You can get involved with government at many levels, from attending city council meetings to contacting your congressional representatives. While the latter may sound intimidating, these individuals are paid to represent you and welcome your feedback, as well as input about your concerns. Congressional representatives, which include members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, are happy to touch base with constituents, as it helps them get a better sense of what the people they represent want. Once you have decided that you want to initiate contact, you may not be sure what your next steps are. This guide is meant to help you have meaningful contact with your congressional representatives.
The Steps to Take Before Calling a Representative
The very first thing you need to do is figure out who your representative is if you do not already know. You can use various online tools that let you put in your zip code to figure out exactly who you need to be contacting. Once you know the representative’s name, you can look up their relevant contact information online. Each representative should have a clear way of contacting them, such as a direct number to the office. However, you can also call 202-224-3121, which connects you to the Capitol switchboard. From this point, you can ask for your senator or representative by name and the operator will put your call through to their office. Before you do this, you should be prepared with what you want to say and know what to expect when someone answers.
A legislative assistant will answer the phone. This person will ask if you need a response to your call. This decision is up to you. Either way, they will tally the call as part of the report to the congressperson. If you ask for a response, you will be added to a database, which will take extra time. Only ask for a response if you truly want one. Also, realize that many people likely call the office, so it is important to be concise. You can explain why you are for or against a certain issue, but know that the legislative assistant may not write the details down and only record what you are for or against. If you are concise, you make the process easier for the assistant and for other people who are waiting to speak to the congressperson.
Making the Call to Your Representative in Congress
Once you know what to expect and have figured out how to say everything concisely, it is time to make the call. Depending on how busy the office is, you may be put on hold. After someone answers, you should identify yourself by your full name and give your zip code, which verifies that you are calling the right person. You can also say right off the bat whether you want a response, which will further streamline the entire process. Next, identify the issue you are concerned about. If you are referring to legislation, you should know the exact name and perhaps even the number of the bill. Give your opinion, meaning whether you are for or against it, and then thank the legislative assistant for their help.
This process may seem artificial and contrived, but it is important for getting data to decision-makers. If you are not sure exactly what you should say, you can use a tool like 5 Calls. This online tool lets you select a particular issue and then gives you a script to read. The calls that you make do have an impact on how these representatives vote on particular issues. However, it is important to keep in mind that you can only contact your specific congressional representatives, and if you do not have a valid zip code to back it up, then your call will likely go ignored rather than recorded. Furthermore, doing this creates a backlog of calls so that other people cannot get through to express their own concerns.
Why Calling on the Phone Is Usually the Best Option
People today can contact their representatives in more ways than just the phone. However, direct messages on social media, e-mails, and even letters often go ignored when the office gets busy. Phone calls cannot be ignored in the same way since they need to be addressed in real-time.
If you are having trouble getting through on the phone, that is a good sign—such a backlog will not go unnoticed and the senator or representative will certainly hear about the impact. Another option you have is to call the representative’s local office rather than their DC office. While this is not the best choice when talking about a national issue or a specific piece of legislation, if you are addressing a more local concern, then the office in your state is the best way of getting that problem recorded.