With the election of Donald Trump and the majority Republican Congress, our activism is now more important than ever. The bedrock issues for retirees are health care and retirement (Social Security and pension) benefits. As retired educators, we also join in the need to protect and advocate for our public schools and in-service teachers, which are threatened by privatization, for-profit charters, vouchers, and “reforms” that further that agenda. We also have an interest in protection of civil rights and workers’ rights. All of these issues are at the forefront at present. We therefore need every voice to be heard.
Some may want to help, but are hesitant to reach out to legislators. The information and tips below will support your resolve and help you to connect on behalf of the issues that are important to you. Keep in mind that lobbying legislators does not have to be a difficult or time-consuming endeavor. It is just a way to let your legislators know what is important to you, their constituent.
Phone calls are a very effective strategy. According to Emily Ellsworth, a former district office aide for a congressman, social media (tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) are not as effective as phone calls or in-person visits because they are easy to ignore and it is hard to tell where the lobbyist resides. Emails and letters are usually grouped by topic and counted, so they do have some impact. Do not, however, expect a personal response – only a few of the hundreds or thousands of letters are culled for the legislator to read. When you phone, you will speak directly with a staffer and have a chance to both ask questions as well as advocate for your viewpoints. So pick up that phone!
Tips for Phone Calls to Legislators
- Do your homework before the call. Be informed about your legislator – understand their record of positions on legislation, their political party, etc. Know what their role is and what they can/can’t do. For example, do not call Representatives if the issue is in the hands of the Senate (i.e. confirmation hearings).
- Know your issue, write down bullet points or even script a sentence or two ahead of time. Speak to a targeted issue instead of a general complaint or a rant. This may look like: “I would like to request that Senator ___ oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, because she has no qualifications for the office and she has consistently advocated for charters and vouchers, with no regard to how that affects public schools.” Phrase the argument in your own words.
- Be aware that most offices ask where you live and do not record opinions outside of their districts or states. On the other hand, if the legislator is on a committee (say the Education Committee), then calling them is fair game since they are in essence in charge of a national issue. Identify that you are calling because the legislator is on the committee.
- Call state or district offices first. If you reach a voicemail, leave a message with your name and geographical location. If voicemail is full, press “0” to ask to be transferred to a voicemail that is not full, or another way to leave your message.
- Do not expect to be put through to your legislator – but it is fine to ask to speak to a staffer or legislative director who specifically works on your issue. If you do get put through to a staffer, politely ask (and write down) their name. This will give you the ability to make follow-up contacts.
- Identify yourself immediately, and if you are a constituent of the legislator, say so.
- State your opinion clearly and quickly, using the bullet points (keep to a minimum) or scripted sentences you wrote pre-call.
- Be respectful. Do not engage in argumentative behavior, take on a threatening tone, or use sarcasm.
- Keep your phone call brief. State your opinion clearly and quickly. If you know or find out that the legislator is also advocating for your position, ask how you can help to support his/her efforts.
- Call national offices as well, and realize that the goal here is to generate a high volume of calls that can be tallied.
- Thank the staff member for his or her time.
Do not hesitate to call, even if it makes you uneasy at first. It only takes a moment and the accumulated collective action of many calls, do indeed have an impact.
Phone numbers of area representatives, the White House, and members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions are listed below:
Representative John Faso – 202-225-5614. Kingston office – 845-514-2322
Representative Paul Tonko – 202-225-5076. Albany office – 518-465-0700
Representative Elise Stefanik – 202-225-4611. Glens Falls office – 518-743-0964
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – 202-224-4451. Albany office – 518-431-0120
Senator Chuck Schumer – 202-224-6542. Albany office – 518-431-4070
The White House – 202-456-1111
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions:
Lisa Murkowski AK 202-224-6665 R
Michael Bennet CO 202-224-5852 D
Christopher Murphy CT 202-224-4041 D
Johnny Isakson GA 202-224-3643 R
Todd Young IN 202-224-5623 R
Pat Roberts KS 202-224-4774 R
Rand Paul KY 202-224-4343 R
Bill Cassidy LA 202-224-5824 R
Elizabeth Warren MA 202-224-4543 D
Susan Collins ME 202-224-2523 R
Al Franken MN 202-224-5641 D
Richard Burr NC 202-224-3154 R
Margaret Wood Hassan NH 202-224-3324 D
Robert Casey PA 202-224-6324 D
Sheldon Whitehouse RI 202-224-2921 D
Tim Scott SC 202-224-6121 R
Lamar Alexander TN 202-224-4944 Chair R
Orrin Hatch UT 202-224-5251 R
Tim Kaine VA 202-224-4024 D
Bernie Sanders VT 202-224-5141 (I)
Patty Murray WA 202-224-2621 Ranking Member D
Tammy Baldwin WI 202-224-5653 D
Michael Enzi WY 202-224-3424 R