Mal Warwick, who has helped groups raise millions of dollars for social change over the last few decades, shared this guide for how to make sure your senators and representatives are paying attention to the issues you care about. With his permission, we’ve adapted it and hope you’ll find it useful.
There are two things that all Americans should be doing all the time right now, and they’re by far the most important things:
- The best thing you can do to be heard and get your congressperson to pay attention is to have face-to-face time. If they have town halls, go to them. Go to their local offices. If you’re in Washington, D.C., try to find a way to go to their events. Go to the “mobile offices” that their staff hold periodically (these times can often be found on each congressperson’s website). When you go, ask questions — a lot of them. And push for answers. The louder, more vocal and present you can be at those events, the better.
- However, those in-person events don’t happen every day. So the absolute most important thing that people should be doing every day is calling.
Why call your congressperson:
You should make six calls a day — to your two senators and your one representative at their Washington, D.C., office and their local office.
Calls are what all the congresspeople pay attention to. Every single day, your senators and representative and their senior staff get a report of the three most-called-about topics for that day at each of their offices, and exactly how many people said what about each of those topics. They’re also sorted by ZIP code and area code.
Tips for calling:
A) When calling the DC office, ask for the staff member in charge of whatever you’re calling about (“Hi, I’d like to speak with the staffer in charge of consumer rights, please”). Local offices won’t always have specific staffers for each issue, but they might. If you get transferred to that person, great. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Ask for their name, and then just keep talking to whoever answered the phone. Don’t leave a message (unless the office doesn’t pick up at all—then you can…but it’s better to talk to the staffer who first answered than leave a message for the specific staffer in charge of your topic).
B) Give them your ZIP code. They won’t always ask for it, but make sure you give it to them, so they can mark it down. Extra points if you live in a ZIP code that traditionally votes for them since they’ll want to make sure they get/keep your vote.
C) If you can make it personal, make it personal. “I voted for you in the last election and I’m worried/happy/whatever,” or “as a single mother” or “as a white, middle-class woman,” or whatever personally describes who you are or why you’re calling.
D) Pick one to two specific things per day to focus on. Don’t run through a laundry list of problems — the staffer is trying to figure out what one to two topics to mark you down for on their lists. So, focus on defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau one day, then the high price of prescription drugs the next day, and so on. Ideally, something that will be voted on/taken up in the next few days, but it doesn’t really matter — even if there’s not a vote coming up in the next week, call anyway. It’s important that they just keep getting calls.
E) Be clear on what you want. “I’m disappointed that the Senator…” or “I want to thank the Senator for their vote on…” or “I want the Senator to know that voting in _____ way is the wrong decision for our state because…” Don’t leave any ambiguity.
One last thing: If you hate being on the phone and feel awkward (which is true for a lot of people), don’t worry about it. There are a bunch of scripts available on the Internet you can refer to as you start off, and after a few days of calling, it starts to feel a lot more natural. Put the six numbers in your phone (all under P – Politician. An example is Politician McCaskill MO, Politician McCaskill DC, Politician Blunt MO, etc.), which makes it really easy to click down the list each day.