“Your representative doesn’t know what you’re thinking unless you tell them.”Emily Ellsworth, former Congressional staffer
Although talking to your legislator can seem scary at first, it’s not as difficult as you think! There are three different ways to get your legislator’s attention: calling, writing a letter or email, and meeting with them in person.
(Not sure who your representatives are? Find out here!)
Calling Your Representative
Where it takes a legislative office much longer to process letters and emails, which may sit unread for days, calling your representative is a quick and immediate way to get your voice heard – and according to Emily Ellsworth, a former congressional staffer, is the best way to get your legislator’s attention.
What happens when you make a call?
Depending on the level of government you’re trying to reach, you may be asked to leave a voicemail. If you are calling a legislative office in your state, it is likely that one of the legislator’s office staff – someone like Emily – will answer the phone. At this point, you should state your name, your city/state, and the message you want your senator to hear.
The staffers are used to receiving these kinds of calls! You are not bothering them, they will be polite and efficient, and they will not argue with you. Calls will often take less than 3 minutes. Staffers may also ask for your address or zipcode to confirm that you are a constituent.
After the call ends, the staffperson will record your viewpoint on a tally list that will be presented to the legislator at the end of the day. That’s why numbers are so important – not only do lots of calls send a message, they can also stall a legislative office and even delay bills entirely.
My name is [name], and I’m a resident of [city, state]. [What specific bill or issue are you calling about?] I’m calling to let the Senator know that I oppose the Better Care Reconciliation Act. [Why?] As a person with a disability, I am deeply concerned about the $700 million cut this bill will make to Medicaid. I rely on Medicaid to pay for the treatments I need in order to work, go to school, and live independently in the community. If I lose my Medicaid services, I won’t be able to afford these treatments myself. [What do you want your representative to do about it?] I want to urge the Senator to please VOTE NO on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, to protect healthcare for me and others like me.
If I give you my zipcode, could you please pass my message along to the Senator? [This will help the staffer confirm that you are a constituent.]
Thank you for taking my call!
How long should I talk?
That depends on what level of government you’re trying to reach! If you’re calling a U.S. senator or representative, you want to keep things short and sweet – get your message out quickly, so that more calls have a chance to be tallied.
If you’re calling a state senator or representative, you’ll have more time to tell your story and forge relationships with staffers because their offices aren’t as busy. Longer, more personal phone calls will force local offices to pay attention to your issue, and establish you as an authority they can use for future reference.
What should I do if my representative’s voicemail is full?
You should call back later, call your representative’s other office if they have more than one, or consider writing to your representative instead.
I have social anxiety, and phone calls are difficult for me.
That’s okay! Some of our advocates at Ability360 have social anxiety, too. We’ve found that it helps to write out what you’re going to say before you call. Reading from a script might seem uncomfortable at first, but staffers are used to it! What’s important is that you get your message across in a way that works for you. (And like all things, it gets easier and less scary with practice!)
This comic strip has helpful tips for calling your reps when you have social anxiety. You can also write a letter or email if you feel you can express yourself more confidently that way.
Should I still call legislators who don’t represent me?
No. You should only call the legislators who represent you and your district. If you cannot prove that you are a constituent, your call will probably not be recorded or tallied. Click here to learn more about who represents you in the legislature.
Writing to Your Representative
Although calls can be quicker and more immediate, writing a letter or email allows you to give a more thoughtful, detailed overview of your personal viewpoint and experiences. These letters mean more to legislators than you might think! Arizona Senator Juan Mendez says that he keeps every single handwritten letter he receives. The most powerful letters are actually brought to the legislative floor to help defend or fight their bills!
You can use the sample letter below to craft your own letter or email to your representative.
Some tips for letter-writing:
- Keep it short. Your letter should be no longer than a page, or it won’t be read!
- Get creative with your subject line. Grab your representative’s attention!
- Include a picture of you or a family member. Give a face to your story and to the bill’s potential impact.
Your City, State, Zipcode
Your Phone Number
The Honorable __________________________
House of Representatives or United State Senate
Office Address of Representative or Senator
Dear Representative/Senator __________________________,
In your first paragraph, include personal information that identifies you as a constituent:
My name is [name], I am a resident of [city, state], and I am writing to voice my concern about the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As a person [with a disability/who receives Medicaid services], I am deeply concerned about how this bill will affect me and [others like me/in the disability community].
Use facts and/or personal experiences to support your viewpoint:
[Tell your story: how will the Senate’s healthcare bill affect you?] Medicaid helps pay for the medical services I need to receive proper care, so my health can be maintained. If I lost Medicaid, I would not be able to afford the services I need to [work/go to school/live independently]. No one should lose their health coverage, and this repeal threatens the healthcare of more than 400,000 Arizonans, including women, elderly people, children, veterans, and people with disabilities. If this bill is passed, it will also:
- Cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage over the next 10 years—14 million in the first year alone
- Increase healthcare costs by as much as 20%, and even more for the elderly and those with preexisting conditions
- End the Medicaid expansion for 223,000 low-income Arizonans
- Put 7,600 Arizonans out of work by 2026, threatening the economic stability of our communities
- Force states to cut Medicaid services, such as home and community services that help people with disabilities live in the community instead of institutions
- Destabilize the financial health of rural and safety-net hospitals and providers
Give a call to action/state what you are asking for:
This bill would be devastating not just to the disability community, but to Arizona as a whole. Therefore, I urge you to please vote no on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, so that your constituents can continue to have access to the care and services they need. I thank you for your service and for considering my viewpoint.
Visiting Your Representative
Adapted from the Children’s Action Alliance. View the original text here.
Most members of Congress, state legislators, the Arizona Governor, city council members and other officials will hold constituent meetings in their communities. This is a good way to introduce yourself and learn more about the issues without having the intensity of a one-on-one meeting in an office (and also probably less rushed). Community meetings are also good ways to stay informed about the progress of on-going issues and to meet other voters in your district.
Your first step is to visit the web pages of your respective elected leaders and sign up on their e-mail lists for community announcements. If they don’t have an e-mail list, call their office to see if they host regular events. If s/he doesn’t and you’re feeling enthusiastic, you can volunteer to host one in your home or local coffee shop.
With increasingly busy schedules, it’s becoming more difficult to find time to meet personally with your state or federal officials but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You may want to organize a small group of constituents to meet instead of asking for a one-on-one or ask an advocacy or community group to help you get a meeting.
If you do get a personal meeting with your elected official, follow these guidelines:
Before the Meeting
If you want to discuss a particular piece of legislation, have the bill number available. Develop an agenda or talking points for the meeting. Decide on the key talking points for the meeting and determine the order in which you’d like to present your information. If you attend the meeting as a group, designate one or two people who will “lead” the conversation. This will help keep your message and the presentation of information clear and organized. Ensure that everyone in the group supports and will deliver the same message.
At the Meeting
Prepare to answer questions on the point(s) you address. If your elected official asks you questions to which you don’t have the answers, simply say you will look into the issue and reply back right away. This also gives you another opportunity to contact the office.
Provide informational documents that support your position. Leave a fact sheet or other materials that reinforce your position and the action(s) you would like to see taken.
Ask the elected official where she/he stands on the issue you are discussing. Ask the elected official if you can count on his/her support on the issue(s) you discussed. If your elected official or their staff disagrees or is noncommittal, don’t threaten or argue with her/him because it is counterproductive. Try to find common ground or areas of compromise. Talk about the value of your issue to you personally or to the district.
If you can’t find common ground or get your elected official on board, you may want to schedule another meeting with different constituents to show broad support for your position or sending a packet of letters from constituents. If the elected official is unfamiliar with the legislation/issue, ask her/him to review the materials you are leaving behind and say that you will follow-up in two weeks for their response.
Verify follow-up information. Confirm proper contact information for the person with whom you should follow up.
Following the Visit
Send a “thank you” for the opportunity to meet. Write a thank you letter to the elected official for taking time to meet with you and listening to your concerns. Enclose any documentation you had agreed to provide to bolster your position and briefly restate your views and what you would like him/her to do.
Follow your elected official’s position and actions on the issue. Monitor how the elected official votes and send him/her your thoughts on their position. If the elected official votes with your position on the issue, recognize that vote with a written “thank you.” If the elected official votes against your position, write or call to express your disappointment and urge reconsideration of the issue the next time it comes up for a vote.