Hello, my name is Shannah and I work in local government.
I want to make it clear this post isn’t from “Shannah of the system.”
Rather, it’s from “Shannah your fellow American who happens to have worked in D.C. for a summer teaching youth about our government and also has lived in some interesting places around the world and as a result would never ever ever EVER give up her American citizenship.”
All clear? Good. Let’s move on…
There are two words, I think, that summarize United States citizenship:
Ability and Responsibility
The first – ability – you get by virtue of citizenship. You have the ability to vote. You have the ability to voice concerns. You have the ability to choose your own path, as long as it is legal.
The second – responsibility – is that little aspect so many overlook. I know this to be true because voting records show most registered voters don’t vote, particularly when it most matters (in local and primary elections). I also know this to be true because Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with gripes that never escalate to decision makers.
I thought I’d share with you some tips for exercising your responsibility. I’m not going to pretend government isn’t a complex affair with many competing positions to consider and balance. But How To Get Engaged isn’t one of the things to be included on the “complex” list.
Let’s set a foundational principle:
Government and politics are not the same thing.
Politics drive governmental actions, but not vice versa. Most of the people you will interact with as you engage your civic responsibilities are government employees. These individuals, in most part, do what they do because they love people, want to be part of something bigger than themselves and self-identify as public servants.
Those who don’t are likely individuals who have been burned out by years of being blamed for everything from that one time the wrong letter was delivered to your mailbox to the certain destruction of the world as we know it.
Be nice, be clear in your communications and be human.
Ok, so let’s talk about how to engage with your federally-elected politicians, shall we?
1. Find your representatives’ contact information.
Hmmm… Maybe this first step should be: Figure out who your representatives are. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know who your one Representative and two Senators are – just make a note to yourself to look them up, write their names down, then register to vote so you never wonder again. Do I need to mention that registering to vote isn’t the same thing as actually voting? Make sure you do that, too.
Make sure you write down all of their contact phone numbers. It’s not uncommon for the phone lines in their D.C. offices to be busy or the voicemail full.
Pro tip: Call the local office closest to you.
Your opinion counts equally, regardless of which office you call.
2. Pick an issue.
There are lots of issues. Don’t try to talk about them all in a single phone call. Pick a single issue and focus on it.
3. Prepare your script.
The staffer you’re speaking with will listen to you for as long as you want to talk, but really they are registering your position on a particular issue – creating a tally list, so to speak. If you understand this is the point, then it makes it easier to build your script. The script should include:
- Who you are: “Hi, my name is ________________.”
- Where you’re from, including the zip code. It’s important the staffer knows you are one of their constituents: “I live in __________, in zip code _____.”
- Let them know you are just registering your position: “I don’t need a response, I just want to register my position.”
- Then state the issue and what your position is: “I’m calling about ______________. I would like _______________.”
That’s it! The staffer will acknowledge your position has been recorded and will be shared with your representative.
Pro tip: Say thank you and wish the staffer a good day.
You’ll make a favorable impression, even if your position doesn’t align with that particular representative’s stated position!
4. Be persistent.
Pick one issue each day, use the steps listed above and call your Senators and Representative as often as you can. This is how you make yourself heard in the system.
Some other good things to know:
5. This doesn’t take a long time.
Once you have your representatives’ contact information (and write it down so you don’t have to look it up again and again), it takes about one minute to call each representative and register your position. That’s less time than you’ll wait in line at Starbucks or in a standard traffic light signal rotation.
6. Prioritize calling over emailing.
I get it. I love Twitter over texting, texting over email, email over calling and…to be honest….I prefer stabbing my eye out over calling. Seriously, I hate making calls. But honestly, making a call is the best way to be sure your opinion is recorded for your representatives.
Finally, I am a person of faith so in addition to all of the things I’ve listed above, I also pray. I believe this is a Biblical command:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1st Timothy 2:1-2
So the message for people of faith is: