Calling Your Reps: A Guide for the Timid (with “Quick Start” and “Power User” options!)

I am a for-real, diagnosed agoraphobe.  You may be “terrified” of calling usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26folks on the phone, but I am legit terrified of calling strangers on the phone.  Like, panic attack terrified, sick-to-my stomach terrified, go to the doctor terrified, diagnosed with good ole “DSM-IV-TR 300.21: Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia” terrified.

If I can do this, you can do this.

Quick Start

This is so easy it should be a hoax:

  1. Goto the 5 Calls website.
  2. If it doesn’t auto-detect your location, then click “Change” in the big white “5 Calls” box on the top left and enter your zip code.
  3. Pick an issue from the menu that pops up and start calling.  They explain the issue, give you a script to use, and provide the phone number.  If you’re on your smartphone, then you can just tap the number to start the call.
  4. Repeat until you’ve made five calls; it’ll take you less than five minutes.

This is a great place to start: The folks at 5 Calls are highlighting important issues and their scripts look solid.  I really like that it goes beyond just calling Congress (for example, the first time I used the site it had me call the U.S. Army Core of Engineers about the Dakota Access pipeline; slick!)

But there are a couple things that I don’t like about this service:  1) it only gives your congressfolks’ D.C. phone numbers; 2) I don’t particularly like reading someone else’s script, because I worry that too many cookie-cutter calls lose impact; 3) I’m gonna level with you: I’ve started crying on these calls before, suddenly realizing how upset I am about these issues.  I don’t really like crying, I definitely don’t like crying on the phone with strangers, but I’ve got to believe that a grown man crying about Special Education and his kid’s school—that probably does indeed get relayed to your rep, and gets folks in that office fired up about the issue.

So, that brings us to …

Power User Mode

  1. Add your congressfolks’ numbers to your phone’s contact list.  Find out who your reps are and get both their D.C. numbers and their in-state numbers (most offices are easier to reach on one or the other; with my congressfolk I can always get through on their Michigan numbers, but rarely on the D.C. numbers). If you have no clue who your reps are, look it up by address or text your zip code to (520) 200-2223 and a robot will send you their numbers instantly (sadly, that service is mostly limited to D.C. contact info—but it’s so damn convenient, I can’t help but keep plugging it).
  2. Create a daily reminder in your calendar to call your reps.  Drive time is great for this, as is that dead zone just before or after lunch, or any time you know you’ll be sitting around waiting for your kid’s school bus or whatever.
  3. Take a glance at the front page of a reliable newspaper each day.  I like the New York Times and Washington Post.  The Wall Street Journal is fine for this, as are the Detroit News and Free Press (I’m a Michigander) or ugly-ass AP Wire homepage—even frikkin USA Today.  I’ve drawn away from Slate (their tone was too confident before the election, and is too panic-inducing now), but still think they get their facts right enough for these purposes.  The little NPR news-breaks are fine, too.  Avoid the op-ed pages of any of these papers, as well as polemical sites (e.g., HuffPo, Politico, etc.), Google News (which has proven too easily manipulated), and social media (where I’ve found—at least in my feed—items are frequently so compressed for character count and spun for impact that they come dangerously close to departing from fact).  The point here is that you want a pretty plain-vanilla factual account of what’s happened in the past day.
  4. Decide which thing on the front page bugs you most.  Today, for me, it’s this: “Sometime this week, Trump is expected to pause the flow of all refugees to the U.S. and indefinitely bar those fleeing war-torn Syria. The president’s upcoming order is also expected to suspend issuing visas for people from several predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen”  This bugs me for several reasons, but I think the biggest is this: Five out of those seven Muslim countries are places that the U.S. bombed every 20 minutes, 24 hours per day, for all of 2016.  To my mind, if you drop 20,000 bombs on some people who are minding their own business, you owe them something—like maybe a non-bombed place to live.
  5. Call your reps about it and tell them how you feel.  You don’t have to tell them what to do—vote for this, against that, whatever—you don’t have to suggest how to fix anything.  Figuring that part out is their job.  You just call, identify yourself and the city where you live, and say “The president said this…” or “I read in the paper that…” or “This rich person is arguing that we should do this other stuff…” and it scares the shit out of me.  Please help us.