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.

Political Quickie: Take 5mins to Call yr Senators about Betsy DeVos NOW! Thx!

Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing

This article is just one example, but the gist of it is this: Betsy DeVos is not qualified to be the U.S.Secretary of Education. She is actively antagonistic to the project of public education, and has been for decades. Based on her performance in this hearing, she knows next to nothing about modern educational theory and practice, or the legal framework surrounding these.

I’m a lifelong Michigander – just like DeVos – and let me tell you, as far as we can tell her entire project is to shuffle public dollars out of public schools and into private religious (i.e., Christian) schools (which are not obliged to accept all comers, accommodate all students, respect religious or philosophical differences, or meet most accountability standards).

Skim the article, find whichever pobit is most offensive to you, then call your senators. Please.

Don’t have their numbers handy (or know their names even)?  Look it up by address or text your zip code to (520) 200-2223 and a robot will send you their numbers instantly.

My son is one of the 6.5 million U.S. school kids who receives special services from the public education system. That’s ~13% of all school kids. Please take 5 minutes, leave a couple messages, and make sure my boy can keep getting the very mild accommodations he needs.

How to Smash Fascism without Really Trying

Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):

They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board.  Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence.  And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm.  The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over. 

So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:

  1. Learn these three sentences:
    1. An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?”  (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
    2. A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
    3. A stern: “Not OK, dude.”  Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
  2. Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
  3. Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs.  This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.

Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop.  Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”

Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally).  1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval.  You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life.  The same here.  No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.

Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way.  Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.

(see also: We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump)

Dr. Martin Luther King, the Eight Commandments, and Bending the Arc of History

Little things like this are why I love and admire MLK and, by extension, humans in general. I’d like to suggest to you that the first eight items on this list would make an *excellent* daily substitute for the 10 Commandments. If you’re not natively inclined to be Of the Book, then please consider the possibility that this constitutes an acceptable non-sectarian Watchword (if you wanna strike “pray for guidance and” from Commandment #3, I’ve got no beef with that; it all amounts to the same thing as far as me and my Magic(k)al Sky Faerie are concerned).

Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we get up every morning and put our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

The 8 Commandments might read:

  1. Not all people in power are opposed to Justice. Accept goodwill on the part of many.
  2. All resources are for the use of all people. Take a vacant seat.
  3. Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action.
  4. Demonstrate the calm dignity of our people in your actions.
  5. In all things observe ordinary rules of courtesy and good behavior.
  6. Remember that this is not a victory for us alone, but for all humanity. Do not boast! Do not brag!
  7. Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous, but not boisterous.
  8. Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.

These are our commandments now. Keep them in your hearts, teach them to your children, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as symbols on your arm. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Hear, and be careful to obey, so that it may go well with us and that we may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of our ancestors, promised us.


(document via Slate)

Continue reading “Dr. Martin Luther King, the Eight Commandments, and Bending the Arc of History”