Does Calling Your Representative Work?
Fact-checking your Facebook feed.
As President Trump tweets dozens of objectionable policies at America every week, my inbox gets flooded with requests to, well, flood lawmakers’ inboxes — with online petitions. “I’ve signed this petition demanding Trump release his tax returns,” my friends say. “Would you also please sign?”
Call me cynical, but I don’t sign these things because I don’t think they’re effective. Lawmakers know that signing that petition only took you 10 seconds. How much do you think your signature is worth to them?
Not much, according to Keith Chu, who works for Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s communications team. He tells Wired that Wyden’s office has been swamped with phone calls and emails in the past few weeks. The only thing staffers don’t spend time on, Chu says, are online petitions.
So instead of — or, okay, in addition to — signing petitions, you should actually call your congresspeople.
My civics teacher taught me that writing or calling your congressperson gets results. That stuck with me. In 1996, I lost my passport in Thailand. When I asked for a new one, the US embassy in Thailand said it couldn’t verify my identity. My mom immediately called our congressman. He told her I should tell the embassy that any two picture IDs would confirm who I was, and that I should drop his name. When I did, that embassy staffer changed his tune quick — and said my passport would be ready in a week.
Clearly, I’d learned, contacting your representative gets results.
Activists have published lots of phone scripts you can read to your rep, saying you object to specific policies like Trump’s Muslim ban or Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. But Minnesota political analyst Blois Olson says staffers are already familiar with the scripts.
“You have a much better chance of having your call get through to the staffer working on that issue area if you tell your personal story,” Olson tells CBS News.
Marketer Emily Ellsworth, who worked in the district offices of Utah Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, agrees personal stories are better.
“I couldn’t listen to people’s stories for six to eight hours a day and not be profoundly impacted by them,” Ellsworth tells the New York Times. When your story moves staffers, they’ll work harder to pass it on to their bosses.
Ellsworth tells the Times that staffers log every call on a spreadsheet and present them to officials each month. And if the phone’s ringing off the hook, all work often stops, and the lawmaker drafts a statement stating their position.
You might even get a call back. New York Republican State Senator Phil Boyle tells the Times he replies to every call — something he couldn’t do with the 300 emails he gets every day.
So will it work? There’s no saying — but it has in the past.
On Jan. 2, the first day of the new Republican-controlled Congress, lawmakers dropped a plan to get rid of the the Office of Congressional Ethics, a nonpartisan body that investigates possible wrongdoing by lawmakers. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported the reversal was because of phone calls.
If you want to get started, human rights coalition The Leadership Conference makes it really easy. They have tips on calling lawmakers and a list of them — in case you don’t know yours — along with all their numbers. Or just call the Capitol switchboard at 202–224–3121 and you’ll be connected with your representatives. Calls increased dramatically after Trump’s inauguration, so if you get a busy signal, call back. If you get voicemail, leave message — it still counts. You can even set a reminder each morning to call a lawmaker.
Sure, it takes 10 minutes instead of 10 seconds, but your rep will respect the extra time you put in — and you’ll feel better for sharing your story and actively participating in government. And anyway, isn’t democracy worth 10 minutes?