How to Make Your Representatives Listen to You

February 3rd 2017

Ethan Simon

So far, Donald Trump's presidency has been tumultuous, to say the least. His first two weeks on the job saw hundreds of thousands of women taking to the streets in Washington and around the globe in protest. And after his now-infamous refugee ban, thousands more citizens lined up at airports across the country to say no to the executive order. The United States arguably hasn't seen activism like this since the 1960s. 

Women's March Washington DC Anti-Trump

In addition to take to the streets, many are also looking to engage the political system and asking the question:

How can I most effectively pressure my elected officials?

In the past few days people have protested at the homes of Senators Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer to demand they vote "no" on Trump's cabinet nominees. During the Obama years, right-wing Tea Partiers attended town hall after town hall meeting, urging their representatives in Washington to pursue their agenda. Elected officials must, at some point, respond to the public's demands or risk losing their power. Here, then, are a few things you should do—and not do—to make sure you're successful when pressuring your representatives.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi


  • Meet them in person. The most effective way to put pressure on an elected official is with a face-to-face meeting. Call your representative's office and schedule an appointment, either alone or with a group, either in Washington, DC, or at one of their local field offices. Phone numbers for field offices can be found at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov
  • Go to a town hall. This Google Doc lists upcoming town halls for members of Congress. The Tea Party used this tactic to great effect during the Obama administration. Here are 10 tips for attending a town hall from the Spina Bifida Association.
  • Call them on the phone. If you don't have the time to meet them in person, a phone call is the next best thing. Your emails and letters can be ignored, but calls that tie up the lines at your congressperson's office can really slow things down. While most people choose to call the DC office, it can often be more effective to call your representative's local office. Emily Ellsworth, a former congressional staffer and author of the self-published guide Call the Halls: Contacting Your Representatives the Smart Way, writes that "state office staffers are members of your community. They usually live within the district and are tasked with specific constituent assignments." If you don't get through the first time, call and call again. Sometimes the lines are tied up but, with patience, you'll reach a real person eventually.
  • Be polite. Your elected officials get many, many phone calls. The constituents that yell at them over the phone aren't going to get as much consideration as the ones perceived as reasonable, concerned voters. 

Rayburn Congressional Office Building Washington DC

  • Be prepared. Unsurprisingly, phone lines are swamped these days. You likely will not have much time to talk to a staffer. Have a few "key points" ready and be succinct.
  • Give your address. Sometimes, not offering your address can land you on the "not a constituent" list, and lawmakers tend to disregard the opinions of people who don't live in their districts. Offer your name, address, and zip code at the outset of the call to avoid any confusion.
  • Ask to speak to an expert. If you want to talk at length about an issue, you can ask to be passed on to a staff member with expertise in a particular policy area. Depending on how busy the office is, they will often oblige you. This can be a great way to influence someone who has the representative's ear on a particular issue. 


  • Give up. You might not believe it, but calling your elected officials really does work. Just look at Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two Republicans who bailed Wednesday on Betsey DeVos' bid for secretary of education. On the Senate floor Wednesday, Murkowski said: "I have heard from thousands — truly thousands — of Alaskans who shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos as secretary of education."
  • Use a script. If you're extremely nervous about talking on the phone, a script can be helpful — but your representative's staffers have definitely heard the script before, and your voice might not be remembered or ring out. According to former congressional staffers, a personal story is always better than a script.



  • Call someone else's representative. If you don't live in their district or state, don't call them. You're wasting your time. Members of Congress who don't represent you don't care what you think — and, indeed, they'll probably resent you for tying up the lines while their actual constituents are trying to get through.

So get to it!

In the end, the tried-and-true advice is always best. Said Zack Wortman, border states director of the North Carolina Coordinated Campaign: "It tends to be best to focus on your own representatives. Don't be discouraged by a busy signal, keep trying. When someone picks up, be courteous and have brief talking points ready to explain your reasoning."

And if you need an extra kick in the pants, there are resources to help. Sites like 5 Calls and Daily Action will connect you directly with your representative, provide you with info about the issues, and most importantly—remind you to do it every day.