How to Get Your Elected Official to Pay Attention
We at How to Help frequently suggest that readers contact elected officials. But not all lines of communication are created equal (some, in fact, incentivize politicians to straight up ignore you). Here are ways to get your voice heard.
First, understand how your member of Congress thinks.
Indivisible has what you need to know.
Visit a town hall in your district — and bring a camera phone
Get some face time with your representative while Congress is on recess in August.
Town Hall Project keeps an up-to-date tally of town halls scheduled for members of Congress. They have also teamed up with March For Our Lives, the activist group led by the Parkland shooting survivors, and has a list of events for their Road to Change summer bus tour.
(For a little #ActivistInspiration, check out the DREAMers who made headlines for filming their town hall confrontations with far-right members of Congress).
Pick up the phone. It’s your best option
Follow the advice of Emily Ellsworth and call, don’t email elected officials. This former congressional staffer literally wrote the book on how to get your elected official to pay attention to you. You can find her 2016 tweetstorm full of tips and advice.
TL;DR: It’s hard for members of Congress and their aides to ignore when their phones are ringing off the hook, especially in their home district offices. Emails are easy to skim and discard. Also, an astounding number of elected officials are complete dinosaurs with technology. (BTW, if you want to help change that, apply to be a Tech Congress fellow).
Find an app that does (most of) the work for you
This One Number: Call this toll-free number (1.844.USA.0234) and enter your zip code, and the app will locate and dial the elected officials in your district without you having to do anything.
What’s great about it is that you don’t have to hang up and redial every new elected official. The app automatically lines up phone numbers for your two senators and your local representative, back-to-back in a single call. It also can connect you to local officials from your state.
Or you can call the US Capitol switchboard and be connected to any office: (202.224.3121).
The 5Calls app provides issue-by-issue background and talking points for your calls.
WhoIsMyRepresentative tells you (you guessed it) who represents you: Enter your zip code and find your members of Congress, along with phone numbers and links to their websites.
Get over your social anxiety when calling members of Congress
This comic by Cordelia is exceptional and can help you get over those weird, creepy vibes you feel when dialing a stranger’s phone number. Cordelia walks you through how to set up a routine before punching-in phone numbers.
Sharon Wong has another lovely and compassionate thread for phone-adverse people who want their voices heard. Follow a simple script — it’s super easy.
Also worth noting: it’s pretty unlikely that a congressional staffer will keep you on the phone for a long time for an intimidating debate on complex issues. In most cases you can expect a brief convo and promise that your message will be relayed to your representative.
Still don’t feel like calling?
Countable helps you issue-specific messages to members of Congress via an easy-to-use app.
Comments on social media aren’t the best way to move your representative...
It’s super easy for congressional offices to turn off all social media notifications. As Ellsworth explains, the only messages that really got the attention of her office were the harassing ones that needed to be removed.
...ditto with snail mail
Well, a handwritten letter will get lots of attention, although mass mailing campaigns may have less impact. AND there are a few pretty major exceptions to this rule.
While in office, President Obama asked his staff to compile 10 constituent letters for him to read each day, hand-picked out of the 10,000 pieces of correspondence that his office received. So who knows — maybe you can be part of the 0.001% who gets their letter read.
Real talk: Calling rando lawmakers won’t help much if you don’t live in their district
Annalee Flower goes into detail on this one pervasive misconception. Basically, lawmakers care about reelection, so they care most about voters in their districts. Sure, some careerist types may have political ambitions that extend beyond their hometowns. But for the most part, you’ll want to direct your comments toward your own representative.
Also, vote in the midterm and primary elections
And if you haven’t registered yet…