- Andrew Hsieh
Calling Congress, explained
If you want to get involved in politics, but don't know where to start, calling Congress is a great stepping stone.
In the U.S. government, the people who represent you on a national level are your members of Congress: your senators and your member of the House of Representatives. You and their other constituents elect them into office, and in turn, they vote for legislation that might interest you.
In other words, if you want to influence legislation, call Congress. In this day and age, that could mean anything from tweeting them to faxing your representatives. But when it comes down to showing your total support for a bill, calling Congress is still a tried-and-true method.
What if I'm shy?
I feel you! If you're like me, you're a little nervous about calling Congress. Or anyone. (I mean, I'd rather order pizza online than over the phone, because one of those requires talking to people.)
For years, I'd see posts on Facebook and Twitter asking people to call their members of Congress. And I'd just shrug it off because I didn't want to trip over my words, or say the wrong things, or embarrass myself in about 20 other ways.
But then I read Vietnamese American Thi Bui's comic for The Nib, "Fear is a Great Motivator for Political Action," about a teacher making her first call to her state governor.
And Aparna Nancherla, who used to work in her senator's Capitol office, tweeted a guide to calling your representatives that just made it sound so easy.
So I thought: maybe this "calling your representatives" thing isn't so nerve-wracking after all.
Putting it to the test
Then and there, I made my first-ever call to Congress.
I'd just finished reading Thi Bui's comic, and without even knowing how things would turn out, I Googled Congressman Ro Khanna's office number, dialed it, and winced as someone in his office picked up.
And even though I ranted a little bit instead of keeping it short and sweet …
... I finished the call and was rarin' to go for another one.
So I called Senator Kamala Harris. And Senator Dianne Feinstein.
And I finally accomplished what all those Facebook posts and tweets and countless MoveOn.org emails had begged me to do all those years: call Congress and make my voice heard.
How to call your representatives
Based on Aparna Nancherla's tweet.
1. Find your House Representative or Senator. If you don’t know, don’t worry! You can find your member of the House here and find your Senator here.
2. Get your House Representative’s or Senator’s state or Capitol phone number. While you can just call (202)-224–3121 to be directed to the Capitol switchboard, which can direct you to both senators and representatives, just Googling for their office phone numbers cuts down on having to call people. (In case you're shy like me.)
3. Call your House Representative or Senator. For me, this is the worst part. I have to force myself to dial the way I force myself to go for a run: not letting myself think and just doing it before I chicken out.
4. Give your name, city and zip code, and say “I don’t need a response.” Nancherla says this expedites things for the staffer so that they can take more calls (and tally more opinions).
5. State the issue and state your position. You don’t need to tell the staffer why you hold that position, although you can. But Nancherla says being simple speeds things up, and staffers don’t usually write down details anyway: just a tally of how many people say what.
6. Thank the staffer for his or her hard work. Nancherla says staffers listen to calls for nearly 9 hours a day, and given the number of times I’ve reached voicemail when calling Senator Harris and Feinstein, I’m inclined to believe her.
What that sounds like
“Hi, my name is Tom, and I’m a constituent from San Francisco, zip code 94102. I don’t need a response. I am against Senate Joint Resolution 15, and I encourage Senator Harris to vote against the resolution. Thanks for your hard work answering the phones!”
You can do it.
Calling Congress looks simple, but seeing how long it took me to do it, I understand if it sounds overwhelming. And sometimes, calling might even feel pointless, especially when you’re talking to a staffer who seems bored, or if you don’t think the representative shares your views. (My first call was to Congressman Khanna, to encourage him not to attend the inauguration. Guess what? He did anyway.)
Still, we elected these officials to serve as our representatives in government, and that means we get to express our views for them to represent. It takes 30 seconds and just four sentences to call Congress and tell them what you think. That’s less time than it takes to order take-out ... and you don't have to pay a dime.
So, hey. Ready to make your voice heard? I hope this helps. And if you still need that little push, let me know @2xie. I’ll be glad to walk you through it.
P.S. Those of you not able to call —I see you. If you can, you can email your representatives. They seem to read them slower, but it's probably because they get so many. (Emailing Congressman Khanna last month got me a response just yesterday.) Still, it’s a good start. You can even message some of them on Facebook —messaging Congressman Khanna got me a response in just a day. Or fax them, even, using FaxZero, which provides free faxing to your representatives. There are loads of ways to contact our representatives now, and calling is just one of them.