Long but fascinating article about the effectiveness of various means of contacting US members of Congress. It contradicts some things I've seen (and posted) before, but unlike other advice I've seen, this directly quotes specific staff members. The information here may not be true for all members of Congress, but it's better-sourced than any other info I've seen, so I'm inclined to take it seriously.
Below is my summary of some of the key points of the article, but if you have time, I recommend reading the whole article. Some parts of it are a little dispiriting, but the message in the end seems to me to be tremendously hopeful, if we can keep going.
If you don't have time to read even my summary, I've put a summary of my summary in the final paragraph of this post.
Key points of the article, with some especially noteworthy bits bolded:
- Contrary to what I've been told, email is ‘an effective way of communicating with Congress [at least for some members of Congress]. “Everything is read, every call and voice mail is listened to,” Isaiah Akin, the deputy legislative director for Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden, told me. “We don’t discriminate when it comes to phone versus e-mail versus [paper] letter.”’
- In fact, ‘According to a 2015 C.M.F. survey of almost two hundred senior congressional staffers, when it comes to influencing a lawmaker’s opinion, personalized e-mails, personalized letters, and editorials in local newspapers all beat out the telephone.’ (Note: personalized is important here.)
- How paper mail is handled: ‘anything sent to Congress is temporarily held for testing and decontamination, to protect employees from mail bombs and toxins. Afterward, most constituent mail is scanned and forwarded to congressional offices as an electronic image.’
- Some things that aren't taken very seriously: anything that isn't from a constituent; online petitions; mass emails from advocacy groups' websites.
- Phone calls that follow scripts also aren't taken very seriously. :( So when you make a call, try to know something about what you're calling about, and try not to follow a script too closely.
- It can be very effective to ask your MoC to take action on some small thing that you're concerned about and that they weren't previously aware of.
- However, for big partisan issues, you're ordinarily unlikely to change your MoC's vote.
- However, some mass outcries have been effective. We don't know exactly what makes the difference between ineffective and effective, but some criteria might include ‘a huge quantity of people acting in concert, an unusually high pitch of passion, a specific countervailing vision, and consistent press coverage unfavorable to sitting politicians.’
- BIG IMPORTANT POINT: We are currently being surprisingly effective. There's ‘a level of citizen engagement going on out there outside the Beltway that Congress has never experienced before.’
- ‘The deluge of constituent pressure [...] is a viable long-term strategy, but only if it is a long-term strategy—that is, only if those doing it choose to sustain it. That [means] persevering in the face of both short-term defeats and the potentially energy-sapping influence of time itself.’ Persist!
- Lovely ending of article: ‘The telephone might not be a superior medium for participatory democracy, but it is an excellent metaphor for it, and it reminds us of the rights we are promised as citizens. When we get disconnected, we can try to get through. When we get no answer, we can keep trying. When we have to, for as long as we need to, we can hold the line.’
So I guess my summary of my summary is: Keep up the pressure; sending personalized email is fine; and try to avoid following scripts when making phone calls.