Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Advocacy Made Easy: The Call-In Action

Tongue-tied with pounding heart. Approaching my phone like it was some sort of uber-important Bat-phone under glass...

That's was me the first time I called my member of Congress. I think I was afraid that someone on the other end was going to challenge or berate me for speaking up. But guess what? That never happened. Calling Congress is funny because it is is actually No Big Deal in the actual doing of it, but it can have profound effects on public policy. Read on and I will spare you from the stress I once felt! Let's demystify the "call-in" action and make it more fun by looking at five things I've learned from years of calling in...

1. It's SUPER easy
Even though I was a tad freaked out the first time I did it, these days I usually call Congress while I'm Mommy Multitasking...doing laundry, making lunch, whatever. To show how easy it really is, I made a video in 2011 when there was a call-in day about an issue that seemed very complicated. I wanted to show that the heart of the issue was simple and it was easy to call in about it. Here are my slightly-staged scenarios with my daughter years ago with very real phone calls.

Click here to see how I called in to fight poverty while making a birthday cake with my 4 year old.

Then, click here to see how we called Congress while playing Candyland! Whee!

2. You won't be talking to a member of Congress
Relax! The person picking up the phone is likely a staffer who doesn't know very much about your issue. The job of that person is to politely take your message, write it down, and get your name (maybe your address to confirm you are a constituent). They're taking a tally of opinions. That might seem minor, but given that not many people usually bother to call in, even 10 phone calls on the same issue on the same day can be very significant!

3. Get some help to simplify the issue
If you're working with a classy group like RESULTS or Bread for the World, they'll have talking points with all the info you need. Any advocacy organization worth it's salt will provide you with bullet points and a sample script that you can customize yourself.  Action sheets and websites simplify the issue and walk you through the steps of the call with a script.

4. You can totally use notes!
(Pssst) You're on a phone. This is not Skype. They can't see you! Here's a secret I've never told anyone before, but I'm sharing with the world for the first time here...I write my name at the top of my paper. Yes. I am literally reading when I say my name. C'mon...if I can't say my own name credibly, how do you think the rest of the call would go? Using a cheat sheet is not cheating.

5. Calling can be more fun with friends
Remember how I said that even 10 phone calls on the same issue together can make a difference? Have a little call-in party. Each call only lasts 2 minutes, so you could fit 5 people in on a short coffee break. Heck, if there is a line at Starbucks you might have your call done by the time your barista hands you your latte!

6. You can leave a message

If you are feeling totally freaked out by talking to a stranger you can’t see, it’s okay. I have a trick for you. All you have to do is call after normal working hours. When I hold training sessions for new advocates, it’s usually in the evening or on the weekends and I can see how relieved my new recruits feel when they are assured that a real person will not pick up and talk to them on their first call. Talking to an aide in real time does have more impact, but is still effective to leave a message. A real human will listen to those messages and log your opinion.

There you go! To make it even easier, here's a sample of a bare bones call for a current global education action. You can add flowery language around it and drag it out for 20-30 more seconds, but this is generally how it goes:

Aide: Hello. Congressman Clay's office. 
Me: Hi, I'm a constituent with a message for the Congressman.
Aide: Go ahead, please.
Me: I'd like him to support HR 2780, the Education for All Act to help all children around the world have access to education.
Aide: Thank you, may I have your zip code?
Me: 63104
Aide: Thank you. Have a good day.
Me: Thank you. You, too.

Tah-dah! Not so bad, is it? Now, give it a try! Use this website to find your U.S. Representative if you don't know who it is, then use the script above to take action for the 57 million primary-school age kids in the world with no access to education. Here's an action sheet from RESULTS to learn more about it before you call, but for the mechanics of the call itself, you have everything you need.

Before you know it you'll be simultaneously folding laundry and changing the world like all the cool mom-advocates. Pick up the phone and save the world!