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How To Call Your Elected Officials, According To A Former Congressional Staffer

Dialing your senator or representative can be intimidating—but also effective. Emily Ellsworth, a former congressional staffer and author of the e-book Call the Halls, has four pieces of advice for phoning a could-be friend.

11/06/2017 15:25 EST
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1. If you have moderate views, please call. 

Few folks ever get in touch, so the ones who do have a disproportionate influence. We got a lot of calls from people on the far right and far left with fringe ideas, but I rarely heard from folks in the middle. Some of these people think they aren’t educated enough about an issue to talk about it. The truth is, that doesn’t matter. The person on the other end of the line is there to listen, not drill down on your credentials. 

2. You’re most likely going to speak to a staffer, not your congressperson—and that’s fine. 

When my bosses were in town, they had no time to answer the phone. Staffers do, and they also do the bulk of policy work—meaning, if they receive hundreds of calls about an issue, they take notice. That’s why it’s important to connect with staffers: They have the representative’s ear every day. And if you want to have an impact when you call, be kind. You should be firm—but yelling and swearing just shuts us down. 

3. Contacting someone you can’t vote for is a waste of time. 

If Elizabeth Warren or Mitch McConnell isn’t on your ballot come November, then calling them isn’t worth it, even if they’re on a powerful committee. Their staff might not admit it, but it’s true. 

4. We want to have honest communication. 

The power of a phone call is its authenticity. If you’d prefer to just say your name and opinion, or leave a voice mail after office hours, that’s fine. But the more personal you’re willing to be, the better. Sharing your story will always resonate more than reading from a script. And encourage your friends to do the same. Hundreds of thousands of informed, passionate calls can really start to move a conversation. 

If You’d Rather Not Dial In... 

There’s another way to make your voice heard. Resistbot is a handy new assistant that makes it easy to reach your lawmakers by fax. Text RESIST to 50409, and you’ll get a reply asking for your first name and zip code so it can find your congresspeople. Then share what’s on your mind: Whether you have a lot or a little to say (as with phone calls, from-the-heart messages are more attention grabbing than scripts), the free service turns your note into a fax that’s sent to your D.C. delegates. (It also gives you a receipt, so you know your missive has been logged.) Since launching in March, the still-developing Resistbot has added new functions that help you contact your governor’s office, submit letters to the editor, and learn about special elections in just a few taps. And...send.