The Quick & Dirty Guide to Calling Your Representative about Climate Issues

photo credit: fabio sola penna | Flickr creative commons

Everyone says to call your representative, but hardly anyone does it. Why? Two reasons.

#1: Phones are scary.

#2: Feels like a waste of time. Will it even matter?

Let’s break down these barriers, starting with the first one. If you know how to prep for the call and what to expect, I bet it won’t be scary at all.

Step 1: Find your representative.

Here you go. God bless the internet.

Step 2: Add them to your contacts.

Will that take a few extra minutes? Sure. But it will lower the threshold for your next call (and give you a way for you to procrastinate on this call while still feeling like an active and productive citizen).

Step 3: Jot down some notes about your issue.

Start by writing down your name and your zip code. This sounds dumb, but I’ll tell you why in the next step.

Then jot down a note about why this issue matters to you and what you want your rep to do about it.

This note doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a line or two, or it can be a personal story. “If you tell us about something that’s impacting you personally,” says Yuri Beckelman, former deputy chief of staff to California representative Mark Takano, “that’s going to shape the work that we do on that issue.

The key word is “personally.” It can be tempting to use a script from an advocacy organization, but those calls “usually get downgraded.

You don’t have to be an expert. All you have to do is to say why you care, and how this issue affects you.

Step 4: Make the call.

This is the scary part, right? But listen: in all likelihood, you’re going to talk to a staff assistant or an intern. They are not going to argue with you or question you. They are going to politely take your message, and after you hang up the phone, you will be flooded with massive endorphins of relief, which will feel incredible.

Remember when you wrote down your name and zipcode at the top of your notes? That’s in case you get voicemail instead of an intern. Your note will remind you to start your message with this information so your representative will know you’re in their district. Otherwise, your call may not even get logged.

Step 4: Condition Your Expectations

If you think your call will have an immediate and concrete effect on your representative—Everyone stop! I must reverse my stance!—you’re gonna be disappointed. Change doesn’t happen because of one call (or even a single wave of calls from a bunch of constituents). Change takes consistent pressure over the span of years. Erosion, not a flood.

If you see your call as a single drop of water, it won’t seem like a waste of time. It will seem like a tiny part of a river, doing its patient work. The real waste of time is a tweet, a Facebook post, or “an online petition (because they require so little effort that they aren’t seen as meaningful).”

How do you keep doing this work when you don’t see immediate results? It might help to pick a long-term motivation. For me, it’s thinking about talking with my future grandchildren. “You knew about the climate crisis,” they’ll say to me one day. “What did you do about it?”

I want to give them a good answer and a healthy planet. Don’t you?

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