THE OUTLANDISH AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL proposals coming out of the White House in the first weeks of the Trump administration have made political activism, now more than ever, an imperative. For those who are unsure how to contact your congresspeople, I’ve got a guide to help you figure out who to call, what to say, and how to avoid activist burnout.
If you’ve never been the type of person to care about politics — and by that I mean you only care about “the issues” every four years, at most — you might be more than a little intimidated. That half semester of civics was a long time ago, and you aren’t sure of the difference between a senator and representative. Sound like you? Don’t worry. It doesn’t take long at all to get yourself up to speed.
First off, a mini civics lesson. In order to check and balance the power of elected and appointed officials, the federal government of the United States is divided into three branches: the Executive (President, Vice President, and Cabinet), the Legislative (Congress), and the Judicial (federal courts). Congress is divided into two “houses” — the Senate and the House of Representatives — which are filled with elected legislators from all 50 states.
Every state has two senators and anywhere from one to 53 representatives, but you only vote for all of your congresspeople if you live in one of the following states: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Those seven states have only one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. The other 43 states are divided into congressional districts according to population. You are responsible for electing both members of the Senate, but only one member of the House: whomever represents your congressional district.
So now you know that you have three congresspeople. Here’s how to find and contact them.
1. Find Out Who Your Senators and Representatives Are
Go to this page on the U.S. Senate website and select your state from the drop-down menu. From here, you can view your senators’ party affiliations, Washington office addresses, phone numbers, and emails.
Go to this page on the U.S. House of Representatives website and type in your zip code to find out which member of the House represents you. If your zip code spans multiple congressional districts, the website will allow you to narrow your search by typing in your full address.
2. Write Down Their Contact Information
Every congressperson has a government email address, and most of them have official accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Each congressperson also has multiple offices in Washington, D.C. and across their home district. These offices have distinct addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers.
It is your responsibility to record your congresspeople’s email addresses, social media handles, office addresses, and all phone and fax numbers. This information is available on the individual congressperson’s official webpage.
3. Pick the Issues That Are Important to You
I have tried to fight for everything that is important, and it is unbelievably exhausting. Pick three issues that are important to you, and make it your business to study them and all legislation related to them. These will be the topics you focus on when calling and writing to your congresspeople.
4. Brush up on Your Etiquette and Find a Script
How do you address a letter to a member of Congress? You need to know. You’ll be writing them a lot over the next few years.
It’s nice to think that your senator or representative will read the nine-page letter you send them, or listen to that seven-minute message, but it’s highly unlikely that they will. Use this short script when you call your congressperson, and connect with other activists to find short, useful scripts for the issues that are important to you.
5. Don’t Get Discouraged
The most important element of contacting your congresspeople is actually going through with it. Be prepared: Members of Congress have never had to deal with this level of community response before. Their inboxes are filling up, their offices are swamped with mail, and their town hall meetings are full of outspoken activists.
They will hide from you, and you must be persistent.
They will tell the public that you have not contacted them, and you must call them out on their lies.
They will vote against their constituents’ interests, and you must fight harder.
And I know you’re anxious to get started, but please, don’t call congresspeople who aren’t yours, and don’t call from an out-of-state phone number. When you do this, their actual constituents can’t get a clear line, and legislators can then tell the public that the only people who have contacted them are out-of-state instigators. If you must contact a congressperson who does not directly represent you, do so through email, snail mail, and fax, or on social media.