Below are some to-the-point steps to engage with members of the legislative branch. For more detailed information, we highly recommend the Indivisible Guide specifically Chapter 4, and the Call The Halls Guide.
Let’s get one thing out of the way early on, emails and online petitions are worthless. We all like them, because they are easy ways to make it feel like we are contributing, however, it is just as easy for a staffer to ignore or delete.
Focus your energies on face-to-face meetings and phone calls…
Face-to-Face is Best
Go to Town Halls
When it’s time for question-and-answer, ask your questions firmly, but politely. Don’t give up the microphone until you are finished. Support other like-minded individuals with your applause (it will be ideal if you are coordinating with them ahead of time!). Most importantly, make sure someone is recording the event.
Remember that there are often opportunities to talk one-on-one with your representative or their staff after a meeting. They will usually be surrounded by other officials and friends, so stand in that group and wait your turn to jump in. Their staff may be easier to get to, so politely introduce yourself and talk with them as well.
Go to Their Offices
Make appointments to speak with your representative or a staffer. You may only get a couple of minutes of their time, so while you should be prepared to talk about multiple issues, prioritize those issues in case you can only speak about one or two of them.
Show up unannounced. Let them know that you couldn’t get through or kept getting their voicemail and that it’s important that you register your opinion with the representative. Do not accept offers to leave a message at the desk. Hold out, and if you have a really bad experience, call a local reporter.
Call, Call, Then Call Some More
Call members of congress about national issues such as appointees, national legislation (ex: the Affordable Care Act), and the President.
Call state representatives and congressmen about state issues such as HB2, gerrymandering, and school funding.
Call your mayor/city council/ about local issues such as LGBT protections, non-discrimination ordinances, and treatment of the homeless.
Making any calls is worth your time, but if you want to be a calling machine, you can make up to six calls in one day just to your members of congress. Call both of North Carolina’s senators, making sure to call both their DC and local office, and call your representative at both their DC and local office.
According to staffers, calls are what people in congress actually pay attention to. Every day senators and their senior staff get reports on the three most called issues and how many people said what about those issues.
How To Get Through
If you get an endless loop of recorded menu items and a full mailbox, start dialing random extensions (try ‘0’ first). As soon as you get someone, take note of what extension worked. If they send you back to the same full mailbox, start calling them back directly and let them know it didn’t work. They will quickly realize that you are THEIR problem until they can pass you on to somebody else.
If that doesn’t work or if you get blacklisted, find out if there is a different office or department in the same building. Call them, act confused, and asked to be transferred to the representative’s office. The point here is to make your call an internal transfer within their phone system, as reps will be much more likely to pick up for internal calls.
Another way is to Google the representative and find a recent press release. On it will be a number for press inquiries. Call them, and then say you are with a local group and trying to find the name and extension for the staffer responsible for your issue area (like healthcare, for example). Write it down, then ask to be transferred.
Finally, check your local newspaper for the name of a reporter who has recently covered your representative. Call the newsroom, ask for them by name and see if they can recommend a good person who answers their phone at the representative’s office, including a direct extension. If you are going this route, be sure to mention that you haven’t been able to get through the main lines – politicians ducking their member’s phones calls on certain issues will always make a great story!
Add all numbers you find to your phone contacts and speed-dial down the list every time you want to reach your representative.
What to Say
Call bi-weekly and stick to one issue, two maximum. Hint – your concerns will be taken more seriously if they are about issues that will be voted upon in the next few days. Even if the issue isn’t on the legislative calendar, call anyway, this is ultimately a numbers game.
Ask for the staff member in charge of the issue you are calling about and ask to be transferred to them. If they are not there, don’t leave a message, call back next time and ask for that person by name.
Be specific with what you are calling about. Example: Don’t just call about the ACA, call to express your concern that your senator is on record as being against the ACA. Personal stories also work wonders. How does an issue affect you, your family, friends, people in your church, etc? Whatever it is, find some way to relate, even if it’s just “as a parent” or “as a woman.”
Constituents/voters matter more, so be sure to let them know that they are your senator/representative and provide them with a zip code. This zip code will be used later when the issues of the day are being tallied.
On issues that you are especially passionate about, it can be tough to keep a cool head, but it’s important to always be nice. While turnover is high for the interns who initially answer the phones, the legislative assistants you will speak with are much more entrenched, and you don’t want to get blacklisted for being a jerk. If you do get blacklisted, let it be for how often you called, not for how rude you were. Also, if you do get blacklisted, use the technique listed above about internal transfers to get around this.
Finally, even the most gifted linguist will find that a script helps ease awkwardness and keep the call on message. There are many scripts that can be found on the internet that can help you when crafting your message.