10 Jul 2012
One of the things we learned at the big march back in April (or I guess, already kind of suspected but had confirmed) was that when it comes to political issues, phone calls are by far the most effective means of making your voice heard. Yes, go ahead. We know you want to make a pun, there.
Done? OK. Moving on:
We were lucky enough to chat with some nice women from NOW who confirmed this suspicion. Yes, emails are nice, bombing someone’s facebook page is lovely, but phone calls make the biggest dent. Emails and posts can be deleted without much of a second thought, but phone calls, especially if there are enough of them, actually require the staff’s time and energy. And if enough phone calls come in, it can really make an impression with the politician or decision-maker of choice.
So, we felt that since we often encourage you all to reach out and touch someone or other, it was incumbent upon us to put up a few tips for those of you who may have some heebie jeebies about picking up that phone.
They Will Not Bite You. The staff in a politician’s office is supposed to be nice to the public. Politicians don’t want mean attack dogs answering their phones… It would be kind of bad for their image. They are paid to be friendly. You are most likely not the first caller they’ve spoken to that day who is upset about something. In all likelihood, they have already spoken to someone who was much madder about something than you are. They’re not there to argue with you. They’re not there to trace your call and send black helicopters to your house. As long as you conduct yourself nicely, nobody is going to holler at you or threaten to kill your dog. In fact, someone has probably done that to *them* today. Which brings us to point two….
Conduct Yourself Nicely. You don’t know the opinions of the person answering the phone. It could be a summer intern who just wanted the political experience even though they don’t agree with all of their employer’s positions. It could be the congressman’s black sheep hippie niece who needed a job for a few weeks to save up money to go to Burning Man. You have no idea. So there is no reason whatsoever to be rude or to yell. Not only do you not have to do that, it’s better if you don’t. Simply call, tell the person that you wanted to make your feelings about Issue X known to the politician/decision maker/whomever, state those feelings, thank them, and hang up.
Have a Script. If you’re prone to nervousness, get stage fright, aren’t good with confrontation… don’t worry. Write down what you want to say and practice it a couple of times. Be as clear and specific as possible. Mention the bill name or number, if there is one. And keep it simple. Again, these people are busy. They have all kinds of other stuff to do for their employer, whoever that might be, so unless you are talking to their public relations person (and it’s extremely unlikely that that’s who would be answering the phone), they’re not really interested in arguing or getting into a back and forth with anybody. They don’t have time. They have to refill the water cooler, order more toner for the copy machine, get the senator’s coffee, and answer the other six phone lines that are ringing. And if we’re lucky, on the other six phone lines …are people just like you.
So have no fear! It’s easy to do! Like most things you’ve never done before, it might be a little scary the first time, but once you do it, you’ll discover the extent to which it’s totally not a big deal. In fact, it might even feel a little anti-climactic! It usually takes about thirty seconds or less and usually everyone’s so very polite that you’ll be wondering what you were so nervous about. (Unless you’re a raging jerk on the phone, which we strongly discourage.) However, the value of those thirty seconds is nearly impossible to quantify. You are, at that point, part of a collective voice that, if loud enough, can sway decision making. It wasn’t hard, and it didn’t cost you anything but a little time. And as I’ve said elsewhere, it might be good for you too. It’s claiming just a little bit of power for yourself.
Look, email’s better than nothing. But why settle for hamburgers when you can have steak? Pick up that phone!