By Jack Caron
Since the first telephone was installed in the White House in 1877, contacting legislative officials has been a major part of the “utility belt” by any politically active citizen. “Utility belt” is a bit distracting. Can you state it more simply for the lede sentence? Contacting representatives over the phone and by post has been crucial to turning points in our nation’s history. For instance, in 1941 a Montana representative encouraged Americans to “call your congressman by telephone every day and tell him how you feel” if they opposed US involvement in World War II. What did that achieve? An article entitled “What Calling Congress Achieves” by The New Yorker has a wealth of fascinating background information on these cases.
Today dialogue between informed citizens and their elected officials remains extremely important. Everyone has been told to contact their senator at one point or another, but how many of us know how to do that? What does that really entail?
Contacting representatives can be confusing, and reading through the specifics of a bill going to vote can lead to the feeling of drowning in a sea of complicated legal jargon. One example of a positive and productive interaction is asking a state senator about the specifics of a bill they are sponsoring. When 14 undocumented workers were arrested at the Days Inn across from St. Michael’s College, there was a new bill being proposed by state Senator Debbie Ingram that would allow the State Office of the Defender General to represent individuals facing illegal immigration proceedings. Parts of the bill were a bit complicated and difficult to fully grasp, so to get a better grasp on the ramifications I called and asked Senator Ingram how having legal representation could benefit somebody facing deportation proceedings.
“Having a public defender from the Defender General’s office representing you can make all the difference in terms of helping you to understand and navigate the immigration system, and thus stay in the country to be close to family or to send money home to support family. We are talking about people who are trying to make a better life for themselves and those they love — something that we have historically, as Americans, valued and affirmed. The current national political rhetoric makes it seem that we have forgotten that fact.”
The senator responded clearly and frankly to every question posed and concluded her response by urging anyone who would like clarification on any bit of legislation to contact her with questions about specific bits. This encouragement and eagerness to help people confused with the political process is second to none in inclusivity, and for somebody who may feel that politics are too overwhelming and who may feel that their vote doesn’t matter, this is a great way to get informed.
The more common and perhaps more immediately effective method of contact with representatives however, is to urge them to vote a certain way on an issue. A prime example of the effectiveness of this method is the phone bank run by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. By putting citizens in contact with their legislators at crucial times, Vermonters have been able to overwhelm representatives with the impossible-to-ignore beliefs of the constituents. If a senator is leaning towards a vote that you don’t agree with, make your voice heard, and do not be complicit.
To get in contact with a U.S. senator over a specific issue, one way is over the phone by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. This will help you find the senators of which you are a constituent and urge them which way to lean on particular issues on the table. For Vermont specifically our congressional senators are Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Let’s box up the following info into an easy
to read info graphic. Senator Leahy can be contacted by mail at 437 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510, by phone at (202) 224-4242 and online at www.leahy.senate.gov/contact/Senator Sanders can be found by post at 332 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510 can be contacted over the phone at (202) 224-5141 and online at www.sanders.senate.gov/contact/
For anyone who may not be great at speaking under pressure when that voicemail tone beeps or a representative answers, here is a very simple example of a script one could use to convey their beliefs.
A script for your phone call:
“Good morning/afternoon/evening! My name is ______and I am a constituent of ________. I am calling you today in hopes to urge you to vote in favor of / against (bill XXXX, the redaction of _____, the legislation of _____etc.) I feel it is very important to our community that we support/ oppose such an important issue. Thank you for your time!”