Calling Elected Reps Proves Most Effective
The etiquette for answering the phone was the first thing interns were taught in the congressional office I worked in during Winter Term. Our D.C. office had three phones set up to receive every call, with no voicemail. During the first two weeks of January, the phones rang sporadically. Almost all the callers were constituents concerned about some bill or other, asking my boss to vote one way or another. I realized this was business as usual.
The week before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, business as usual was thoroughly disrupted. Our office started to receive hundreds of calls from constituents requesting that their representative stand with Representative John Lewis and boycott Trump’s inauguration. Within a few hours, we had received as many calls about the inauguration boycott as we had received in total on any given day before that. Later that day, a high-level staffer called a meeting, during which staff members ran a cost-benefit analysis on the congressman attending or not attending the inauguration. Though the congressman decided to attend, the hundreds of calls our office received made it clear that this was an issue about which he needed to make a firm decision on what would be best for his constituents. For Oberlin students concerned about Trump’s agenda, calling congresspeople is one of the most concrete actions to bring about change.
In addition to the nonstop calls, our office was sent many emails making the same request about the Inauguration. These emails were sent to a response database, but had less effect than the phone calls. Phone calls take up staffers’ time and reveal more passion than an impersonal email, and indicate that higher priority should be given to an issue.
But before you start frenziedly calling every elected official in D.C., know that it is important to only call your own representatives and senators and not those from other districts and states. In the office I worked in, out-of-state calls were not recorded as constituents’ would be; members of Congress only care about the people who will be voting in their reelection. In addition to saving interns and staffers time, calling only your own representatives means you only need to contact three offices for issues you care about: your two senators and district representative. Calls can be short as long as you provide your zip code and opinion on a particular piece of legislation or nomination. Providing the details of your reasoning does not necessarily help your case, as staffers usually just record whether you are for or against the legislation or nomination.
Because of our government’s system of checks and balances, Congress has the ability to halt much of Trump’s agenda if it so chooses. As constituents, we have a right to have our opinion heard by our federal representatives. If you are registered to vote in Oberlin, your representative is Jim Jordan, a staunch conservative and prominent opponent of the Affordable Care Act who is complicit with the Trump agenda and up for reelection in 2018. Though we could simply wait with bated breath for the presidential election of 2020, we can better bring about change right now by actively petitioning members of Congress to oppose Trump’s policies.