Since the election, many people who are disappointed, angry, and scared about the outcome have been looking for concrete ways to influence their government. The president-elect has announced a slate of Cabinet picks who are unified by the fact that they have an extreme view about the departments they've been chosen to head: Steve Bannon is a white-supremacist- sympathizer and now Trump's chief strategist; Myron Ebell is a climate-change-denier and up for head of the EPA; Betsy DeVos is a billionaire with no teaching experience and was tapped as the head of the Department of Education. Each of these selections indicates a move toward extremism that will likely be reflected in legislation when Congress begins its next session in January.
Because I worked for Congress for six years, and answered the calls of many an irate constituent, I know all the best practices on how to contact your elected officials. I tweeted out a thread with tips right after Election Day, and those tweets have since been seen over 25 million times. Social-media advocacy works for building awareness of an issue, but when it comes to contacting your representative, tweeting and leaving comments on Facebook aren't enough. Here's what you need to know if you want to make sure your message gets heard.
1. Do your research.
You don't need to be an expert on how Congress works, but it will help to know a little about its day-to-day operations. (I wrote a short guide that can get you on the right track to understanding the basics of how both chambers of Congress work, how to contact your representatives, and what to say or write when you do get in touch). But here's what you need to know to begin: You have three representatives to the federal government: two senators and one member of the House of Representatives. When you make your phone calls, you'll want to limit your contact to these three people, since most offices don't have the resources to respond to people who are not their constituents.
The House of Representatives and the Senate have similar roles, but there are a few key differences you should be aware of. The Senate is the chamber that handles presidential appointments as well as Supreme Court nominations. So, when you start hearing about confirmation hearings, you'll want to contact your senator rather than your representative.
If you have a concern about something on a state level, such as funding for education or Medicaid expansion, you'll want to contact your state legislator. On a state level, you have one state senator and one state representative. The best way to find contact information for them is on your state's website or with a quick Google search.
2. Create your script.
Now that thousands of people are calling their congressional representatives and jamming the phone lines, there are many different scripts available. One of the most popular is a Google document called "We're His Problem Now." If you're feeling unsure about making a convincing script, the ones on that spreadsheet are a good starting point.
However, it's easy and more effective to make your own scripts that include your personal story. When it comes to contacting Congress, it's not just the volume of calls or emails that matters, it's the message as well.
When you make your script, you can start with this formula:
● Begin with your name and city. Be sure to include that you are a constituent. "Hello, my name is (first name), and I am a constituent from (city name)."
● Briefly and respectfully state what you are calling about. It's important to condense your message as much as possible, similar to an elevator pitch or a short answer to an interview question. Stick to one topic per phone call, and give any specifics you have, such as bill numbers, names of presidential appointees, or your support for a policy.