The Colorado Delegation Needs to Hear From You: Tips on Calling Your Member of the U.S. Congress
Did you know that one of the most important things you can do to end hunger can be completed in about ten minutes? Believe it or not, a simple phone call can change how a Senator or Member of Congress votes, thus impacting the lives of millions of people.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you call your Senator or Representative.
- Know Why You Are Calling
When you meet a Member of Congress or congressional staffer, it is perfectly appropriate to say, “My name is Jane Doe, I am a constituent, and I care about hunger in our district and in Colorado.” This is a great way to raise general awareness and does not need to be tied to a specific legislative ask.
However, when you call a Member’s office, it is most effective to have a specific ask, such as “Please pass this important piece of legislation that will help thousands of children in our district.”
As anti-hunger advocates, we care about a number of important things, particularly Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the Farm Bill. As the Farm Bill process gets started in the coming year, Hunger Free Colorado will send out action alerts. These will be great ways to practice the steps discussed in this blog post. I’ll be posting more about the Farm Bill in coming months.
2. Call the DC Office
Once you know why you are calling, it’s time to pick up the phone. You can dial the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or the direct office line. The operator of the switchboard can direct you to both Senators as well as Representatives. Not sure who to call? Click here.
Once the operator answers, ask to be connected to the Member that you are trying to reach. They will send you to your Senator’s or Representative’s office line, and an assistant will answer the phone. They will likely ask your name and zip code, to verify that you live in their district. If you only have a minute, you can tell the receptionist exactly why you are calling. It is his or her job to record the number of calls about a particular issue. If you want to have an in depth conversation, you can ask to speak to the Member or the staffer who works on the particular issue.
3. Speaking to a Congressional Staffer
While occasionally you will have the opportunity to speak to the Senator or Representative directly, more often than not, you will speak to a congressional staffer. This may be the person who answered the phone, or if you request “I would like to speak to the staffer who works on agriculture and food issues,” then the call may be transferred. The staff range in experience and may know a lot or a little about the issue that is important to you.
Remember that it is their job to listen to you and to summarize what you and others have said, so that their boss (the Senators and Representatives) can make an informed decision when voting on legislation. That being said, congressional staffers tend to have very busy and stressful days, so be as respectful and cordial as you can. Do not be offended if they do not have much time to talk, but do be sure to say everything you want, or request a follow up call.
If they don’t answer, leave a voicemail. Be sure to include your name, phone number, and whether or not you want them to call you back.
4. Share Your Opinion – And Your Story
As important pieces of legislation arise, Hunger Free Colorado will provide “talking points” to help steer your message and make sure you cover all the essential points. While staying on message is important to being effective, it is also a good idea to share stories. How does this issue affect you or your family? Have you or someone you know experienced hunger? These stories can resonate with staffers and inspire them to reiterate the importance of hunger to the Member of Congress.
5. Write a Thank You Email
Emails to congressional staffers are a great way to reiterate what you’ve said and provide them with a record of the call. Be sure to include your name, number, city or town, and reference the conversation you had or message you left. Emails can be as simple as this sample below.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss the important piece of legislation that will help/harm hungry people in our district. As I mentioned on the phone, this issue is very important to me because as a school teacher I see hungry children every day. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this more, please feel free to contact me.
6. Spread the Word
Did an email from Hunger Free Colorado inspire you to make this call? Please forward the email to five of your friends. On Facebook and Twitter? Please share or retweet our messages about this issue. Social media is an important advocacy tool. The more you engage your community, the bigger an impact you’ll make.
7. Pat Yourself on the Back
By calling your Senators and Representative, you did one of the most important things that a citizen can do to help others. You participated in the democratic process on behalf of the 900,000 people in Colorado who struggle with hunger. Your call counts – even if the Member ultimately doesn’t vote the way you asked. Your voice can and will make a difference. Thank you!