How to participate in your government: emails and calls
Part two of a four-part series on making sure your elected representatives hear you
If you missed the first part in this series, you can read it here
If your inbox is like mine, you receive a lot of urgent pleas to write and call your reps. It can be overwhelming. It can be confusing. And it can be hard to know if it even matters.
Recently, I received a note from someone who wanted to support people living on the street during the pandemic. I encouraged her to write her councilmembers in Glendale to find out what they were already doing, which she did. Surprisingly, they wrote back right away and offered to schedule a conference call. We ended up on the phone with two city department heads from Glendale who walked us through their homelessness programs and answered all of our questions. At the end of the call, they even offered to keep us updated on how things progressed.
It doesn’t always go like this, especially in LA proper. In fact, it usually doesn’t. But every once in a while, the government can surprise you. It’s always worth speaking up and letting them know what you care about. Unless you only care about yourself, in which case, please disregard the rest of this email.
Emails and Phone Calls
🤔 When To Choose This Method
When you cannot attend a meeting
When they are not meeting about this issue
When you want something specific and actionable (for example, a stop sign on your street)
When you have questions or need clarification about an issue
🔦 How You Do It
Look up your elected officials. Go to their website to find their email. (See this issue for how to look them up)
While you’re there, check out their staff page to see if anyone covers your neighborhood. If you can find a neighborhood or area staff member, add them on your email.
If you want them to follow up with you, be sure to say that. You can also ask to schedule a phone call or a meeting. More on that in the next issue.
Look up your elected officials. Go to their website to find their phone number.
When you call, you will speak with a staff member. You can say “may I speak with the person who is handling X?” For example, “may I speak with whoever is handling the new metro stop on Wilshire?”
If they don’t know or aren’t that helpful, you can just leave a message with them.
Be sure to include your name, that you are a constituent, what you are calling about and what action you want them to take.
Sometimes, they will offer to follow up and if not, you can ask them to do that. This is particularly useful if you would like to get more involved in an issue or if you have unanswered questions.
⚡ How to Make it Impactful
Know the right rep to contact
I normally start with my most local representative which tends to be City Council. You can also look at your rep’s website to see if they have a local area rep for your neighborhood. They often do, even for state legislators.
The more specific you can get, the better, though if you really aren’t sure just call any of them and ask. It’s their job to help you. Here’s a quick starter guide:
Share why you are writing or calling them
Officials give more weight to people who live or own businesses in their district. You can include additional connections like if your kids go to school in the district or if you work in the area.
You can also include something about their focus like “I know you care about restorative justice so I’m writing you about supporting this new bill Senator So-and-So proposed.” It’s especially helpful to add this when contacting someone who does not represent you.
Be clear about what action you want them to take
I like to put this in bold or if I’m calling, I repeat it at the beginning and the end of the call. Something like “Please vote yes on the emergency housing bill” or “Allocate funding to repair the potholes on 7th Street.”
Make it authentic to your voice
There are a lot of calling and emailing scripts out there. It can be effective to personalize them so they make sense coming from you.
For emails, I trim down scripts and cut anything I don’t understand or wouldn’t say. I also add an opening line about why I care about the issue. Usually, the goal is to get them to vote a certain way so a couple sentences is enough if you don’t have much to say on the topic. But do make sure to include how you want them to vote!
For calls, I keep it brief unless I am very informed on an issue. Something like “Hi, I’m Lex. I live in the district. I want the Senator to vote yes on S-000.” Government staff members can tell a calling script when they hear one and in my view, it’s a waste of your energy to recite words you don’t understand. Unless you want to engage someone in a conversation or you want to ask questions, just let them know that you support or oppose the bill.
📖 Examples and Resources
Also apparently people write books on making effective comments. It’s only $900 in hardcover!
In recent years, I’ve landed on a strategy for staying sane amidst a constant need for action. I focus my advocacy on homelessness and housing. It helps me build context in one area which makes me more informed about why various calls to action matter. I pay more attention to news on this topic and I follow several organizations working in this space. Focusing on one issue enables me be more effective when I reach out to my reps. And it allows me to prioritize my time.
Next in this series, we’ll look at how to set up meetings with elected officials.
Have a resource you think should be seen or heard? Have advice for people on how to talk to their government? Send it all my way: firstname.lastname@example.org
Always paying attention