On Political Activism in the U.S.A. 🇺🇸

George Washington statue in Union Square, Manhattan. (Photo: Taylor Morgan)

“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government…” — George Washington

📌 The bottom line up front…

As a citizen what is the most effective way to achieve a desired political outcome in Congress? Is it signing a petition, knocking on doors, attending a rally, shitposting your facebook feed into oblivion… something else?

When I was a grassroots organizer in the US state of Georgia, I dabbled in all of these things. All have their uses: increasing civic engagement, raising public awareness, and improving our democracy. However, I noticed that one particular action tended to get the best result: Calling your representative.

🆘 The dilemma…

Lots of people don’t like to get involved in the political process. And who can blame them?

Participation can be rancorous, vitriolic, messy, time-consuming, and of questionable merit (i.e. What did we achieve for all that work?). There are many reasons why a citizen would not participate in the process (all of which I heard in my canvassing days):

“I’m too tired”
“I’m to busy”
“There’s not enough time”
“I don’t care about politics”
“I’m not knowledgeable enough to help”
“It won’t make any difference”

All of these things are tempting escape routes. But as Final Fantasy taught us: you’ll never level up, you’ll never get the loot, and you’ll never beat the boss if you flee from every fray.

💯 The truth…

Democracy, civil society, and our Republic draw their lifeblood from an engaged public. It's not a spectators sport. Participation is crucial.

If oligarchs and tyrants wrest the reigns of power away from the people, then we have only ourselves to blame. As President Barack Obama said in his farewell address:

“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. To embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because of all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”

So the question is: what is the lowest-lift way to get regular Joe and Sue Citizen to participate in supporting a cause, voicing their opinion, inundating their representatives with a resounding message from the public, and getting shit done for democracy?

Well, representatives take into consideration the voices of the constituents with whom they speak. It just so happens that those voices, more often than not, come from lobbyists with deep pockets, strong opinions, and a penchant for expensive dinners.

👊 Let’s change that…

Pick up your phone and call your representative.

Even if you aren’t able to speak directly to your senator or representative, your call matters. The legislative assistant who takes your call also keeps track of how many people called, their positions on issues, and produces a summary that is presented to the the member of Congress.

Since each representative or senator is chiefly concerned with the opinions of constituents from his or her district, it is most effective to call your own senators and representatives.

‼️ The next steps…

  1. Lock these digits into your mobile: 1–844-USA-0234
  2. Give that number a ring.
  3. Enter in your zip code and you’ll be automatically connected with your representative.
  4. [IMPORTANT] A legislative assistant will likely answer the phone. Let the legislative assistant know why you are calling and what issue you are calling about.
  5. Press star at any time to be automatically forwarded to your other representatives.

🏆 Cred…

Shout out to Ian Webster for creating this nifty Congressional calling capability with Twilio’s Node.js library. It’s open source. So check it out!

🔗 Other info…

You can find the direct number to any member’s office by consulting the Senate phone list or House phone list.