A phone is a powerful tool, if wielded effectively. To maximize your impact, follow these tips, courtesy of Elizabeth Conner, former legislative staff for Boston City Council, lobbyist for Massachusetts Tenants Organization, and Arcata City Council Member. In light of recent national events, Elizabeth decided to write up these tips to encourage and make it easier for others to pick up the phone and tell elected officials how they want them to vote.
1 Be polite and friendly.
2 Stick to policy or other action requests. Anger and emotion don’t aid communication and won’t be recorded, unless expressed in terms of what policies and legislation you are for or against. Remember, you will generally be speaking to staff people who are answering lots of calls.
3 Brevity is appreciated by the staff people taking your call or recording your message. In general, your call will be recorded as simply ‘for’ or ‘against’ no matter how brilliantly you make your case. It is good to go through the steps below and add one sentence about why you are for or against what you are calling about—but keep brevity in mind.
4 When calling a Member of Congress (MoC), especially our own, call both the D.C. and the district office. When trying to impact an upcoming bill, it’s best to start with the D.C. office because that’s where the legislative staff works.
5 When calling a MoC, if you get through, ask to speak to the staff person in charge of the issue you’re calling about. If that person isn’t there, ask whether there’s another staff person you can talk to or leave a voicemail. When you reach that person or their voicemail, give your name and say you are a constituent or a concerned citizen (they may ask for your zip code). If you reach a staff person, address them by name and thank them for taking the time to speak with you.
6 If you speak with a staff person, and it feels right, ask what the elected official’s position is on the topic. Even if you think you know, asking is a good way to start the discussion (note: does not apply for bill co-sponsors). If the elected official is not voting the way you believe they should, tell them how you would like them to vote and why; or, if they are, thank them for voting the right way. For example:
YOU: Can you tell me if Sen. Feinstein will be voting against Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court and whether she will be joining the filibuster against it?
STAFF: She has not decided yet/ OR She will be voting to appoint.
YOU: Please let Sen. Feinstein know I am counting on her to oppose his nomination, and join the filibuster against it, because of his extreme views and the president is under investigation for his ties to Russia.
STAFF: Yes, she will be voting against his appointment and/or joining the filibuster.
YOU: That’s great to hear! Please thank her and tell her we’re counting on her to do all she can, including joining the filibuster, to oppose Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
7 When calling a MoC, or other elected official, raise only one issue per call; only one gets recorded.
8 When calling an agency, the media or other company, ask the person who answers the call who you can talk to about your topic. Be persistent. Proceed as above.
9 Below is a sample of a voicemail message. The fourth line can be cut, or personalized.
Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a concerned citizen from rural California [OR constituent from your district]. I don’t need a call back. I’m calling to express my opposition to HR 861 and any legislation which reduces the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA was formed in the 1970s because our air was so polluted we couldn’t see New York’s skyline, our rivers were brown, and far too many were dying from cancer. I urge Sen. ____ to vote against HR 861. Thanks for taking my message.
Below is a sample of a script for talking with a staff person for elected official. The third line can be cut, or personalized.
Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a concerned citizen from rural California [OR constituent from your district]. I’m calling to let Congressman ____ know that I am opposed to HR 861 and any legislation which reduces the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA was formed in the 1970s because our air was so polluted we couldn’t see New York’s skyline, our rivers were brown, and far too many of us were dying from cancer. I urge the Congressman to vote against HR 861. Thanks for speaking with me.
In January, Elizabeth Conner (who compiled these calling tips) and Nancy Stephenson founded Power (to the People) Lunches, a group that meets weekly to call elected officials and other decision-makers when they are in their offices. The lunches provide support and training, Call Sheets (which include a summary of each issue, suggested calls with sample scripts and phone numbers), and a warm lunch for a donation. Others use the Call Sheets and call from home or in other groups. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or find Power Lunch Humboldt on Facebook.