• Cynthia Changyit Levin

Advocacy Made Easy: The Phone Call

Tongue-tied. Heart pounding. I approached my phone like it was some sort of hotline to the president...

That was me when I made my first call to my member of Congress. I’m not sure why I was so scared, but I think I was afraid that someone on the other end was going to challenge my ideas or berate me for speaking up. Guess what? That never happened.

Calling Congress is funny because it is not really difficult or time-consuming (once you get over being scared), but your calls can have profound effects on public policy. You can even make them fun!

Let me demystify the process of calling Congress so that I can spare you from suffering the stress I once felt. Here are five things I've learned from years of calling in.

1. It's SUPER easy.

Even though I was a tad freaked out the first time I did it, these days I usually call Congress while I'm Mommy multitasking—doing laundry, making lunch, whatever. It does not take your full attention or much of your time.

2. You won't be talking to a member of Congress.

Relax! The person picking up the phone is likely a staffer who is not a specialist on your issue. The job of that person is to politely take your message, write it down, and get your name (and maybe your address to ensure you’re a constituent). The staffers are keeping a tally of opinions from callers. You might think your phone call will be too minor to matter, but since relatively few people make the effort to call, even ten phone calls on the same issue on the same day can be very significant!

3. Help is available to simplify the issue.

Most advocacy organizations will supply talking points and information that you can refer to during your call. In fact, most will provide you with a sample script that you can customize to make it personal.

4. You can use notes.

(Pssst) You're on a phone. They can't see you! Here's a slightly embarrassing confession: I write my name at the top of my paper. Yes. When I make a call, I am literally reading my own name. I figure if I stumble over my own name, the rest of the call probably won’t go so well. But the person on the other end of the phone can’t see that I’m reading my name. In this situation, using a cheat sheet is not cheating.

5. Calling can be more fun with friends.

Remember that I said even ten phone calls on the same issue together can make a difference? Have a little call-in party. Each call only lasts two minutes, so you could fit in five calls on a short coffee break. Heck, if there is a line at Starbucks, you might have ten calls completed by the time the barista hands you your latte!

I had an impromptu call-in party once at my local pool on a hot summer day. We had been trying for weeks to get a response from a senator’s aide without success. So one morning, I walked around the pool with my cell phone and asked my sunbathing mom-friends to call in and use a two-sentence script while we watched our kids swim. By the time I got to the other side of the pool, the aide called me back and said, “Okay, okay! Can we talk? You can stop the call-in!” Mission accomplished.”

To make it even easier, I’ll give you a sample of a bare bones call-in script. This script relates to global education legislation, but you can take the basic idea and modify it for your issue. You can add flowery language and details about the issue to drag it out for another 20 or 30 seconds, but this script will get you started.

Aide: Hello. Congressman Clay's office.

Me: Hi, I'm a constituent with a message for the Congressman.

Aide: Go ahead, please.

Me: I'd like him to support HR 2780, the Education for All Act to help all children around the world have access to education.

Aide: Thank you, may I have your Zip code?

Me: 63104.

Aide: Thank you. Have a good day.

Me: Thank you. You, too.

Ta-dah! Not so bad, is it? Now, give it a try!

Before you know it, you'll be simultaneously folding laundry and changing the world—like all the cool-mom advocates.

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