Whether you love him, love to hate him, or just plain hate him (you probably know where we stand), there’s no denying that Trump’s presidency has ushered in an era of unprecedented activism and civil unrest. In our current state of flux, contacting your elected representatives has gone from a hallmark of political junkie-hood to a fact of everyday life. But how do you know your voice is really being heard? Here, as in so many other areas, the shifting political landscape has changed the rules of the game. (Leaving a voicemail, for example, is pretty much useless these days—legislators’ offices are getting so many calls that aides have no time to check recorded messages!)
That said, here are a few things you can do to up your chances of getting your point across to your elected officials:
- Know the basics. If you’re willing to learn only one number, make it (202) 224-3121. That’s the Capitol Hill Switchboard, which can connect you to your Senators and Representatives. If you want to know their direct D.C. office lines, check the official websites for the Senate and House of Representatives.
- Make it count. I know the thought of calling Paul Ryan’s office and giving whoever answers the phone a piece of your mind is tempting--but unless you live in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district, your outburst will be lost to the sands of time. Staffers only take down messages from constituents—no exceptions. In that same vein, make sure you give your zip code or street address when calling your reps so that they know to take down your message. And consider your point carefully: the more specific your message, the more likely it is to make a difference.
- Try the district offices. If you’re not getting through to your rep’s D.C. office, try one of their regional offices—your Representative will typically have only one or two, depending on the size of their district, but your Senators are likely to have several throughout the state. Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that these local offices get fewer calls, the feedback they receive is taken at least as seriously as the feedback flooding into your legislator’s D.C. office—and you’re way more likely to get through to an actual staffer.
- When in doubt, fax it. Who even has a fax machine anymore, right? Actually, your congresspeople probably do, and these days there are countless apps and internet-faxing services you can use to get through to them. FaxZero lets you fax a limited number of pages at no cost; Genius Fax, while not free to use, is one of the best apps on the market; and if you text “resist” to 50409, Resistbot will walk you through the steps of crafting a letter to your elected officials, then send it on your behalf for free. (It gets better: if you keep using Resistbot on a regular basis, you can eventually unlock the option to have Resistbot send snail mail on your behalf—again, free of charge!)
- Tell them in person. If you’re luckyenough to have Congressional representatives who are willing to hold town hall meetings, show up early with a list of questions! While many Republican lawmakers have been avoiding meeting with their constituents for fear of bad publicity (which honestly seems like a “them” problem, if you ask us), confronting your lawmaker face-to-face remains the most efficient way to make a lasting impression.
- Don’t discount local politics. Do you know who your state and local representatives are? Is someone running unopposed in your district? Liaising with your local reps is a lot easier than getting in touch with the big guys in Washington, which means that getting involved with regional politics (or even running for local office!) is a surefire way to make a difference in your community even when the bureaucracy of Capitol Hill seems beyond your reach.
Keep in mind that best practices are always evolving, especially in these turbulent times. If you want more tips, check out Call the Halls, a guide written by former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth, and join advocacy groups for your top-priority issues: they’ll keep you posted on the best ways to make a difference!