I’ve spent much of the past week wrestling with the nagging feeling that I haven’t done enough to effect the changes that I want to see in the world and that I won’t be able to do enough to stop our elected president from doing damage to the folks who are already hurting the most. I’ve been torn between wanting to get active and feeling like things are out of my hands. No surprise, I hate feeling like things are out of my hands. So, in the spirit of action, here’s one simple shift that I’ve made this week to hold myself accountable for getting more involved in electoral politics as a way of advocating for myself and others.
In case like me any of you need a very basic reminder on how representative democracy works, here goes: Elected Senators and Representatives bring the voices of their constituents (you! me! us!) to Congress. And, yes, we should vote for people who we want to represent us, but it’s about more than just voting. We need to also tell them what we’re thinking. There have been some great threads (worth reading: here and here!) on Twitter this week from former congressional staffers helping folks to understand what this means and how individuals can (and can’t) make a difference. I’ve found them to be encouraging and hopeful and I hope you guys might, too.
Here, four easy steps for making yourself heard by the folks in positions of power:
1. Figure out who represents you. By and large, the most effective person to reach out to is the representative who serves your specific district. You can find them using the website, Who Is My Representative? Since many zip codes have overlapping congressional districts, an even more precise tool is on the House of Representatives website itself, which allows you to search by zip code, and then by street address. (All of this will also really serve when it’s next time to vote again, too! Midterms elections: 2018!)
2. Add your representatives’ phone numbers to your personal contact list. Yup—right next to your mom or your best friend or your babysitter. (I also followed mine on Twitter so I can keep apace of their day to day comments.)
3. Call them: Staffers have to pick up the phone. Tell them your address when you call so they know that they represent you specifically. Be kind and courteous and remember that you’re likely speaking to a staffer or intern, whose job it is to pass your concerns along to the representative. When lots of folks call about the same issue, they’ll pay even more attention, so rally your friends and neighbors. If you’re worried about what to say, always call with something specific and actionable in mind. This week, I called voicing my concern that Stephen Bannon is unfit to serve in the Whitehouse and asking my representatives to take a vocal stand against his appointment as chief strategist. (The position doesn’t need House approval, but that doesn’t mean legislator voices won’t matter. So far, more than 150 House members have signed a letter urging the president-elect to rescind his appointment and many have made written public statements. This matters.)
4. Encourage your far-flung friends and family to do the same: If there’s a particular legislator who you’re concerned about, or an issue happening in a place that’s not where you call home, reach out to constituents—friends or family who live in the district they represent—and have them make the phone call. Representatives are hired to work for their own constituents, so calling a public servant who doesn’t represent your district specifically will be less effective.
Ready, set, go!
PS. I’m hoping to provide more ideas like this one for shifting habits, so stay tuned, but as always feel free to share anything helpful or wise in the comments below.
I email my Congress people and Senators and President. I have written letters. I have called them too. I live in a red state and am a blue person, so I don’t know how much of my requests fall on deaf ears. But they all send me responses. One of my Senators sent me a canned response to my email about something that had nothing to do with the point of my email. This told me something too. Unfortunately he was re-elected. I did, however, email my other Senator about my view, and he expressed and stood next to his (my) view in the public media. I hope I was among many voices who helped him to make his decision, a courageous decision as it turns out, based on the election outcome. I will send him another email in the next few days to thank him for his courage, his integrity, and to let him know that how much I appreciate him.
I’m heartened to hear of your participation, which I’m ashamed to admit exceeded mine. Try googling “Emily Ellsworth” — a former staffer from a representive’s office laid out strategies on Twitter for helping our legislators to listen to us. She recommended attending town hall meetings, personal (paper) letters, and phone calls.
Direct link to that thread in the post above!
There’s also a really great service called IssueVoter that 1. matches you to your rep 2. sends you email alerts before congress votes on bills 3. sends your opinion to your rep when you click “support” or “oppose”. I think it’s helpful because it summarizes the bills in a really simple way so I feel like I actually know what’s going on before I respond. The website is issuevoter.org if anybody wants to check it out.
I haven’t attended town hall meetings, but I plan to start!
I called my reps about the same issue this week. I really appreciate using the “Habit Shift” theme in a way that refuses to normalize the new levels of hate in our country. I’m incredibly concerned, both in my own life and in general, that I and others will just kind of get used to it and after a few weeks go back to life as usual. Humans are so adaptable, we can get used to anything, right? Except this cannot be normalized, ever. Marginalized folks have been forced to “get used to it” for too long.
Thanks again for your writing, I really appreciate your work.
Thank you for this! In the past week, amid the fear and the grief, I have felt a strong resolve to move forward against hopelessness. I’ve spent a lot of time questioning how as just one person I can act in a way that makes the most difference. At times, I’ve felt like a phone call or small donation couldn’t possibly be enough. But then an old colleague shared this analogy: that our small steps as individuals are collectively adding friction to the system – friction that will slow things down, make things more difficult, and help sway the public conversation in ways that will then add more resistance. A phone call here and there may not seem like much on its own, but it is adding to a collective effort that will slow (and in many cases, we hope, stop) this administration. We need acts of all sizes – tiny pebbles and larger stones – that increase the friction and make this horrible path of hateful and harmful acts impossible to continue along. Every phone call, every conversation, every act of protest helps!
Thank you for this post. It was very timely as I too am wanting to change my habits to make more of a difference and be more active, but am not sure how to go about such a huge task. I look forward to more posts like this.
I used to intern in a Congressional office, and it is true that all concerns get recorded, and the issues or legislation that generate more calls and letters will get more attention, so it is absolutely worthwhile to try to get more people to write, call and make their voices heard.
Also, if you don’t want to call, you can also write letters or email your rep via their official page on the US House/Senate website. These emails and letters get read by staff and logged in the system just like phone calls, so if the phone is not your preferred method of communication (it’s definitely not mine), there are other ways to make your voice heard.
Thank you for focusing so much of your blog to this issue lately, Erin. As others have said, I’m really worried about the normalization of how things are now, and I’ve been appreciating the reminder and encouragement to get actively involved in issues that are so important. I interned for a Congressperson in college, and I can attest to all the phone calls and letters being listened to and accounted for. Thanks again for putting so much time and energy into writing such thoughtful and helpful posts!
Thank you for this thoughtful post. I too have felt like I need to do more. Reading these concrete steps you’ve laid out has pushed me to make a few more phone calls, log a few more actions, and talk to a few more friends and family to encourage them to do the same. I hope this ripple effect keeps widening. Thank you!
Thank you so much for this! My husband and I called our local representative and senators yesterday, and we have decided we’re making this a habit, too. We live in San Francisco, so my Congressfolk tend to align with my views anyway, but it feels good to get over my shyness/laziness and just reach out and communicate!
I also had this realization that I can thank the elected officials (those who represent me, as well as those who represent others) for their hard work on behalf of so many of us. I also thanked some of my favorite journalists and am generally becoming more civically engaged. Feels good. Thanks for this empowering, timely post!
I would add: do this same thing for your local representatives, not just at the national level. State Senate & state House (or Assembly or whatever it is called in your state), city council etc. Local policies have a huge impact on our lives!
Thank you! You’ve done a lot to help this election cycle — more than many bloggers I’ve seen who’ve remained entirely mum about the whole thing, which is in my mind inexcusable — but I agree with your feeling that “I haven’t done enough.” Becoming more active at the local level is something I’m setting out to do — but in super blue Jersey City, my representative, both Senators, and even my mayor have already spoken out against Bannon, before I even had a chance to call. Which is great! But makes me feel even more useless, like anytime I call them, they’ll be like “Yup, got it, done.” 🙂
I like what you said about encouraging constituents, though. I have (very few, fortunately) relatives who voted Trump for staunchly religious reasons and I’m not that close with them, so I don’t know how much change I can effect that way, but both of my sisters live in swing states (North Caroline and Florida) and while they voted blue, I’m not sure they’re aware about what more they can do. I’ll definitely be encouraging them to be more active at the local level going forward.
What a fantastic use of a Habit Shift post. And thank you for the suggestion of speaking out against Bannon’s appointment. I will definitely be sharing this with friends and family and encouraging them all to contact their representatives as well!
Thank you! This was just the encouragement I needed to make the calls.
Erin, this use of Habit Shift is so truly useful. I so appreciate this. One positive about this election is the action we are finally seeing from people who weren’t even necessarily involved in anything political before. The biggest thing I’ve changed is to alter my usual friendgroup into a community of active and aware women that meet as much as possible but mostly text/email/talk on the phone about our options in our majority red state. Although Oregon is a blue state because of our ever-beloved Portland, most don’t realize it is majority red. My Lady Group has been doing exactly what you suggested in reaching out to friends and family living in red districts and encouraging them to be motivated. I think having these ladies behind me and making sure I don’t get so down about the past few weeks that I’m inactive has been the most important part of my processing.
Please continue in not letting us normalize the current situation. While some days it is hard to keep fighting and keep remembering, not letting us forget and stand to the side is exactly what we need. Thank you.
Thank you, Erin! Your blog has helped me shift my material habits in an effort to take better care of the earth, and now you’re helping me shift my habits as a citizen in an effort to take better care of my nation. This is important work. I’ve been thinking a lot about how blogging has allowed people, and I think especially women, create spaces and movements. Thank you for using your space to advocate for the rights of all Americans, especially those whose freedoms are under threat right now. Our spaces are only as functional and as beautiful as the nation they exist in.
This is great, thank you! Germany is going to vote next year and I ( a minority) fear another racist right-wing surprise. After last week I just felt numb and I highly appreciate you don`t go back to business as usual. Thank you for reminding me I can take small steps as a citizen to get involved.
Thanks for this post. I just added my senators and representative to my contacts and called them all (one to thank, two to encourage). I will be calling back!!
I just got done calling my representatives. I’d never thought to follow them on twitter, what a great idea!
Thank you for providing a straightforward, simple way to help. Please keep posts like this coming.
This is a great use of your Habit Shift section. I too am worried about those who are and will be hurt the most by the outcome of this election. BUT, another thing I think we need to start worrying about is those who voted for him in the first place. I don’t mean those who did it out of racist/ sexist/ etc reasons but those who feel like they have been left behind by for instance globalization. Why do they feel like they haven’t been heard? Why do they feel so strongly about it that they would vote for a man who has said the things he has said? Is there a habit shift that needs to happen here? Is there a way for us to understand the pain that they have felt?
I have been thinking the same. Essentially half the country voted for a terrible man, and many of them did so because they are desperate and feel like nothing has addressed their needs. How do we effect change in this area? How do we bridge this divide?
I admit that I really don’t have the answers right now. If I’m blessed with divine intervention that helps me see that light, no doubt I’ll share.
Erin – Thank you for using your sane and reasoned voice to speak up for what is good in the world and against hate. I know that is not easy for a public figure blogger who has to worry about income implications of taking a stand, so please know that there are so many of us out here who support you (I’m usually a lurker but may my voice today in saying a simple thank you represent other lurkers too!).
I just called my representative for the first time in my life — I didn’t even know my district! What a helpful post, thank you so much.
This is about the best advice for action I have read yet. Such an important reminder to get engaged with those on the front lines to enact laws and change, but also for them to hear the support and backing be able to stand up to the current president elect even if on the same “team”. I am a lifelong registered Republican and was so utterly repulsed and disgusted by what happened (HRC became my hero) and now continue to be by seeing the Republicans who took a stand against Trump up until election night now pander back and have seemingly lost their voice overnight. The moderate Republican (Party of Lincoln, whose message was basic rights and access for all) needs to stand tall against the current party “leader”.
Jean, your comment is giving me hope today that the minds of other good Republicans (including much of my family) can be changed. Sincerely, thank you.
Erin, thanks for keeping the good (and concrete!) suggestions coming.
My friend just sent me this link complete with scripts of what to say on a variety of issues. I found it a helpful introduction to advocating for what I care about to my representatives.
This is great! Just sent it to my girlfriends as well!
First I want to say how much I enjoy your blog. Your writing voice and style feel like snuggling under a warm blanket. I look forward to your posts each week.
I never leave comments bc most of the time I don’t think my opinions are really worth the space they take up in this digital world, but I felt like this time I might represent something not so common in this space, that I hope will bring some hope and healing.
As someone from the other side of the political debate, I want to convey this: I care very much for the plight of the downtrodden and under/mis-represented both in this country and in others. I don’t say that in a defensive/”don’t judge me” way, but simply to say, please know I’m fighting for the same things on the “other side” and my heart is with you.
Thank you again for such a jewel of a blog!
Thanks so much, Amanda. I have no doubt there are people across all kinds of aisles, political or otherwise, who are concerned about the very same issues. It’s why this goes so far beyond politics as usual for me. Thanks so much for your kind words.
Thank you for this helpful post. Many people don’t know what to do, nor do they think they will be heard…and on that note, US Senator Barbara Boxer introduced a bill to abolish the electoral college. If anyone is curious ( and frustrated that Hillary received more votes but did not win!) read the press release and write letters of support: https://www.boxer.senate.gov/?p=release&id=3355
Thank you for such an inspiring post. I have been sitting on the verge of feeling there is nothing left to do to change the course of the decision already made, and feel like all that can be done is wait for him to mess up. Since it is not within the niche of my blog to really discuss politics or my views of them, I find it a relief that you have discussed here a personal habit to be changed is to be more involved. I appreciate your information so much and though have followed local reps closely will make an effort to be more involved with national reps. Thank you again.
I have to echo the notes of thanks. Even though I’m not American, this has spurred interest in me to take note of what my representatives at all 3 levels of government are for or against. I’ve followed them all on Twitter and am looking up current issues that are up for debate. Thanks for an eye-opening post with an easy solution to foster change.
Thank you so much for this post! You really make it simple and easy to reach out and be heard. I also encourage folks to call representatives in other states. Yesterday I started with the “A” states, and left messages with staffers. I felt nervous at first, but then got into a groove. Going to put aside time each day to make a few calls. I appreciate your post because it helps to find a way to turn my sadness and fear into a positive action.
Hey Shannon, Thanks so much for your note! This was my first impulse, too, but after doing a little more research, I realized that calling outside of your own district is really just tying up the phone lines for folks trying to reach their own representatives! That’s why I suggested reaching out to friends and family who might live in those places so that they can call instead! (More details on the specifics of how it works in the two Twitter threads that I reference above!)
Just wanted to leave a note of appreciation. So much respect for you walking the walk! You have earned a reader for life
Thank you for the inspiration. As a history teacher I have been in the trenches with students who feel scared and powerless. It is a great reminder to tell my students the things they CAN do. I am trying to make small acts of protest everyday, even if it doesn’t feel like it is making a big difference, because it all adds up! Thank you for your work to promote an equitable society.
THANK YOU for this reminder! I’m going to pass it along to everyone I know.
Thanks for this! I called my Representative and Senators this week about Bannon, too. I hated it because I am nervous on the phone, haha, but it felt good.
Thank you for this. That excellent Google doc in a previous comment is a real gem. Reps #s are in my phone and calendar reminders are set. Here we go.
Thank you SO MUCH for this! I’m an American living abroad and I feel like the last week has been doubly terrible because I can’t actually DO anything IN America!
I followed the link to my rep’s contact info plus I found her on Facebook and “liked” her page so that I can let her know how horrified I am about Bannon via the interwebz as well.
I am so inspired by the way you take action and motivate others to do the same.
In a world of people that complaint but remain passive, you are a breath of fresh air.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for this, and keep it up. Keep sharing concrete actions we can take. It’s sooo helpful.
I’ve been feeling quite frustrated, as an American living abroad, that I don’t have a representative to call. Do you have an international following? Do you know if there’s anything Americans living abroad can do? (I’ve been poking around for answers myself and haven’t come up with anything satisfactory yet).
I’m also usually a lurker here, but as a former Congressional staffer (2008-2012), I wanted to confirm the information in the two twitter feeds you linked to above. When I started work there, I was very skeptical about whether “representative democracy” was a real thing, but I left with a great deal of optimism. I’ve heard a quote bouncing around the past week about “we get the government we deserve” and I think that is spot on. People need to pay attention to what their State Legislators, Governors, and Representatives in Congress are doing if we want our government to look and act differently. In addition to calling *your* representatives, I wanted to also recommend the following:
1. Many Senators and Representatives hold casual events when they are back in their districts, usually weekends or weeks when Congress is not in session, where the only agenda is to chat with constituents. It’s a great way to meet your representative or senator in a low-pressure environment. Sign up with your representative’s office to be alerted to when and where they are happening.
2. Invite your representatives to events and meetings. We were always looking for new and exciting things for our boss to do when he was home, from school events to business tours. It was always easier to promote a sustainable jobs initiative when he was visiting a new LEED building, or talk about funding the National Endowment for the Arts while visiting a school art fair. Public officials have large egos and tight time constraints, so having a “high touch” interaction with a larger group of people and the potential for some press is a great use of their time and resources. Use it to your advantage!
Politicians are silly, vain, and willing to change their positions as often as necessary to stay popular. They listen to lobbyists, donors, and interest groups because they are the people that give them information, specific demands, and resources to organize during elections. But it all comes down to staying popular enough with their constituents to keep winning every 2 to 6 years. Their job security depends on the people they represent. So get involved, organize, and form your own “interest groups” to make your demands and keep them accountable. Be willing to invest and sacrifice to build the relationship you want and deserve with your public officials. I’m optimistic it will pay off in the long run.
As a quick aside, I wanted to recommend Veep for a hilariously accurate portrayal of how Washington actually works. I often laugh/cry while watching, but I think it gives a good sense for what you are up against.
Thank you so much for chiming in! So glad for your perspective and advice!
This is very helpful, the insider’s view. I stroked my senator’s ego today when I emailed to thank him for not endorsing his party’s candidate and standing with integrity and courage for tolerance and decency and humane behavior toward all. It will be difficult for the next 4 years for my senator, I imagine, due to the possibility of grudge holding. I let him know how much I valued him because he was true to the end. I want to reward good behavior.
For those in DC (where we don’t have voting representation in Congress, which I have Thoughts on, but will refrain from clogging your blog with them), remember that you can still call/email/gently harass Congressional leadership. (Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, etc). Also, things matter on a local scale. School boards, ward/district representatives can affect change on a local level.
Ahh, this post and the comments lifted my spirits. Thank you all. Perhaps the silver lining in the storm clouds hanging over us is that we – yes, me- have woken up and are speaking out. Let’s keep it up. And I second Emily’s recommendation of Veep. Maybe we should stay away from House of Cards for a while. Many thanks, Erin, for this space.
This situation right here is especially hard for DC voters. We have no voting representatives in Congress. Calling our reps is all well and good but they have no power. Everyone who does have voting representation in Congress, please please contact your senators and House reps!
Obama has all but lost his right to appoint a Supreme Court judge. Maybe because I did not see this, a Trump win, coming (my naïveté), I did not use my voice on this issue early enough. Now calling and writing local reps as a call of action on this. Another last ditch effort, or at least call to be heard on record: A petition for Obama to point bypassing Senate.
There may be no legal grounds for Obama to do this but it is uncharted territory, too.
Thank you for this, Erin! It means so much that you use your voice (that reaches so many) in such a pointed an impactful way.
I just discovered an app called Countable that allows you to be more involved in researching bills and other news and info, easily contact your reps, and more – so far, I’m really enjoying that it allows me to be so much more engaged in our political system so easily (and with two kids to boot!).
Love that! Thanks so much, Larissa!
Just found this resource and wanting to send it your way!
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