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Civic Engagement and Making Your Voice Heard

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Advocacy and LobbyingWritten by Pierre Berastaín, Assistant Director of Innovation and Engagement, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

How to become civically engaged

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or from any other political party or ideology, you probably feel strongly about some issues Congress and the Trump administration are considering. From advocacy around the DREAM Act to proposed changes to the Senate budget, grassroots advocacy is essential to hold lawmakers accountable and make them aware of the impact their decisions have on millions of people.

As an individual, however, you might be wondering how you can make your voice heard, what impact you can have, and what tools you have available to send a clear message to your members of Congress. Here are some tips:

Contact your members of Congress via phone or email: 

Here are some steps for contacting your lawmakers:

  • Find your members of Congress by entering your zip code on https://www.govtrack.us. The search will give you their phone numbers, Twitter handles, and links to their official websites.
  • Pick up the phone and call each one of them. You can ask to speak directly with the staffer in charge of the issue you care about (healthcare, immigration, tax reform, domestic violence, gun control, etc.)
  • If they do not pick up or their voicemails are full, send them an email. Just go to the lawmakers’ official websites, and click on the option to “Contact” them.

Contacting members of Congress really does make a difference. Every Senator’s and Representative’s office I have met with says that the pressure works. Even if you live in a state whose lawmakers align themselves with your views, your calls make a difference because for every call in favor of an issue, your lawmaker is receiving as many calls in opposition.

Wondering what to say once you contact them? Here is a good formula:

  • State the topic you are contacting them about as well as your position (one sentence)
  • Explain why you strongly believe in your position (one or more sentences)
  • State how you, as a constituent, expect your member of Congress to vote (one sentence).

Here is how the formula works if you are in support of the DREAM Act:

Dear Senator […],

I write to express my support for the DREAM Act. When President Trump rescinded the DACA program on September 5, 2017, he left 800,000 young people at risk of deportation. It is critical for Congress to act and protect these exemplary members of our society, and so I ask that you vote in support of the DREAM Act. 

Here is how the formula works if you reject proposed Senate budget cuts:

Dear Senator […],

I am writing in regards to the Senate Budget Proposal. The proposed cuts to safety net programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, TANF, and SSI which would endanger victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who often rely on these important resources to escape abuse. I urge you to support investing in non-defense discretionary funding and social safety net programs such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA) to ensure that the more than 1.3 million victims of domestic violence and their children have access to vital services they need to escape abuse.

Remember that calling once is not enough. Try to make it a point to call three or more times a week. Just put it on your calendar, if you can. Staffers tally up all the times constituents contact them about a specific topic, and different staffers take turns answering calls, so it is rare that you will talk to the same person on the other line. Even if you do talk to the same person, to them you will just be a dedicate constituent who really cares about the topic you are calling about.

Flood your member of Congress’s social media accounts

Use https://www.govtrack.us to find your lawmakers’ Twitter handles and send them messages to express your opinion. Here is why this works: Washington is run by 20 year olds. The people who monitor social media accounts are typically young interns or recent college graduates working for a member of Congress. One of their jobs is to monitor what constituents are saying via social media and prepare brief reports that summarize those messages for their bosses. The more messages staffers see around specific issues, the more likely they are to bring the issues to your representatives, and the more likely your representatives are to pay attention.

You might not have time to Tweet all day, and that’s perfectly understandable. That’s why you can sign up for TweetDeck, a free tool that lets you schedule tweets ahead of time. Just spend fifteen minutes a day scheduling tweets for the next day.

Contact those you do business with

Take 15-30 minutes to contact the companies you do business with, from credit card companies to utilities; cable, internet, and cellphone providers; and grocery stores. You can ask them to contact members of Congress in their states and exert pressure for a specific cause. If you are a DREAMer, for example, let the companies know that you use their services and that you are a DACA beneficiary impacted by the president’s decision to terminate the program. Then, ask whether the CEOs have expressed support for the DREAM Act as 300 other CEOs have. If they have not, ask them why and urge them to do so. You can also use social media to contact these companies and businesses, urging them to support your cause.

Post your opinions and stories on Facebook and YouTube

If you or someone you know is impacted by the decisions Congress or the Trump administration makes, then take a few minutes to record your story and post it on Facebook or YouTube. People connect with personal stories, and we need these stories for people to put a face to the issues. You only need your cellphone or computer camera to record yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Limit your story to about three minutes. People’s attention span is short.
  • If you record on a phone, make sure to position the phone horizontally and not vertically. This allows your video to be viewed on wide-screen format.
  • Very much like the formula for contacting members of Congress, use a similar structure to record your video: (1) state the issue, (2) tell your story and how you are impacted by the issue, (3) ask your members of Congress to vote the way you want them to, and ask your friends to support you in your advocacy efforts.
  • If you are comfortable, set your post to “public” on the privacy settings so that people can share with others.

Sign up for Countable

Countable is a great, free platform to become politically engaged. The tool is available on desktop and as an app on your phone, and it allows you to:

  • Read summaries of legislation that Congress is considering
  • Tell your lawmakers whether to vote “Yea” or “Nay” just by clicking a button
  • Write messages to your members of Congress
  • Record videos and send them to your lawmakers
  • Engage with other Countable users on public debates about issues
  • Register to vote

Organize Advocacy Groups 

Call a group of friends, order pizza or your favorite food, and invite everyone to your home. Ask them to bring their computers and phones, and start contacting members of Congress, messaging them on social media, and making your voice heard to the business community. If you organize people at night, after work, no problem: you can still leave voice messages, send emails, use social media, write brief messages, and record short videos.

It is no exaggeration to say the future of our country depends on our collective voices and participation in the democratic process. The ideas in this article are just a few actions you can take to become more engaged, but please feel free to share more on the comments.

Note: A version of this article first appeared on the Huffington Post. See the original article here.

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