A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: Want To Make A Difference? Call Your Representatives. It Works.

Most Americans think their voice doesn't matter, but they're wrong.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

I continue to hear a powerful and damaging myth spreading amongst my friends: people believe their voice doesn't matter.

Whether it's a lack of trust in Congress, President Donald Trump, and the media, or a cynical view that corporations and big money control everything, most people I talk to struggle to feel enthusiastic about the role they play in our democracy. But I have a message for every American: your voice does matter, it is powerful, and doing something as simple as calling your representatives can make all the difference.

Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on, or whether you support or oppose a bill, Republican and Democratic politicians, aides, and advocacy groups all concur that calling your representatives is an effective way to change public policy, or at least bring accountability to your elected representatives. 

The effectiveness of calling isn't some abstraction, either. It's well-documented. 

In The New York Times, Kara Waite, an English teacher at Bunker Hill Community College who created a Google document on how to call your representatives that went viral, was featured in an article because of her insistence that calling was better than any other method of reaching out.

"Several lawmakers, along with those who work for them, said in interviews that Ms. Waite is right: A phone call from a constituent can, indeed, hold more weight than an email, and far outweighs a Facebook post or a tweet," New York Times reporter Daniel Victor wrote.

In November, former congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth, went viral on Twitter telling people the best to get her old boss's attention was a large influx of phone calls.

"The most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there," she wrote, remembering a time a radio host gave out her office's phone number in order to pressure it on an immigration policy. "It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action."

During the nomination process for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey's press secretary told me they received nine times the number of phone calls, emails and letters than they did during the same time period last year. Those calls didn't just help affirm the Democratic senator's "no" vote, they encouraged him explain his opinion publicly and announce his vote in a press release, two things that added media attention to the decision.

Then-President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence meeting with Devos in November. a katz / Shutterstock.com.
Then-President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence meeting with Devos in November. a katz / Shutterstock.com.

Earlier this year, when Republicans in the House moved to curtail the influence of the Office of Congressional Ethics, it was a barrage of angry constituents that helped stop them from cutting down the investigative body. After news reports circulated that the move was coming, it took 48 hours for several Republicans to make very public reversals while simultaneously attributing their change of heart to the influx of calls they got.

Ironically, the liberal activist groups who helped reverse that decision were stealing a page out of Tea Party's playbook, a far-right group that used similar tactics to help stymie initiatives like Obamacare. The Tea Party's success is proof that organized fronts in the form of contacting representatives are effective.

Of course, there are some limits to this kind of activism. As Kathryn Schulz wrote in The New Yorker, certain kinds of campaigns are more likely to be successful than others. Calling up to push for a more obscure law change or to educate your representative about something happening in your backyard is a lot more likely to elicit change than calling to voice consternation about a war or a federal immigration policy. 

Protesters at a 2010 Tea Party demonstration in Pensacola, Florida. Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com
Protesters at a 2010 Tea Party demonstration in Pensacola, Florida. Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com

"I've written bills that became law because people called to complain about a particular issue I was unaware of," Isaiah Akin, the deputy legislative director for Oregon's Sen. Ron Wyden, told Shulz.

Schulz added that it was actually constituents who informed Congress about America's opioid crisis, a public push that has resulted in the government dedicating millions of dollars to solve the problem.

Still, even if you're calling about a big ticket, partisan issue like health care, immigration, or war overseas, your call could be effective. Almost every representatives has an office that logs what people are calling about, what their stance is, and how many other people they've heard similar comments from. If enough people dial in about a major piece of legislation, and a member of Congress is up for re-election in a hotly contested seat, it could be enough to sway their vote or public stance.

And yet, despite this reality, many Americans continue to feel they don't have a voice. The truth is, they do. You do. If you care about your country, you should use it.

Feeling inspired? Want to call your representatives? Go to CallMyCongress.com and type in your address, and you'll receive the phone numbers of your representatives.

For more political commentary, you can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter. 

Cover image via Shutterstock / stock_photo_world.

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