This google document that has been going around the progressosphere is an important read. An extremely important read in the days going forward. (And, I trust it because, humble-brag-6-degrees-of-separation-style, my aunt knows one of the authors!)
Many of us, I think, are new to this whole getting involved with politics thing. We may have fired off an email or a letter when something particularly egregious has happened, but for the most part we’ve voted and generally trusted our elected officials to do what’s right or to ignore what’s right because we’re outnumbered.
We no longer have luxury of trust. And we have the moral imperative and the will to fight to stem the worst excesses even if outnumbered. With enough of our voices we can make change. We’re the majority in the country even if not a majority in our gerrymandered districts.
A question I’ve had as I make these phone calls to politicians (something I’ve been doing almost every weekday since recovering from the election) is whether or not we can/should batch up comments into one phone call to an office or if each item should get a separate call. Another question is whether it’s ok to leave a voicemail or if I should keep trying offices until I get a voice on the other end of the line. And should I be using polite scripts or should I be more confrontational? (Answers down below.)
Calling every day is a bit draining. Generally the feeling of being drained happens before I make the call and I feel fine and maybe a little strong and powerful after, but I was a bit shaken and angered by an extremely unpleasant call with so-called “Richard Wilson” at the house financial oversight committee republican number who claimed to be the front office supervisor who told me that they couldn’t possibly investigate Trump’s potential conflicts of interest until they’d finished investigating the oh so corrupt current administration and then got confrontational with me (and if I wanted to complain about him, I would have to call my senator because he is the top supervisor). Usually though I just do the polite script, they say, “thank you I will let X know” and that’s that. Easy Peasy. But I was feeling really angry about the latest Trump conflict of interest and the way that the financial oversight committee is determined to do nothing (and has plans to do nothing) so I started asking when and why.
According to the guide, I should be having more of that type of conversation, pushing aides to give me an answer and telling them I’m not satisfied. And I will, but those phone calls take energy. (I did recently have a script-like conversation with a nice lady at the governor’s office about an issue directly related to my kids– it was easier and more natural to push on that because I did want information and I did want the governor to actually do something.) The guide recommends a separate phone call for each issue. Calling until you get a staffer, and not just talking to the staffer who answers, but talking to the staffer specific to the issue you’re concerned about and not letting go until you’ve talked with them. If that sounds overwhelming, keep reading this post.
I want to remind everybody that although the script in the google document is the ideal, that although having confrontational phone-calls, going to town hall meetings, and so on are important and we should be working towards them, in politics as in everything else that matters:
Don’t Let The Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good.
Reading that google doc has made me want to do more, much more. And it’s pushed me to try to connect more with our local groups even though they’re not making it easy. (If we ever get in touch, one of our first orders of business will be to make it easier.) I’m going to try to use more confrontational scripts with my local staffers.
Part of the reason these calls are so important is because staffers check a box based on your call to see what issues constituents care about and in which direction they care. So calling up and telling your senator about the appointments you oppose in one phone call gets those boxes checked (“We prefer it, so much easier for everyone,” a staffer told my sister.) That’s not ideal when talking to Republican representatives, according to the google doc , because we don’t want things to be easier on them, but we do need those boxes to be checked. Calling and getting those boxes checked is so much better than not getting any checked because you couldn’t make all those phone calls. Similarly, leaving a message isn’t as good as talking to a staffer, but if you aren’t going to be able to keep calling until you get a staffer (because you have a job), leaving a message is still important. Polite scripts still get your voice heard and that box checked. We don’t need everybody to be confrontational, but we do need our representatives to know that people are noticing that what is happening is not acceptable and we do not support it.
I’d say right now, in D&D terminology, I’m a level 3 activist (and if you play D&D, you know you’re still fighting slime molds and can die by goblin at that level). But that’s ok. Just like with role-playing games, we need experience before we can level up.
What I’ve been doing has been doing one action item off one of the newsletters I subscribe to each day. Sometimes I talk to a person (and sometimes I call different offices until I get a person). Sometimes I leave a message. You may prefer to bunch up and make all of your phone calls on Moral Monday or Activism Thursday or whatever fits best in your schedule. (And I may move to Moral Mondays as time goes on.) Start at whatever level you feel most comfortable. Batch your calls once a week if that’s what you have time for. Use the polite script if you don’t have the time or energy to have a discussion. Leave messages if you don’t have time to call different offices until you find a person. As you get more comfortable or as you’re working on the issues that you care about more, then do more. The more you do, the sooner you level up, and the more you’ll be able to do and the easier it will be. Because we have a lot to do to keep this country from moving backward, and we need to make our voices heard and to organize in order to survive the next few years.
In the words of one of the new activism newsletters I subscribe to, “Letting your voice be heard in any way is more important than not being heard at all.”
What level activist are you? What suggestions do you have for organizing? Have you reached out to any groups? How have your experiences with calling been? Is it easier than you thought or harder? What other kinds of things have you been doing besides calling? Is anybody going to DC or a local city for the Women’s March?