How to Call Congress

Hart Senate Office Building

Hart Senate Office Building, via goldberg

In addition to snailmailing Congress, I’ve telephoned elected officials (in both cases, I activist-ed in favor of a genuine public option for health care — er, health insurance reform!).

For me, calling Congress was an intimidating task at first. Maybe you know about the infamous Milgram experiment where research participants were asked to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to others — to actors pretending to be learners; the shocks were fake, but the participants didn’t know that.

scary doctor

TRUST ME (via Kevin Lawver)

Despite the screaming and the heart-pain complaints from the actors, despite the actors banging on the divider wall and pleading, most participants allowed the technician-coat experimenter to goad them into pressing not just the extreme intensity shock and Danger: Severe Shock buttons, but finally the XXX button that resulted in the actors’ silence. (Several participants laughed nervously or cried throughout; the experiment has been repeated with the same results as recently as 2009; researchers have used a real-life puppy, too, wondering if perhaps the participants figured out the shockee was an actor — no, all participants in that one killed the puppy.) Stanley Milgram explained these results in terms of conformity and fearful obedience to authority; I think whatever the reasons are, they lie behind patients’ fear of asking doctors questions (for example), and also my initial fear of phoning Congress!

Anyway. Calling Congress members became easier after I did it a few times. Aides answer (rarely do Congress members), and without exception I found them friendly, if rushed. They want you to get to the point, and you should. Though there are scripts online for various causes, I wrote out a paragraph for what I’d say, so that I wouldn’t sound like an astroturfer‘s employee. Each paragraph matched the structure of my letters: 1) who I am (including occupations & city) and what I wish from the Congress member; 2) One or at most two sentences of reasoning — including poll statistics or actual quotes from the Congress member; 3) Reiteration of what I wish from the Congress member and a friendly thank you.

My Headquarters

My Headquarters (via John Smith)

And actually, unlike what might well be the case with snailmail, no aides seemed to mind when I was called from out of their members’ constituencies (I did call my own representatives at times), specifically since the issue (health reform) was national and especially when I mentioned nationwide donations (such as through ActBlue). Some aides asked for my ZIP — I’ve received a few mailings — and when the aides themselves seemed especially pleased with my perspective, I could hear it in their voices. A bad-result call ended with an aide saying, basically, “Thanks, bye”; a good-result call ended with an “I’ll be sure to pass along your comments to the Senator/Representative, thanks so much!”

Sometimes I opened with a compliment regarding something the Congress member did that I appreciated (easy to find from his or her website, or from the search strategies discussed in this post), and sometimes I simply called to say nothing more than thanks for a specific quote the Congress member gave the press or whomever; these aides and Congress members typically get angry phone calls, so it’s nice for them to receive gratitude every once in a while.

Some people went out of their way to tell me this type of activism is worthless, saying the aides’ phones must be perpetually busy. Well they’re not. I had a little trouble getting through the final day or two before the health reform legislation passed — but generally I had no trouble.

Phone numbers for elected officials can be found at USA.gov here. Definitely check out my preceding post for more stratagem. I think people neglect a whole lot of good activities — such as calling Congress — simply because the transaction costs, the totals of the effort and the irritation that must be endured to do the good deed, are too high. Activists should lower them, with info and otherwise.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Digest 4 — Babel Krieg on 10.10.10 at 10:20 pm

[…] should be more transparent. And really, if you aren’t activist-ing in some way (e.g., How to Call Congress, How to Snailmail Congess), your cynicism probably isn’t getting anyone […]

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