Make a Phone Call

People give us a lot of reasons they don’t like to call their elected officials. Some fan favorites include:

  • I only know a little bit about the issue and I don’t want to get grilled on the details.
  • It’s a waste of time. Nothing ever changes.
  • Who has time and energy for that? I literally ate my kid’s leftover breakfast for lunch / I’m working double shifts and I’m not exactly up for more work between them / Is this going to be like the time I was on hold for three hours and talked to nine different people at the power company trying to figure out why our bill was so high? Because if it is, I can’t go through that again.
  • I’m not sure who to call.

Let’s go through these one by one to put you at ease.

But here’s the bottom line: calling is easy and worthwhile and let’s be honest, you can’t complain if you didn’t even bother to pick up the phone for two minutes and speak your mind.

I only know a little bit about the issue and I don’t want to get grilled on the details.
It seems like there’s a quirk in the universe where only people with really strong opinions actually voice them, and people who are mindful that they don’t know everything about everything sit on the sidelines, wondering when they’ll finally know enough. Mindful people: this is your day.

No one is going to grill you on the details. Most likely, an intern or an entry-level staffer will answer the phone. They’ll listen to what you have to say. They’ll take your name and home address to verify that you live in their district. Then they’ll say thanks for calling and have a nice day. No need to recite any statistics or quote Socrates or anything, unless you want to.

(Loud, opinionated people: this is your day, too. Keep calling your heart out.)

It’s a waste of time.
It’s usually not a waste of time. In a well-functioning office, the person answering the phone will enter your information and opinion into a database and someone will get back to you, probably with a letter or email.

If there’s a big or controversial issue driving lots of people to call on a particular day, the staff might just keep a tally of how many constituents called and whether they support or oppose a bill or other matter, then provide the numbers to the elected official and their senior staff.

You might think your elected official is going to vote a certain way whether you call or not, and you might be right. But those calls truly can make a difference, especially — especially — if you get others to join you. Our two cents? Any time you make a call, text five friends and ask them to do the same. And ask those five friends to ask five friends. You get the idea.

Some elected officials are really responsive to their constituents. Others, not so much. Get the sense yours is in the “not so much” category? Try to get a meeting with them to up the ante. Or if you’re really not getting anywhere, it might be time to start thinking about how you’ll vote next time this person is up for election (ActiVote is a great place to start) and consider getting involved in a campaign.

Who has time and energy for that?
This one is easy. Unless the phones are ringing off the hook, this will take you two or three minutes. On a really busy day, you might need to keep calling. But lots of staffers will tell you that calling is really effective. You can convey a lot with your voice and get heard right away. So pick up the phone while the baby is sleeping, when you have a break at work, between Instacart runs – any time during regular business hours.

I’m not sure who to call.
This one should be easy but it’s not always obvious who represents you, especially in local government. Our favorite way to see all your elected officials quickly is by using ActiVote, a free app created by nonpartisan developers. ActiVote does a lot more too, like helping you track the issues you care about, where your elected officials stand on them, and when they’re up for re-election.

Remember: democracy only works when you do it. Even small actions matter, especially when you do them consistently.

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