I want to yell at my representatives!
December 22, 2016 11:06 AM   Subscribe

Like many of us, I'm sure, I am increasingly angry and emotional about what my elected representatives have been up to on the state and national level. It's absurdly bad and upsetting. Would it be effective to emote openly on the phone when I call?

I would not, of course, be rude to the staff. But if I am clearly emotional, I'm thinking it might be more effective to cry or yell (gently) than to calmly and robotically repeat the scripted lines offered by MoveOn dot org and similar groups.

Or would it backfire? Could I be marked as a crazy constituent who should not be listened to?

Another question is whether it'd be effective to call on a regular basis--set a calendar reminder for every Tuesday at 10 am, for example--and reiterate. Just repeat and repeat. Or, again, would that backfire?
posted by witchen to Law & Government (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here's what I learned about how they listen to constituents."

I will say though, that yelling (however gently) is probably the wrong answer, simply because I don't feel like anyone should have to put up with being yelled at on the phone, even republican staffers.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:16 AM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

As someone who used to get those calls, you would be likely marked as crazy.

Calling regularly might be more effective. We used to track the number of constitutents contacting us - repeat constitutents eventually just got considered as people with little else to do, and we probably didn't listen as much (although some because unofficial mascots of the office - we knew that their calls were coming and enjoyed them. Didn't mean we listented more though).

Direct some of your energy into local politics and elections. Get involved with school boards and local politics. Contribute to campaigns. Volunteer for campaigns. Figure out if your profession has any lobbying groups in the DC, and look at joining one of their trips.
posted by troytroy at 11:16 AM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

Would you answer a phone with someone yelling political statements on the other end?

Don't yell. People don't listen to yelling. Speak calmly and clearly. Save the emoting for letters to the editor and/or polishing your own rhetoric.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:16 AM on December 22, 2016

The college student who is answering the phones for course credit would probably neither appreciate the yelling, nor transcribe it adequately.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:16 AM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So I did read those tweets by Emily Ellsworth, and I want to fine-tune my approach per her suggestions.

I'm wondering if the speaking calmly and reading from a script is effective at all, if multiple callers have the same script.

But if a caller is crying or speaking like she's genuinely upset (again, NOT at the staffer, and I would hope to make that clear), that might make more impact--showing that their actions really are affecting people?
posted by witchen at 11:19 AM on December 22, 2016

No, angry and emotional isn't likely to be generally useful, regardless of how well-deserved. Careful and coherent explanation of a position is more likely to make an impact, and might even tease some meaningful comments or even discussion.

In general, politicians are very good at in-one-ear-and-out-the-other while making polite sounds, and the thing that makes the largest impression on them isn't the anger of a single constituent, but the number of constituents initiating contact regarding an issue, and sometimes what that prevailing opinion is.

An unfortunate part of the political atmosphere today is a strong polarization, and along with this seems to come a tendency to judge those who do not hold the same opinion as "the opposition." The moment you're identified as not holding a parallel opinion on a topic, the more likely you are to be dismissed as a member of the opposite party. This makes it difficult to hold a meaningful conversation with someone who holds differing opinions, but not impossible.
posted by jgreco at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Don't cry or yell, you'll be written off as a loony. Whether on the phone, by email, or in person: Speak to persuade, and from the heart. Not from a script others are using, for sure. Don't cast aspersions on anyone, just cite the facts, state the conclusions you draw from them, ask what their view is, gently disagree and provide reasoned counterarguments.
posted by beagle at 11:22 AM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

But if a caller is crying or speaking like she's genuinely upset (again, NOT at the staffer, and I would hope to make that clear), that might make more impact--showing that their actions really are affecting people?

You're talking to a staffer, and your response is going to be a single X in a column on a list, which might include checkboxes for "reading from script we know was written by [insert organization here]" or "loony" or a few other things. Your particular response will not be coded "really passionate" and recorded to be played special for your Representative.
posted by Etrigan at 11:36 AM on December 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

Sorry, you can't effectively influence a politician without getting involved. Anonymous calls, letters, emails are just that: anonymous numbers.

If you want your Representative to actually consider modifying or changing her position, you need to know something about the issue and something about the politician. Do some research, ask for materials from her office, ask if you can set up a short meeting to talk about ONE issue that can actually be addressed by the local government. If your Rep disagrees with your position, listen to why, and see if there is some area of agreement between you. If she agrees with your position, ask if there is a way you can help her, for instance setting up a meeting in your home with your neighbors to meet and talk. Even your national rep may be open to this.

This is amazingly powerful, because almost no one does it. The Rep talks to other Reps, and to friends and family, and to lobbyists -- lots of lobbyists if it's a state or higher position -- and sees a summary of calls, etc: ten for, ten against. When individuals, and groups of individuals, actually identify something that is wrong, and communicate the change they want to see, change can happen.

I think the KEY thing to remember is that our National and State and County and City representatives are not our parents; yelling, crying, tweeting, holding up signs, are not effective ways to protest their behavior. They are in fact our employees, and we can fire them, and hire someone else. We do it all the time, with our votes.

Results vary with areas, of course, but Rick Larsen is one of my Congressional Reps, and I've had two direct interactions with him. He was instrumental in getting a VA Hospital Clinic established in our part of the state, and I thanked him in an email. He responded thanking me for sending him the email. And I sent him an email complaining about a mailing he sent, which included a large plastic American flag; I though it was an unnecessary use of money. He actually called me and we talked about it, and ways to communicate to voters. Nothing earthshaking, but they're people, most of them trying very hard. They are not the enemy, although you may disagree with their decisions.

Full disclosure: I worked one session as a personal assistant to a member of the Washington State Legislature. It was eye-opening. Also, I believe that absolutely nothing I've written above applies to the incoming Presidential staff.

Thank you for noticing, and being concerned, and wanting to be part of change. Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 11:47 AM on December 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

You might be interested in downloading and reading this free PDF written by former staffpeople of members of congress. It's a "practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda." Lots of good information for making your voice heard.
posted by mcduff at 12:44 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Show up in person if at all possible. Either at their office or wait for the representative to do a town hall style event.

Here in PA a group in Philly started Tuesdays With Toomey (Pat Toomey is our R senator) where every week they organize a group to go to his office (statewide reps usually have more than one office around the state) at a set time and talk to the staff about a particular issue that they decide on ahead of time. They call the press, too. Toomey himself has not shown his face yet, but it's been getting press and attention and for 100% sure he knows all about what is going on. Here in Pittsburgh I think we're getting it together to do the same thing at his local office here. The dude only won by less than 2 points. I guarantee he is keeping a major eye on this very bad publicity that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:48 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

But if I am clearly emotional, I'm thinking it might be more effective to cry or yell (gently) than to calmly and robotically repeat the scripted lines offered by MoveOn dot org and similar groups.

"When I drive 25 miles per hour in the middle lane of the highway, people honk and yell at me. Wouldn't it be more effective to drive 90 miles per hour and weave in and out of traffic?"

You're right that robotically repeating a script is probably less effective, but yelling or crying on the phone (especially if you're doing it repeatedly) is highly likely to get you marked as "that crazy lady". So the answer is to not do either of those things.

Here's what I would recommend: read the script two or three times before you make the call. Identify a few important points from the script, maybe even do a little (15 min) research of your own to arm yourself with facts about those key points. Then set the script aside and make the call in your own words, feeling free to fall back on the script when you need it. You can be passionate and well-informed and forceful without raising your voice or shedding a tear, or turning in to a robot.
posted by firechicago at 6:23 AM on December 23, 2016

I am not sure if this is the appropriate place to give this info, but it is offered in the spirit of helpful advice. It is not directly responsive to your question but it applies in a general sense.

I am an elected official. I am not your elected official. I have been elected 4 times to the local school board. Definitely not the same as your national representative or even your state one, but I can tell you what gets heard at my level. I suspect it is the same at a wider level, just the issues are different.

I will start with the least effective communication. That would be, at my level, the form letter email. If you are a local resident of my district and cannot take the time to even personalize or customize a form letter email, I assume you are not very vested in the issue. Also, I will not even consider an anonymous email. Sign your name.

The most effective communication would be face to face discussion. You ask me questions and I ask you. We look each other in the eye and we exchange ideas. When doing that, take the emotion out of it and hit me with the facts. If you are complaining about a situation you think needs to be changed, offer a possible (or preferred) solution. Just complaining without offering solutions is one step above the anonymous form email. If I can appreciate that you took the time to think about the issue, I will guarantee you that I will too. If you are civil, I will be civil as well. (Actually, I strive to always be civil regardless of your actions, but it is a much more pleasant discussion when both sides listen, consider and respond.) The yellers are treated like the two year olds they emulate.

Just below the face to face would be the phone call. It is a good method, but it takes a little bit of the personal out of it and it is very easy to be distracted (either party) when on the phone. Another good method is to come to a public meeting and speak. We all know how hard it is to get up to the mike in public and advocate. For most people it is not natural. So, we appreciate the effort when you do. I suspect that with a national rep, going to a public forum and speaking would hold the same sway. "This person cared enough about the issue and their thoughts on it to get up and speak publicly."

Do not give the person on the other end of your call a reason to consider you as anything other than a rational concerned citizen with a well thought out point of view. It certainly does not have to be in agreement with theirs (mine) but it should be well reasoned. I have absolutely changed my position on items/issues because of discussions I have had with constituents. I do not think I am the exception at all.

As noted above, we definitely have people who cry wolf or who complain about the same thing over and over again and to be honest, it is hard to separate them from the complaint after a while.

I have also found that some people have a hard time taking "yes" for an answer. I, or the entire board, will listen and then say something like, "You are right. Let me look into it and see if we can change it" and they will keep on telling me/us what is wrong. Take yes for an answer and stop pressing at that point. If the follow-up is not to your liking then start pressing again, but those who just want to hear themselves complain or get on local TV to complain and show their smarts or interests, is not very effective.

If there is a "no" answer, understand why the no and maybe accept it. There are certain things we have to do and certain things we cannot do by law. If you are asking us to do something counter to the rules and laws, no matter how logical, and we say no, there is likely no way we will reverse it no matter what you say. I get that at times, the district/bureaucracy is not efficient, not logical or not caring about individual people. 99% sure that we are following a state law/reg or a contractual rule. For example, when I complain that not every teacher has a web page or intranet page to post their homework so that parents at home can see what their child needs to do, it turns out that the teacher's contract does not require it and the extra time needed to do that each day is not accounted for in the contract.

Related, generally, a constituent's issue has other sides to it. Just because it is logical to see your point of view, doesn't mean there aren't effects on other constituents that would have negative consequences. If you say, "Make this change and it will help 453 people" be prepared to have a response for when your rep says back, "Yes, but if we make that change these 300 other people will be negatively affected".

I see it as my obligation as a public official to use my good judgment to make decisions after considering all the facts and input. I think that is the most you can demand out of an elected person. Beyond that, campaign for or against them. Granted, school board in my state or my town is not political. We do not run on a party line. In fact, there are people with whom I have served that I truly have no idea if they identify as democrat, republican or other.

Fwiw, as a school board member, I am not paid a dime. No perks, no nothing. We are volunteers who have to run to be a volunteer. Campaigning to volunteer, even if campaigning is minimal, is a little bit weird. My point is know the motivation of the elected official. Locally, on a school board, they are in it most likely because they want to serve and think they can make a difference and provide value added. Your congressperson I am sure has pet issues and certain interests. Look at who is donating to them. See how you can tailor your argument so that it hits your rep in one of her sweet spots.

I leave you with a quote.

John Kennedy said in his remarks to the Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Fraternity Dinner on October 27, 1955 "I cannot believe that the people of Massachusetts sent me to Washington to serve merely as a seismograph to record the ups and downs of popular opinion. I believe instead that those of us in public office were elected - not because the people believed we would be bound by their every impulse, regardless of the conclusions directed by our own deliberations - but because they had confidence in our judgment, and in our ability to exercise that judgment from a position where we could determine what were the best interests of the voters as a part of the best interests of the nation..."
posted by JSM at 10:05 AM on December 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

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