Yes, Please Contact Your Member of Congress “Even If”
February 16, 2022
As a NETWORK organizer, I spend a lot of time talking with our field about how they can most strategically engage to advance our policy priorities. We discuss tactics like making phone calls, sending emails, writing letters to the editor, attending town halls, hosting rallies, canvassing in their communities, and so much more. In these conversations, folks often have questions about how to choose a tactic or implement it successfully. However, more than anything else, folks ask me…
“Should I still contact my Member of Congress even if they ALWAYS agree with me?”
“Should I still contact my Member of Congress even if they NEVER agree with me?”
My response is always the same, “YES! Absolutely! Please, please, please! Call them! Email them! Let them know what you are thinking!” And here is why…
If your Member of Congress “always” agrees with you, contact them! Here’s why…
- Every point of contact is an opportunity to be in relationship with your Member of Congress and their staff, and we know that relationships are POWERFUL. You want them to know exactly who you are and what you believe in. You want them to pick up the phone when you call and help you to get the lobby visit that you need. You want to be viewed as a both resource and trusted messenger. Relationships are power.
- There’s always the opportunity to address an angle or perspective that they might have not considered before. Several years ago, one of my NETWORK Advocates Teams met with a Democratic Senator’s staff about the importance of fully funding the U.S. Census. The staff indicated it was the first time anyone had addressed the issue with them but promised to investigate it further. That same Senator ended up being a HUGE advocate for making sure the U.S. Census had the funding it needed to be successful. Members of Congress and their staff work hard and are very knowledgeable about many things. However, it is a mistake to assume they know everything: you could be the one to bring an issue or piece of legislation to their attention!
- Members of Congress have to make hard choices about what gets included in legislation. Even if they generally agree with you, it is important for them to hear what YOUR policy priorities are. If they are picking from a list of 25 generally good priorities, you want them to pick the 5 that matter most to you. Similarly, it can be an opportunity to tell them where you’d like to see them provide leadership.
- Stories are powerful, and Members of Congress want to hear them! I am convinced that one of the major strengths of NETWORK’s field is how connected our members and supporters are to their communities. You all know and love your neighbors so well. You know, in a very real way, how different policies might help or harm your community. Members of Congress need to hear that. They need to hear about the lived experiences of their constituents. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for them to then take those same stories to the Floor to share them with their colleagues. Again, stories are powerful!
- Share your faith perspective! It is important to let Members of Congress know that people of faith care about an issue and are holding them accountable on it. This can be particularly important if another group from your faith perspective is advocating on the other side of an issue. Help them to understand that your faith does not take a singular position. You can be the one to provide them with cover! Beyond all that, it is particularly powerful if you can get a group of folks from diverse religious traditions advocating together on an issue.
- You better believe they’re getting calls and emails from folks with perspectives different than your own. Members and their staff need to hear your perspective too!
- Working for a Member of Congress is a tough job. Supportive calls mean a lot to staff morale!
If your Member of Congress “never” agrees with you, contact them! Here’s why…
- Even if you don’t always agree with one another, relationships are POWERFUL. Many of our advocates have found that a relationship with the local state or district level staff is both possible and meaningful (as long as they are respectful in sharing their views). In the past, these relationships have helped our advocates both to more easily schedule lobby visits with staff and to better understand a Member of Congress’ policy position (which often helps the NETWORK staff). Plus, you never know, you may agree on something! That leads me to my next point…
- It is possible to find common ground! In 2021, NETWORK hosted a Virtual Lobby Day focused on the EQUAL Act (legislation addressing racial sentencing disparities in the criminal legal system). As part of this event, over 120 NETWORK advocates went on 50 lobby visits with both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress. In the days following the event, the EQUAL Act gained 10 new co-sponsors (3 Republicans and 7 Democrats). Don’t give up—your Member of Congress might surprise you!
- You can help gather intel for NETWORK. If your Member of Congress opposes a piece of legislation, find out why! Do they have a specific concern? Is it something we can fix? As constituents, you sometimes have more information available to you than the NETWORK staff. Your report-backs can help us tremendously!
- Stories are powerful! Share your stories, and share your community’s stories! Remind them of the impact of their actions. You never know what seeds you will plant or what the impact will be.
- Share your faith perspective! It is important to let Members of Congress know that people of faith care about an issue and are holding them accountable on it. This can be particularly important if another group from your faith perspective is advocating on the other side of an issue.
- Changing policy positions is possible! My favorite example is related to health care. As it turns out, Americans like having their pre-existing conditions protected and aren’t shy about saying so. They called their Members of Congress en masse, wrote letters to the editor, rallied, and marched in the streets! A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll even found that 75% of respondents supported the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing conditions. In response, a number of GOP candidates suddenly came out in loud support of same the protections they had once fought to end. It was all due to public opinion and pressure!
- As people of faith, we are people of hope. The work of advocacy is often long and difficult, but we can take comfort in knowing that we don’t journey alone. We are accompanied in our efforts by NETWORK advocates from across the nation and are guided by the many saints who have come before us. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit is present with us each time we pick up the phone, write an email, or attend a rally. With that in mind, I believe it is possible to change hearts, minds, and votes!
Finally, in our increasingly polarized society, it seems like everyone puts their Members of Congress into one of these two categories. If we write our elected officials off that easily, they will never hear from us! So, YES, please contact your Members of Congress even if they “always” agree with you or “never” agree with you. Your advocacy matters!