We live in very trying times as our democracy is under concerted coordinated calculated assault by the Republican Party. If we are to save our democracy, it will take every citizen to become involved by pressuring our elected representatives to do the right thing.
However, lobbying your members of Congress (MoC) is a daunting task. Not only does it require you to talk to someone on a phone or leave a spoken message, it requires you to know who your members of Congress are, their contact information, and what to do if they're answering machine's inbox is full. It is full of pitfalls and confusing moments that can trip up the best of us.
I developed this kit of tools, resources, and recommendations based on my own experience and that of Indivisible and Five Calls. It contains the following elements, so you can pick and choose which ones you need:
(1) The hierarchy of contact: In our modern world, we have lots of contact options. Maybe tweeting my representative is as good as calling, or emailing is better than visiting. This short sections lists options and explains which ones are more effective based on real experience.
(2) Tips, hints, and suggestions: It is exactly what it sounds like. There are lots of things that can happen when you're trying to contact your MoC and this section is a grab bag of how to handle them.
(3) Informational links: This section is a list of links to find extra information like how to determine who your federal, state, and local elected and appointed officials are and their contact information as well as links to information on the bills before Congress and progressive organizations that lobby Congress, too.
Please let me know how it can be improved and how it works for you in the comments.
The Hierarchy of Contact
Not every contact with your Member of Congress is created equally. Here's the hierarchy, you've got to balance what you can do with what is most effective. The rule of thumb is the more personal the contact with the Congress person, the more effective it will be. They listed this hierarchy (in order of most to least effective):
In person, or what passes for in person during the time of #COVID19. Being in their office either in person or virtually and talking to the Congress person or a staff member is your best bet for getting your message heard.
Phone call. Phone calls are probably the easiest thing to do on the list. You pick up your phone, dial, and yack either at a person or a machine. That's good, but we also know that there are too many ways for Congress folks to dodge phone calls like allowing their voicemail in-boxes to fill-up and letting the intern either field calls or tally recordings.
Personal letter or postcard. If you can't go down to the office or make a call, write. Write in longhand. The more personal, the better, remember? In spite of the sabotage of the post office in 2020, most mail will be delivered across town or even across state in a day or two, so it's reasonably timely and reliable.
Email. If you can't write a personal letter or postcard, email, but believe it or not, not everyone checks their email regularly, and surprise many MoC don't. So, really, not a great option, but better than nothing.
Social media. Tag your MoC on a message on your favorite social media platform that your MoC also uses (part of the contact info on the websites linked to below). Also, a good way to get a video message to your MoC.
A form letter or petition. You see these on social media all the time. Text to this number and they'll send a postcard. Sign the petition and they'll deliver it. It makes it easier for you to do, and I guess it makes up for its lack of impact through its larger numbers? But, you wouldn't be here reading this and thinking about calling your MoC if you were all about ease and comfort. There's nothing easy, comforting, or comfortable about reading my syntactically garbled ranting snarky posts.
Hints, Tips, and Suggestions
Be polite! No matter whose office you're contacting or how you're contacting them. No matter what their positions are. No matter how inflamed you are about the issue -- and you should be very passionate -- be polite.
Remember that the people you are talking to are people! So, be nice.
Maybe call with friends. You know like a party.
Only Contact YOUR MoC
They don't listen to you if you're not a constituent. So, you're wasting your time, their time, everyone's time just to make yourself feel better by yelling at McConnell's intern or whatever. If you gotta get something off your chest for a specific MoC, social media at them.
You're tying up resources that real constituents need to make their views known or worse, get help from their MoC. Citizen services are a thing MoC's do. If you're calling, you're filling-up the phone in-box or giving someone a busy signal. If you're writing or showing up in person, then you're taking up space and attention that is better directed at real live American constituents.
You're giving them an excuse to blow off the issue entirely because of outside agitation.
Coordination Makes an Impact
Having a group either visit, call, or mail letters has a bigger impact than just one person doing it, and it's more fun. So, get your friends, neighbors, acquaintances, kidnap victims, whoever together and pass the phone around. Make it a day drinking game. Call in sick to work. It's fun for the whole family!
This is a real good reason to join an Indivisible chapter if you haven't already. There are thousands of them dotted across the land. They sprouted and grew like bamboo or invasive kudzu after 2017.
I know those emails that claim to be from Elizabeth Warren, other political celebrities, or at least a real name are annoying, but they do help coordinate national action on issues. So, if a Congress person realizes that they just got a gazillion calls on issue X on the same day, then they know there's a group that is pushing the issue and has voters behind it. See how that works for the anxious-to-be-re-elected Congress critter?
Film at 11:00
If you meet with your Congress person or staffer, film the interaction -- this is where having a group comes in handy, one person talks, another one glares, and the third one films. So, if they are squirming or hemming and hawing or saying stupid stuff, you could go viral, and isn't that everyone's dream in this age of social media?
Use the Local Press
If you're going down as a large group, the press will cover it. If you've got a large phoning party, the press will cover it. And, you know who reads the local press? Congress folk, do, or at least their interns do. If you make the hometown newspaper or TV news, you've got that Congress person's attention! So, go on, grab 'em by the press!
Be sure and take a moment to review their other suggestions from their first guide. Those worked in 2017, and they'll will work in 2021. Give yourself a little refresher. Also, think up a few of your own and share 'em with the class right down there in the comments.
Call during business hours of the area code their office is in. Typically, that is 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Have a script or notes to follow so you don't forget anything.
Understand your Member of Congress so that you are making an effective appeal depending on whether they are Democratic or Republicans, supporting the issue or against, progressive, moderate, or conservative, or a part of the rank and file or member of leadership. Each have a different set of issues to contend with. Find the complete exploration of the "types" of Congressional person you are likely to find at Call Your Member of Congress: The Save Our Democracy, edition.
In this section, you'll find (a) links to websites that will tell you who your MoC's are as well as your state and local elected and appointed officials, (b) links to like minded organizations, and (c) direct lines to key places and people.
Common Cause will give you the names, party affiliation, direct phone number, website link, and social media platforms of all of your federal, state, and local elected officials.
GovTrack is a comprehensive site of federal and state legislation.
USA.gov is the official guide to information and services of the US government. This page explains clearly how to contact everyone from the president to your representative to specific government agencies. Through it you can find the following information about your MoC's:
Their phone numbers: DC and state offices
Their mailing addresses both in DC and their state offices
Official website with their contact page including email, request a meeting, town hall schedules, and social media
And, the committees they sit on
5 Calls: Sign-up for 5 Calls because they help you contact your member of Congress and keep you abreast of on going issues that are important to you! Now, that is a good deal.
Indivisible is a grassroots organization started by ex-staffers to Democratic MoC's to help citizens lobby Congress to resist the changes the Republicans were making after Trump's election. They have groups all over the country, so join a group near you. You can also find out more about their campaigns and events in your neighborhood. And they have a downloadable handy-dandy booklet!
The Capital Hill Switch Board: (202) 224-3121.
MassacreMitch and #MoscowMitch: His DC office, (202) 224-2541.
Nancy Pelosi: Her DC office, (202) 225-4965; her California office, (415) 556-4862
The WH switchboard: (202) 456-1414 or the comments line at (202) 456-1111 during business hours