See bottom of page for some helpful links to additional resources.
Why the telephone? That's so... 1999!
We know that our House Representatives and Senators are political animals, and while they may first go to Congress with the noble intent of legislating in the interests of the American electorate, most must work diligently to achieve what becomes, to them, a more important goal - staying in office.
We intend to leverage that desire and goal by reaching out to them, personally. We know that emails, tweets, Facebook and even snail mail have little effect. They're not really paying attention to Social Media, email is too easily responded to by an intern with a form letter and snail mail just takes too long.
That leaves us with old-fashioned calling. Calling achieves multiple objectives:
- It's reported as the fastest and most effective way to get your legislator's attention. Email is reported as the least, because there's so much "noise" inbound via that channel and sorting the wheat from the chaff is an inefficient, low-priority and thankless task.
- It gives us a chance to say what's on our minds, without the time or effort needed to craft a lengthy email or letter.
- It counts. Legislative assistants keep track of the calls coming in and this information does get to our legislators.
- We can call multiple times on multiple issues (more on that on the Calling Strategy page).
Power in Numbers
While calling our Congressional delegation should be done regardless of how many people participate in this project, a more powerful impact can be had if we can recruit more liberal spirits to make the calls with us.
If each of us were to call our Representative and two Senators once a week, we only need 135,000 liberals to join in to achieve our 100,000 calls per day target. That seems like a big number, but it's but a small fraction of our like-minded friends in America.
In order to achieve this outcome, we need you to continue recruiting fellow liberals. Use all your social media channels, talk to your neighbors, organize with your local and statewide Democratic party... the more you invite, the more who will participate. The more who participate, the more impact we'll have.
Who's Who in a Congressional Office:*
These (usually) unpaid workers are often college students with a career interest in government. They are very often assigned menial administrative tasks - filing, copying, autopenning the form letter you'll probably receive after your calls.
Likelihood of speaking to them: Low
Likely level of influence with Member of Congress: Zero
Staff Assistants are the front line in most offices. They will often be the primary person answering the phones, and there are usually only a few per office, so get to know their names. While they may sort, document the topics of your calls, they probably can't serve much value other than a sympathetic (or pseudo-sympathetic) ear. They are usually recent college grads and while a step up from the interns, they are administrative in nature, not really involved in the legislative process.
Likelihood of speaking to them: Very High
Likely level of influence with Member of Congress: Little to None (depending on how much money their parents contributed)
Legislative Correspondents do just what their title implies. They spend most of their time writing the letters you'll receive after the call. The incoming phone messages (as well emails and letters) are routed to them by the Staff Assistants. The number of Legislative Correspondents will vary depending on the size of the constituency and the number of issues that the particular Rep or Senator is focused on (e.g. on how many committees they serve). The Legislative Correspondents maintain commentary on the legislator's position, including the evidence to support it. They write response letters, which are sent to the interns to auto-sign. They report to the Legislative Assistants (see below) with a breakdown of constituent feelings on the issues.
Likelihood of speaking to them: Unlikely
Likely level of influence with Member of Congress: Low - other than that they tally the issues for action by the Legislative Assistant
Legislative Assistants are usually very experienced and often specialized (ostensibly more so in the Senate than in the House) on particular topics such as education, defense, etc. Their job is to gather data on various issues pertaining to pending legislation and congressional actions (e.g. appointment confirmations) and brief the member of Congress in preparation for a vote. While constituent concerns may or may not weigh heavily, it is imperative that our voice be included.
Likelihood of speaking to them: The more persistent you are, the more likely
Likely level of influence with Member of Congress: High - these are the folks who brief the member of Congress on constituent issues.
Member of congress
Not much of an explanation needed here, except to remember that most of these folks lack integrity and are used to the "wheeling-and-dealing" that Washington has become. While "draining the swamp" might be a good idea, it won't happen until Congress reverts to being public service instead of a career. In other words, Term Limits are a good thing!
Likelihood of speaking to them: Near zero unless you're a big donor or catch them at their in-state office during a "town hall"
* I've had this info about a congressional office staff model for a few years and unfortunately, I don't know who originally wrote it (so can't give the proper credit to the original author). Also, because it's a few years old, it might have changed, so if you find anything new, please let me know.
Key Calling Considerations
There are a few things that are really important to remember when calling the office of a Member of Congress:
- Only call your representative or your state's senators. Calling Mitch McConnell's office if you don't live in Kentucky will have absolutely zero effect. Therefore, it is critical that you be a constituent of the office you're calling. You can find the contact information on the contact resources page.
- Give your name and address. Your address is important, because it tells them you're a constituent. If you don't leave your name and address, they'll trash your comments after hanging up with you as they'll consider you a non-constituent.
- Do not call the office of a member more than once on a particular issue unless you happened to forget a key concern. Persistence pays off, but simple repetition usually just annoys, and that can get your message delayed. Calling back after the member has voted on an issue to explore justification or to express your disapproval is warranted.
- Check the member's website for the name(s) of the Legislative Assistant(s). If there are multiple Legislative Assistants, consider asking the Staff Assistant you speak with for the name of the particular Legislative Assistant focused on the topic of your call.
- Passion is great, anger or yelling only gets in the way. Make each call a conversation. Part of our objective is to get as many calls into each office as possible in order to make our voices heard. But we don't serve ourselves well if we call, rattle off a list of concerns and get off the phone in 30 seconds. Explain your point of view, ask questions, and engage.
- Develop a calling strategy (see the info to the right) so your persistence shows through and your calls get noticed. Ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant(s) who deal with your issue. The more persistent you are as a constituent, the more likely you'll get a to talk to them.
- Keep in mind who does what... Your Representative doesn't get to vote on confirmations - that's the exclusive purview of the Senate. But all spending legislation must begin in the House, so anything having to do with appropriations will require a vote of your Representative before it can get to the Senate.
- When calling one of the Trump-supporting-GOP members of Congress, we have to realize that our concerns are not going to weigh as heavily. Fine tune your message. See the Talking Points page for more info. Phil Vogels (twitter: @FutureChanged) has created a fantastic spreadsheet outlining each Senator's position on the nominees. Click here to access it.
Develop Your Call Strategy
Here are some ideas for how you might approach the calling campaign:
- Keep an eye on the legislative agenda. Issues that are coming up that are important to you deserve your voice to be heard. But don't wait until the last minute. Your voice won't have any impact if you call a day ahead of an important vote. Prioritize your issues and make a list.
- Do some quick research on your member's voting record or stand on the issue you're calling on. Have some facts lined up to support your case. Again, if you're calling about a nominee, info about your Senators' stance can be found here.
- Develop a calendar. If you're like me, you have other things to do in your life, and can't spend hours on the phone. My plan is to call each member once a week and, due to my schedule, most weeks, I'll have to split up the calls across multiple days.
- Some people are comfortable with a list of the key messages to talk about, others will want a bit more of a script. While I've put an example on the Talking Points page (down at the bottom), I encourage you to adjust the message as you see fit make the message your own. Your genuine concerns are of the highest importance here.
- Make a note of the date and time of your call and the name(s) of the person/people with whom you spoke. It will be helpful if you get the same person again or if you end up speaking to someone else (like the Legislative Assistant) on any of the issues.