Calling your representatives is one of the most direct methods you have for influencing US politics (this guide assumes an American audience). Aside from showing up in person (e.g. at a town hall meeting or protest), calling is the most important thing you can do. There is no form of communication I hate more than the telephone, but I’ve managed to call my representatives every weekday this month and I’m going to keep calling every weekday until Donald Trump is out of office. If I can do it, you can do it!
Know who they are
This step is the simplest: you can look them up! The ones you’ll call most often are probably your US senators (you have two) and your representative in the House (you have one of these). They can be reached by e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, but calling is the most effective. Like I said, I really hate talking to people on the phone, but this is important enough that I’ve gotten over it. I sort of even look forward to calling on my walk to work each morning.
Senators and members of the House are, like you, extremely busy, so they and their staff aren’t always available when you happen to call; you may have to try a few times in order to get through. Don’t give up! If you call a few times and there’s no answer, try again in an hour or two. If you call several times and still can’t get through, leave a message with your contact information. As for what you should say in your message…
Have a script
Many people I’ve talked to have expressed interest in calling their representatives, but hesitate because they’re not sure what to say. This is understandable, but can be fixed with a bit of preparation. Here’s a sample script for calling about Trump’s Muslim ban:
Hi, my name is (your name) and I’m a consitutent of (representative). I’m deeply concerned by Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees and want to be sure (representative) is doing everything in (his/her) power to fight it and get it rescinded.
(Organizations like 5 Calls have sample scripts ready if you don’t want or have time to create your own.)
Congressional staff members are generally very polite and will usually promise to pass your message along; they may ask you for a few details, like your ZIP code, to ensure that your message is relevant to their boss. If you call with multiple concerns, feel free to ask the staff member to read your request back to you to make sure they’ve gotten everything. Which reminds me:
Regardless of whether your representative shares your political views, it’s crucial to be polite: they (and their staff members) will be much less sympathetic to your viewpoint if you’re rude, combative, or abusive. If you’re calling a rep from your own party, feel free to mention that and reiterate how important your issue is to you (and, by extension, should be to them). If you’re calling a rep from another party, you can let their staff know how troubled you are by the direction they and/or their party is taking without directly stating your party affiliation.
One last thing: take the time to call when your representatives have done something you think is good! Positive reinforcement goes a long way, and people are much more likely to remain motivated when they receive it.
Get in the habit
Finally, it’s important to remember that civic engagement isn’t a one-time thing: it’s a commitment. Luckily, once you call your representatives one time, calling them repeatedly becomes easier. I recommend calling regularly (weekly or daily) and always calling at the same time of day. Calling only takes a minute or two, but the impact you have might be felt for years to come.