411: Contacting Reps

Hello again!

Previously, we had put up some information about the Postcard Brigade, and we’ll have more details coming for that. We also have had information about calling our representatives.

Today we’re going to break it down a little. We will talk about calling and writing our representatives and how much weight that carries. What is the most effective way to contact our representatives? What is the most time efficient for your busy life?

For some help, lets take a look at this piece by Feminist magazine, Bitch:

“Politicians won’t act unless they’re pressured,” says Zahir Janmohamed, the host of the podcast Racist Sandwich who previously worked as a congressional staffer and as the advocacy director for Amnesty International. That means he has inside knowledge of how to get politicians to actually hear your voice.

Don’t stop sharing ideas on Twitter and Facebook; they’re important organizing tools, says Janmohamed. But they’re a “firehose” of information when it comes to weighing in on politics, and a lot of members of Congress don’t follow the discussions about policies that are trending. The best way to get representatives to actually respond, says Janmohamed, is to go old school: look up your Congressperson and write an actual letter.

“As long as it’s legible, I guarantee it’s going to be actually read,” says Janmohamed.

The least effective way to share your opinions, says Janmohamed: online petitions. “If we’d get 10,000 of those form letters, we’d count those as one correspondence,” he says. But if a constituent wrote in with a personal note, saying who they are and specifically what they want, a staffer would always read it and take notice.

If you don’t have time to write a letter, personal phone calls and individually written emails are the next best bet, says Janmohamed. To stop the hiring of Steve Bannon, for example, “I personally have been reaching out to Democrats who represent me and saying, ‘I want to see you on the House floor, I want to see you in your interviews, talk about why the White House should not include an anti-Semite like Steve Bannon,’” says Janmohamed.

Janmohamed says there’s one more secret that every congressional staffer knows: Members of Congress all have Google alerts for their names. “We would sit in the back of congressional hearings, and all of a sudden you’d see a member of Congress pull out his phone and say, ‘I can’t believe what [this person] is saying about me!'” It would turn out the person who got the Congress member’s attention was someone with just a small WordPress blog, but it would get their attention. So if snail mail isn’t your thing, try blogging. “

Personally, I can confirm this, as I used to work in student advocacy in Higher Education. I had the opportunity to meet with college students, student groups, University Administrators, and City and State Elected officials. That was several years ago, but I went to a conference then where we discussed how one letter was weighed at 200 constituent and one call was weighted at 150 constituent. This means that because of the effort involved for people to take time out of their day, collect their thoughts, and articulate them, staffers in Congressional offices considered on letter to represent the opinions of 200 other people, and one phone call to represent the 150 other people.

Now, this may have changed somewhat. I heard recently from a friend who still works in that field that they have more complex models now since Millennials are more likely to call in or use social media but less likely to write a letter, and Baby Boomers are more likely to write a letter but less likely to use social media or call.

No matter your age or demographic, being engaged is important, and the more engaged you are the bigger impact you make. Remember that staffers consider your views to represent not only you, but hundreds of other people who haven’t called or written in, so take time to think out specifics of what you want or need from them!

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