Friday action item: Put your Members of Congress on speed-dial

… but also, you know, know how to use the phone. (Image from Ghostbusters, 2016)

While the current administration is in office we’re posting small, concrete things you can do to help make things better, every Friday. Got a suggestion for an Action Item? E-mail us!

The new Congress is just getting started, and its to-do list is already full of worrying items — from repealing the Affordable Care Act with an extra dose of cutting off women’s healthcare access to reviving an 1876 rule that lets Congress eliminate the pay for individual civil servants — which includes a lot of government scientists. The outlook is grim, but now’s a good time to take advantage of one nice thing about members of Congress — they all have offices you can call.

Telephoning is simultaneously a big effort — you have to talk to a real person in real time! — and often under-estimated. But consider that a just dozen or so calls on the same subject to congressional representative’s local office are a lot, and you start to see why it’s worth the awkwardness. It is certainly more effective than Twitter or Facebook posting (though those can help organize people to take more effective action), and it’s more direct than a letter, even a non-form letter. In fact, phoning Congress has already won a small victory for better governance. The House of Representatives was set to dramatically reduce the independence and power of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which investigates allegations of corruption against members of the House — but has backed down (for now, at least) in the face of “a blizzard of angry constituent calls”.

So go find the contact information for your Representative and both Senators, and prepare now to use it when you have a good reason, which will probably be soon. Here’s some tips informed by advice from former Congressional staffers:

  • Call a local office, if it’s at all possible — not the District of Columbia.
  • Call from a local number, and make sure to mention where you live. Calls from constituents get noticed; calls from people who won’t vote for the member’s reelection, not so much.
  • Take time to jot down a script. It doesn’t have to be long. It helps.
  • Pick one thing to ask for, preferably something nice and concrete, like a bill to vote for or against.
  • Round up some friends to coordinate calls with. Maybe even find a bigger local group to join.

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy Yoder is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia. He also blogs at Denim and Tweed, and tweets under the handle @jbyoder.
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