I Answered Phones in a Senator’s Office. Here’s What Happened.

“I suck at talking on the phone,” a poet friend of mine posted recently on Facebook.

She was referring to calling members of Congress on issues she cares about.

“Me too,” one of her friends chimed in. “Is it perhaps an introvert thing?”

“Probably,” she explained. “Might also be why I’m a writer, not a talker.”

I can relate. I don’t like talking on the phone either, for all the same reasons.

But talk we must if we want Congress to hear us.

Does your call really make a difference?

Based on my personal experience the answer is yes, your call matters.

And based on the story I tell below, we shouldn’t be too nervous about calling because odds are good you’re talking to a 20-something intern or staffer. I know because I was one. I interned for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) way back in the 1990s after I graduated from college. One of my duties in addition to working in the press office writing releases was to answer the front desk phones a couple of times per week.

I kept a paper and pen tally of the issues constituents called about. Tallies on one side of a calling sheet were for those who supported a particular issue, tallies on the other were for those who called in opposition. I also recorded the constituent’s name and where they were from in our state. If the phones were ringing off the hook, I didn’t have time for names. I just listened and made the appropriate tally mark.

The tally sheet mattered then. I know Sen Murray checked it every day. I’m sure it still matters now, although it’s likely now digital.

What do I say?

A lot of organizations provide scripts to help, but I often find them too long and awkward so I adapt them. I make them shorter. I insert a personal story if I have one. The important thing is to get your opinion down on that tally sheet. A simple “Please tell the ‘Senator/Congresswoman/Congressman’ that I oppose/support (insert issue)” is better than nothing.

Can I just write?

A phone call is more timely and thought to be more effective, but yes. As an intern, I also filed correspondence by issue and whether the letter expressed support or opposition. We kept track of the issues receiving the most correspondence and the Senator was kept up to date on what her constituents cared enough about to write.

So go ahead, write the postcard or the email or use social media to communicate with your representatives. The important thing is we let our opinions be known. They work for us and they want to hear from us. We can make a difference.

Say hi to the intern or junior staff member while you’re at it.

 

Here’s a couple of articles from people that know a whole lot more than me.

A political insider’s viral advice on how to make your Congress member listen

Here’s why you should call, not email, your legislators

 

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