One of the best skills you can have in your advocacy toolkit is the willingness to call your elected officials, and to do it often. You don't need to be an expert on the policy issue to make a phone call (remember, that's your lawmaker's job!). For local, state, and national issues, phone calls are one of the quickest and most effective ways to make your voice heard. Here are our top 7 tips on how to make the most of calling your elected officials:
- It’s most effective to call your own representatives, because they are most concerned with what their own voters are thinking. Remember, they all want to be re-elected, and you’re the person who is going to be able to do that. When you call, make sure to tell the person that picks up the phone what your name and zip code is (they will often ask you directly) so they know you are a constituent.
- To find your lawmakers’ phone numbers, you have a few options. Congress has a switchboard (the number is 202-224-3121) you can call to be connected to any of your (usually) 3 representatives in their DC offices by sharing your zip code. During busy periods, it may be difficult to reach your members through their DC offices, and you may have better luck calling your local district office (you can find the number on your member’s website). For state and local officials, their member websites or state legislature website should include their phone number. You can also text 520-200-2223 with your zip code to get your lawmakers’ phone numbers at the national and state level.
- When you do reach a person, who are you likely to reach? Usually, you will reach a staff person at the office, and his or her job is keep track of how many people are calling and their positions on issues. Then he or she provides a summary to the elected official about what constituents have been saying. You can call as often as you like. The person answering phones can spend many hours fielding phone calls from voters, so it’s important to be polite. Some offices have a rule that if a caller is rude, they can even hang up. So if you want your opinion to count, politeness is key!
- What do you say to this staffer? Usually, you can keep it very brief. Tell the person who answers what issue you are calling about, ideally including a bill number, and your position on the bill with the hopes that the lawmaker will vote yes/no on it.
- If you have a brief personal story, share it. Those are the ones that stick with staffers, and then get passed along to lawmakers.
- Thank them for their time! Remember how important it is to be polite? If your lawmaker has been supportive in the past on public lands or similar issues, you can thank them for their work.
- What might this sound like? One example we gave in this post is the following: “My name is Tania and I’m calling to express my support for Bill SR 23. I’ve lived in your district in Montana for 10 years. I’m an avid backcountry skier and a small business owner. These mountains are a huge part of why I settled here and opened my business in town. Protecting this area permanently will have a major impact on my business, and my quality of life as a Montana resident. You’ve been a great advocate for our public lands. I trust that you will do everything in your power to support the effort to permanently protect this place.”
And our last, and most important, tip? You don’t need to be an expert or overthink it—just call! You elected your lawmakers and your tax dollars pay their salaries. They work for you and expect to hear from you.