Here we are! Unit 7! We are almost done, just a few more units to go. This one will be either very hard or very easy for you. Or, a mix of both.

For me, I know how to do a good phone call to a legislator. My problem is that I have a weird phobia of the phone, so I have to really talk myself into it. From what I read, it has a lot to do with my introvert personality type, but I just loathe talking on the phone. But here we go…let’s talk about calling your legislators.

Who answers the phone at your legislators’ offices

Even if the politician is relatively “small potatoes” in the political world, chances are they do not directly answer the phone. More often than not they have people who answer the phones and take these messages for them. This should not discourage you–that you do not get to talk to the person directly. After all, most of these folks have 1000s of constituents, so they certainly can talk to each of them every day. They have meetings, votes, policy discussions…they do work.

The person at the other end will likely take your name, address or zip code and your main statement. These are then usually put into a database. Sometimes you receive an email or written letter back, or maybe not.

When to call your legislator

I usually reserve calling their offices when a vote is imminent–as in it is going to happen within a few days. A good and involved politician will ask his/her staffers what the vibe is and what message is coming in from the constituents. Remember my gun legislation example from Unit 1? Thousands upon thousands of people called their legislators about that. That is why it did not pass, despite all the “polls” saying that Americans felt otherwise.

One thing I have heard from several offices–do not just call after a vote to express your anger or disappointment. Lots of people do that! If you call before and then want to call afterwards, so be it. But make sure you are calling before the vote. Some of them have said to me, “I never heard from anyone before the vote.”

Don’t be a parrot

These staffers who answer phones, this is what they do all day, every day. So you want to be original. As I talked in Unit 6 about partnering with non-profits–that is good, but still display some originality. If you get a legislative alert with a script to call and you want to act, that’s great. Just do not read it word for word. The staffers recognize these, and they certainly will document and record them, but they do not really resonate with the staffer. Add in your personal story, why is this important to you? It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I am in agreement with ABC Charity’s position statement that this legislation should pass. This is particularly important to my family because…..”

Try to mesh in the best of both worlds–letting that legislative office know that your non-profit has the ability to motivate it’s members to action, but also that you are an original and that this matter really is important to you. Again, if this is your passion (Unit 1) you should have no trouble explaining why this is important to you.

I also would keep your call to no more than 2 or 3 topics. Chances are, you don’t have that much legislation on one issue currently pending anyway, so you can always keep issues on your agenda for when it’s active. They (staffers) are almost always looking for an action item, so think of action words-vote, support, deregulate. From the previous lessons, remember to be specific. Saying things like “our current schools stink” isn’t very actionable. They want to know what you want them to do.

How often to call your legislator

This really depends on the issue and the status of the legislation. Certain issues are going to be more active and then a lull. Right now, ESEA is pretty active so I am calling and visiting. This is why signing up for the legislative alerts from your legislators, and following certain bills is important. Bills get voted on and then they get revised, then voted on, then revised again. Stay on top of it as best you can (I realize that we all have lives!) and call whenever there is a substantial change.

Remember that you can always follow up with an email or a tweet. I just wouldn’t do all three the same hour, or even the same day. If the status changes, you can always email and say something like, “I see that Bill 123 passed committee yesterday, I just want to reiterate my concerns as one of your constituents…..”

Your assignment for Unit 7….you know what it is, right? Call one of your legislators! And, if you’ve been dutifully following along, you found your legislators in Unit 2, found your issues in Units 1 and 3…so you should have all the information you need to call.

Have a great rest of the week!


planning legislative visits unit 7

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