Talking to Congress (and getting them to listen)

I’m still reeling from the recent U.S. election, as I know many are.  But I already see lots of folks mobilizing to start communicating more with Congress.  So I wanted to pass on Former Congressional staff member Emily Ellsworth’s tips on communicating effectively with your Congress peeps.  A few key points:

  • Phone call > letter > email > Facebook or Twitter feedback
  • The most effective way to express your opinion to the staff is to call the state district office (rather than the D.C. office)
  • If you want to talk to your representative in person and have a back and forth discussion, go to a town hall meeting.  They’re usually sparsely attended and just the same faces; big potential impact if you bring friends.
  • A more specialized point: if you do any local advocacy work, invite staffers to your advocacy events.  They will enjoy attending, better understand the situation on the ground, and then treat you as a resource/expert to consult in the future.

If you happen to be in D.C. when Congress is in session, you can also meet with your representatives and senators in person (or in some cases their staffers), just by making an appointment.  Check the tips on how to be effective in such a meeting.

Edit: more specific hints on how such a phone call should go — and a sample script — below.

Further advice comes from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (which may seem like an unlikely political hotbed, but has to worry about science funding):

Remember that telephone calls are usually taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment.

After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: “Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.___).”  

You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your senators’ or representative’s position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.

Sample telephone call

You can look up your senators and representative and then click through to their web page to find the numbers for their state/district office(s).  (The 202 number is D.C. — the less effective number to use, as covered above.)


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