One thing absolutely everyone can agree on about 2020 is that a lot is happening, fast. Between COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, new information, statistics, and revelations are shaking up our news cycle. There are a lot of avenues to go down as far as helping the causes you want to, and one that is often overlooked, due to sheer anxiety and awkwardness, is calling your representative. I know it seems simple on its face. Yet, it’s terrifying, isn’t it? Especially in a day and age where texting and direct messaging has replaced the need for most phone calls, the idea of calling a stranger to voice your opinion almost seems like one of the harder ways to help. On a social anxiety level, it’s certainly easier to donate to a charity, or tag your local representative in a critical Instagram story. But calling your representative is one of the best ways to lend your voice to causes you care about. When you call your representatives, their staff members keep a tally of how strongly their constituents feel about current topics and issues, which should directly guide how they make decisions concerning your state or city. Even if you’re new to getting involved, calling your representative is simpler and less scary than it sounds, I promise. Here’s a simple guide to help you figure out who to call and what to say when you want your voice heard by your representatives.
How to Find Your Local Representatives
Know who’s representing you
Between state and local representatives, it’s hard to know who to call. Luckily, the Internet is your best friend when it comes to figuring this out. Typing your zip code into Google + the phrase ‘who represents me’ gives you an immediate answer to this question. You can also go to usa.gov to find all your representatives at every level. The website 5calls.org also has a lot of resources as far as finding your representatives and providing phone call scripts for specific issues.
Your city should also have a government website set up that will give you information on your mayor and city council members. Most city websites provide a map to show you which council member represents the district you live in. Your city’s website should show you all elected officials, including the city manager, clerk, attorney, auditor, and prosecutor. Here, you’ll be able to find phone numbers and emails for the people you’re trying to contact.
Who do I call concerning what?
If you have an issue with your city’s funding plan, education, or any local issues, you can contact your mayor. Your mayor is responsible for overseeing the city’s major departments. Mayors direct the centralized power of your city, aka, every system that affects how your city operates, like the police department, fire department, education, housing, etc. Even if your city has a weak mayor-council form of government (the city council members have more authority) your mayor can likely use their power and contacts to influence local politics and council members.
Your city council is in charge of things like reviewing city budgets, establishing city objectives, regulating public health and safety, overseeing public employee performance, and, of course, responding to constituent needs and complaints. It is their job to represent their community and reflect that community’s needs and wellbeing.
Your state senators are directly involved with how your state runs. They pass state laws and are supposed to represent the interests of their citizens when considering legislation that will have an impact on them.
Governors act as the head of state and state government. They can pass laws, write the state budget, appoint officials (such as judges and vacant senate seats), pursue new and revised policies, and acts as head of the state’s national guard.
What should I say?
The simplest answer is this: say whatever you want to, but make it clear, short, and sweet. I know it feels like you’re supposed to say the “right” things, but as long as you clearly get your position on an issue across, you’ll be fine. Whether you get to talk to an actual staff member or leave a message on a machine, the most important part is that you clearly communicate your stance.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare beforehand to make it easier on yourself. Keep in mind most phone calls should be short. Someone, somewhere, is wading through all these calls just to keep a tally of how constituents feel about any given issue, so simple and short is perfectly fine. Admittedly, the first time I called my council member’s office and got the machine, I panicked and there were a lot of “uhh’s” and “umm’s” because I hadn’t prepared an actual statement. Writing down a couple of basic points you’re trying to get across can be helpful in case you suddenly panic when someone answers the phone. You can write a coupe of points, or you can write out a whole script word-for-word if that feels easier for you.
It can be something as simple as:
“Hello, my name is [insert your name], I am a citizen of the [insert your zip code] area. I’m concerned with the level of institutionalized racism and police brutality in our city. I believe our police department needs to be defunded so we can reallocate those funds to better serve our community. I feel strongly that the mayor should take this into consideration and propose a new budget that defunds our police. Thank you.”
It can be as easy as that! Remember, it is these elected officials’ jobs to listen to you. That’s an actual, important part of their job and it’s imperative that you remember that as you pursue contacting them. So please do not feel like you’re inconveniencing or bothering anyone. After all, they work for you.