How to Get Your Elected Officials to Listen

Here's why those damn phone calls really matter.

If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, chances are you’ve come across one or more calls to action, requesting that you phone your senator or representative or someone you’ve never heard of. If you’re like me, and totally phone-conversation-averse, you may have ignored the ask and sent an email instead, or quietly hidden the post from your newsfeed with a little bit of liberal guilt.

Would phone calls really make a difference? Can any of us tiny beings in this huge country really make a difference? Here’s your definitive answer, from the mouths of former congressional staffers: Yes, we can! A group of congressional staffers wrote up an epic 26-page document — because they’re badasses — called “Indivisible: A Practical Guide For Resisting The Trump America,” and they know their shit. Here is some of what they taught us on how to fuck this conservative agenda up.

Talking on the phone sucks, but it’s effective — if phones are ringing, people cannot get other work done. If you send a letter or an email, they can easily be filed, skimmed, or ignored. But if you’re demanding someone take five minutes to listen to you, you’re redirecting their energy away from conservative agendas. “A day that they spend worrying about you is a day that they’re not ending Medicare, privatizing public schools, or preparing a Muslim registry,” the report points out.

At some point, we’ve all acted like we were an expert on a topic after reading just one article about it. In this new political environment, we’ve got to do better. Learn about your local and national politicians, and how they vote. Sign up for their newsletters. Question what you read, and do your own research. Attend local political meetings just for fun. Talk to those whose views are different from yours. Learn how the system works and how you can play a part.

Feeling particularly passionate about protecting your local Planned Parenthood? Worried about S.F.’s identity as a sanctuary city? Start a group! Find good co-founders who have different communities than you do to maximize outreach. Go on record at Board of Supervisors meetings, carry signs at protests, file letters with the city, start a Facebook group, and contact your local media. (That’s us.) Become an expert on your issue and make some noise.

If you go as a group, make sure you all have the same agenda, and if you’re asking questions or making a point on the record, divide them up among speakers so there are no repeats. Spread yourself out in the crowd. Be polite and persistent. Assign someone to record politicians’ responses, by audio or video. Identify the media and make a statement.

Every member of California’s Congressional delegation has at least one district office and potentially more spread throughout the state. These are public offices, open for anybody to visit — you don’t need an appointment. Send out a press release to local media letting them know what you’re doing. Show up as a group and ask to meet with your representative or one of their staffers. Have a specific ask, such as “please support S.F.’s sanctuary city policy.” Members of Congress need you. They do care what you think, even if they don’t show it.

We have been fairly lucky as Americans in the past few decades. There hasn’t been a draft since the Vietnam War, and our economy is doing fairly well. Some among us have been fighting tough battles for years now, but many, particularly those from privileged backgrounds, are still learning how to effectively stand up for our (and others’) rights.

And it’s not easy. Liberals have a natural inclination to talk about the things we personally value, such as environmental issues, animal rights, or gender equality. But now we’re facing a new reality: For the next four years, we’re not going to be setting the agenda. Trump and the Republicans will be. We need to learn more, act more, and work harder to protect everyone and everything.

Because as congressional staffers know, “the best way to stand up for the progressive values and policies we cherish is to stand together, indivisible — to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.”

For hardcore campaign nerds, the document we referenced for this guide can be found at

NualaSawyer is a staff writer at SF Weekly and the Examiner.

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