For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Jun 30 2016
by Jake Smith

Why It's so Important (And Easy) to Connect With Your Representatives

By Jake Smith - Jun 30 2016
If the past few weeks have proved anything, it’s that political participation is critically important in today’s world. In the wake of the gay nightclub attack in Orlando, Democratic senators held a nearly-15 hour filibuster to force a vote on reforming gun laws. The floor of the House of Representatives became home to a sit-in led by Democratic House members. Most recently, the Supreme Court made history by striking down controversial Texas laws that restricted access to abortions.

In light of these events, Twitter exploded with ways to contact the representatives of every district in America. I, like so many other people, had never even considered reaching out to my elected officials before seeing this kind of reaction on my timeline. At the behest of politicians and celebrities alike, I obliged and called both my representatives and senators, expecting a complicated, rigorous process. I felt like I had done everything I could by voting in the presidential primary. In my mind, quite honestly, calling the government seemed like something that either only crazy people did or something that would lead to frustration on both ends of the call.

To my surprise, though, it’s a completely painless process. Finding the numbers of my elected officials, getting a response, and voicing my support for gun control took less than three minutes. I actually spent more time trying to come up with a way to tweet about how to reach out to my representatives than I took to share my opinion with them. Obviously, I can’t speak for every office (York County, Pennsylvania probably receives fewer calls than, say, Los Angeles County) but directly contacting the people who represent us in D.C. is remarkably easy.

It can be hard to remember that all of us, especially young people, have the power to contact our representatives. Before the events of the last month, I had never imagined calling government officials. But, if you care about anything going on in politics today, from gun control to immigration reform to abortion rights, I urge you to take full control of your personal political influence and call your senators and representatives. At the very least, you will get your message to legislators, which is absolutely worth the few minutes that it takes to do.

Start by identifying your elected officials. If you don’t know who specifically serves your district in both houses of Congress, this site will tell you who they are. Next, go to the directories of the House of Representatives and the Senate, where you can find the phone numbers, room numbers, party affiliations and committees of anyone in office. Find yours by scrolling to your state or searching by name.

Here, you have a choice. You can call, mail or do both. If you decide to send your representatives a letter, you will likely receive correspondence back within a few weeks. To mail your officials, print out a statement outlining your beliefs on a certain issue, sign it, and address it as outlined here.

If you choose to call, make sure to have your key points ready to go. You will most likely reach an aide when you call the number. When I called, a staffer answered almost immediately and listened to what I had to say, then asked for my name and address. While you may not speak directly to your congressman, your message will reach them and might have an impact on their future votes.

Above all, it is crucially important to be polite through the entire process, whether you call or mail. They will be much more likely to work with you if you are pleasant to them, no matter if you agree or dissent on the issue at hand. Don't let partisan hangups ruin a chance at being heard by the people elected to represent you.

During my call, I reached an aide at the office of Representative Scott Perry within a few rings. I introduced myself, made a brief statement about my support of the sit-in, and urged Rep. Perry to join in. The woman on the other end of the phone listened to me, asked for my address and assured me that my sentiment would reach her boss. At such a divisive time in American politics, being able to directly share my beliefs with my congressman (one who doesn't share my political affiliation, at that) was a uniquely rewarding experience, and one that any college student can easily repeat. Even if your experience doesn't go as smoothly as mine did, your voice will be heard by the people who have the power to create legislation. That in itself is a power that more people should use regularly.

Our representative democracy relies on this kind of interaction, no matter how intimidating or distant Washington, D.C. may seem. We all learned about how citizens can exert political influence in high school, but now, in a very real and effective way, we have the power to become the people that actually do it. Whether you're liberal, conservative, or somewhere in-between, you have a right to be heard. You might just be the voice that sways the next historic piece of legislation.

Lead image credit: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr Creative Commons

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Jake Smith - Syracuse University

Jake Smith is a freshman at Syracuse University majoring in magazine journalism. He watches too much TV. Follow him on Twitter @seitzonsuccess.

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