituent from Seattle, zip code 98***, I don't need a response. I am opposed to banning the sale of blueberries and I encourage the Senator to please oppose implementation of any such ban. Thanks for your hard work answering the phones!"
And that's it. You are done.
If you don't already know who your Senators and Representative are, go to whoismyrepresentative.com and look them up. Take a few minutes to store their numbers in your phone. Then schedule a little bit of time every day (I make my calls in the morning, before I start work) to exercise your civic duties.
I get it, sometimes you just really don't want to call. Maybe you have laryngitis. Maybe you're in a meeting and need to do something more subtle.
Did you know that fax machines were even still a thing? They are, Congressional offices have them, and staffers read the faxes they receive.
A fax gives you the opportunity to be a little more verbose. In fact, I have a daily reminder on my calendar to fax my Congresspeople every day around lunchtime. I don't always do it, but I will if there's an issue I want to be heard on that's not quite urgent enough to warrant a phone call.
The service I use is FaxZero. They have a listing of current fax numbers for both the House and Senate. All you have to do is plug your text into a form and send. It's free (although I think there may be a limit of 5 faxes per day).
ResistBot: I'm mentioning ResistBot here because the underlying technology it uses to send "daily letters" is faxing. You send texts and the service faxes those texts to Congress. Take at look at their FAQ and @botresist to get a little more information about how it works.
If you can keep your message brief, use postcards instead of letters - postcards don't have to go through as much security examination as letters, so they'll get there faster.
Writing to a district office (in your state) is better than writing a letter to a Congressperson's D.C. office. You should be able to find the correct mailing address on whoismyrepresentative.com.
Postcard parties make a great excuse to get together with your friends and neighbors who are interested in being politically active! Recently I got involved with Ides of Trump, which coordinated postcard-writing events in bars and coffeehouses all over the country to urge Trump to reveal his tax returns. (They're planning more, and they have a Facebook group.) Why not host one yourself, on behalf of Swing Left or your local Indivisible chapter? Or find an event someone else is hosting on the Resistance Calendar.
Congress takes a short recess every few months, ostensibly so that Senators and Representatives can go home and meet directly with their constituents. However, as we learned during this year's February recess, many Congresspeople have gotten accustomed to not holding these meetings - for some, it's been years since constituents have called them to be present and accountable.
But that time is over. This past February, Senators and Representatives who did hold town halls may have faced angry crowds, but those who didn't were shamed and dealt with angry constituents on the phones and at their offices. In cities across the country, Indivisible held 'mock' town halls - real constituents came and asked real questions, often speaking to cardboard cutouts of their Congresspeople, with the promise that a recording of the meeting would be sent to the Congressperson's office.
With another short recess coming up in April, let's hope our Congresspeople shed their cowardice and come out to hear what we have to say. Two ways to find out when these town halls are coming up: 1) Get on your Senators and Reps mailing lists or check their websites. 2) Check the calendar at www.townhallproject.com
Show up at their offices
Visiting in person is always an option, although it may be hard to schedule. One of our Senators in Texas, John Cornyn, has regular open office hours for visitors at his D.C. office, making it easy for lobbyists to speak with him, but does not keep a similarly open schedule when he visits his home state, making it virtually impossible for his constituents to reach him. But you can always try - check your Congressperson's web site for a schedule and details on arranging an appointment.
When you've done all you can, it's time to join forces with other people. Send up a collective signal by joining a march or rally, and join in solidarity with other voices in sending a message.
Word on the street is that Senators and Representatives don't actually read their @'s, it's probably just a lot of white noise for them, but if it makes you feel better to rant at them on Twitter or Facebook, by all means, go for it.
Emails are collected by staffers and are grouped by subject rather than being read in detail. I don't think they're worth the time, but your mileage may vary.
And online petitions are all but useless. It's never clear who reads them, and they are often a ploy to get your contact information. That's not to say they're always bad, just make sure you trust the organization you're sending your email address to.
So what should you call/fax/write/protest about?
Every day there's something new. So far this week I've called about Trump's income taxes, his Russian connections, healthcare, and immigration. Next week there will certainly be new issues. Here are some guides to help you keep up with them, and in some cases to help you put together your calling scripts: