How To Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety
November 20, 2016 5:02 PM   Subscribe

How To Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety by Cordelia.

"When you struggle with your mental health on a daily basis, it can be hard to take action on the things that matter most to you. The mental barriers anxiety creates often appear insurmountable. But sometimes, when you really need to, you can break those barriers down. This week, with encouragement from some great people on the internet, I pushed against my anxiety and made some calls to members of our government. Here’s a comic about how you can do that, too."

Cordelia is a cartoonist, web developer, and accessibility advocate based in San Francisco.
posted by juliplease (34 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
My only criticism of the instructions is about setting aside a single block of time to do it all. Making separate reservations to a) look up your reps' contact numbers, b) script your statement and c) make the call may be better, giving you more time to "take a breath" between steps. Just not too far apart; best like 9AM, 11AM and 1PM of the same day.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:16 PM on November 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

"...they don't have time to judge you by how well you delivered your message" is helpful to hear. Thanks, juiplease.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:25 PM on November 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

It's perfectly normal to feel anxious when you're talking to someone who actively hates you and proudly plans to ruin your life.
posted by adept256 at 5:58 PM on November 20, 2016 [30 favorites]

I could be calling someone who actively wants to hand me a sackful of gold doubloons and fifteen miles of cotton blue yarn and I'd still have anxiety enough to keep me off the phone. Sometimes it's nervousness, and sometimes it's a mental disorder.
posted by XtinaS at 6:02 PM on November 20, 2016 [46 favorites]

Really, the reps just want to log your call and move on with their lives. They're not generally interested in debating your position with you, nor does the quality of your presentation affect your message.

Sometimes it's nervousness, and sometimes it's a mental disorder.

This post (a) is specifically aimed at people with social anxiety (as the title indicates) and (b) makes a point of reassuring those who are incapable of making calls that they can contribute in other ways, so...
posted by praemunire at 6:17 PM on November 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is very useful; thank you. I was able to get a machine and not a full one, when I called Paul Ryan, but I must confess I was so relieved to not get a person, especially since I'm not a constituent and didn't expect a receptive staffmember. I still felt really shaky then realized, "OK, not so bad. I can do this". Writing letters does feel more comfortable, but from what I've read, calls are the way to go.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:24 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing to remember if it helps with anxiety: you're not going to talk to the representative. You're going to talk to a 22-year-old recent grad. Who takes these calls literally all day long. Even if you stutter and stammer, you won't be the weirdest person they talk to that hour, much less that day.
posted by lunasol at 6:31 PM on November 20, 2016 [32 favorites]

I did this! I did it at the beginning of the week, felt a mixture of a rush and absolute terror, wrote a triumphant and encouraging Facebook post about how great the conversation was, and THEN REALIZED I'D CALLED THE WRONG REPRESENTATIVE. (I recently moved to the area and my rep was up for re-election; when I saw the wrong name when I entered my address, I just figured, oh, she must have lost to this stupid Republican, of course she did, everything is terrible. Nope! I just live close to the edge of a district.) But! Even having all my worst telephone related fears come true didn't stop me - I've been calling nonstop since then. It's addictive. Try it!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:37 PM on November 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

The part I have a hard time with is--I have the anxiety, AND I have a lot of experience with my state (Wisconsin), and I'm 100% certain nothing I say, and even no tally, will sway my representative and one of my senators. So, it's hard to feel like making the call is even effective in any way. I still do it, because it seems like the right thing to do, but I'm really unsure as to whether it is. I wonder if I should be spending my energy finding other ways to try to effect change. I honestly don't know, this is all pretty new to me.
posted by TheFantasticNumberFour at 6:41 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can prep by listening to some talk-back radio. I imagine it's the same people calling politician's offices. It must take some nerve to say on the radio that the Earth is flat and complain for five minutes about your grand-daughter wearing jeans like a harlot. Real old man yells at cloud stuff. A good dose of that and you can be reassured you're probably the first sane person they've talked to all day.
posted by adept256 at 6:42 PM on November 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have social anxiety, but I know I can make phone calls when I really want to. My problem is just straight-up scheduling: I work from 8 to 5, and I really can't make political phone calls while I'm at work. I'm trying to come up with a work-around.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:43 PM on November 20, 2016

I can't make political calls at work, either. I've been using my cell phone at lunch when I can.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:58 PM on November 20, 2016

For everyone who feels social anxiety: I have called multiple times and only gotten through to voice mail. And you can hang up on voice mail and call back if you panic. All you have to do is read your three sentences into the recorder and hang up. (Use this spreadsheet for phone numbers and scripts if you don't want to write your own.)
posted by instamatic at 7:14 PM on November 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, you can call nights and weekends--I have not gotten different results depending on whether I call during business hours or any other time. (This may be less true later in the year when offices are not being totally flooded with calls, but the three offices I've called were entirely voicemail, all the time. Except Paul Ryan, whose voice mail was entirely full. I've heard if you wait five minutes and call back, the voicemail will be reset so you can leave a message.)
posted by instamatic at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I make my political calls on my cell at lunch. Which makes it extra annoying if I can't get through, but does give an extra frisson of virtue.
posted by praemunire at 7:21 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found the most helpful thing was calling from my rotary bakelite phone and lapsing into a Katherine Hepburn voice.

Whatever works.
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 PM on November 20, 2016 [21 favorites]

I understood the "set aside a block of time" part to mean "get prepared by looking up the numbers you'll be calling and writing your script, then set aside a block of time just for the call." I find that does actually help.

This is a good post. I am having a year's worth of busy-ness smushed into my month, but I have been making calls to representatives in between other things. Ordinarily, that'd be really nerve-wracking for me, but it's gone well, which is encouraging me to keep at it. The relevant MeTa has some useful stuff, too, like the We're His Problem Now things that instamatic linked.
posted by byanyothername at 9:23 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

TheFantasticNumberFour, here's something I came across last night which was new to me - "notice and comment" on administrative agency proposals. Commenting can be done online.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 10:30 PM on November 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is nice, because my voice did shake when I called a rep last week and a real person answered, and now I don't feel so self-conscious. Thanks!
posted by amarynth at 4:08 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for posting this, and thanks especially to instamatic for posting the spreadsheet which includes what the heck to say when you call. For those of us that hate phones AND have never called our reps before, it helps immensely to know what to say & what to expect. Those staffers are going to be BUSY.
posted by yoga at 4:33 AM on November 21, 2016

This is nice, because my voice did shake when I called a rep last week and a real person answered, and now I don't feel so self-conscious. Thanks!

I called my rep's office and left a voicemail, and I started crying about three words in, so I'm not even sure the entire message was audible, but as I was calling to thank him for publicly taking a stand against Bannon, I'm hoping whoever got the message will just think of it as "passionate support." Maybe?
posted by lazuli at 5:52 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

When calling, is it better to stick to one point per phone call? I have so many points I want to make but I'm afraid they will be lost if I "and, and, and, and".
posted by jvilter at 6:01 AM on November 21, 2016

When calling, is it better to stick to one point per phone call? I have so many points I want to make but I'm afraid they will be lost if I "and, and, and, and".

I am not an expert, but I heard that it is, and that's it's best to not call too many times. Once per week per person is good. I have friends who have been calling more often and staffers now recognize them so I fear they might get labeled as cranks.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:12 AM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another thing to keep in mind, if you've been procrastinating (I have, mainly for logistical reasons but also phone anxiety reasons) is that when a particular issue arises, there will be a flood of calls. Then those calls will naturally drop off as all the people on fire about it have already made their calls. Think of yourself as the rear guard: your phone call about the same issue won't be one of the first flood, but it will be keeping the pressure up, over the long term. So don't just go "Oh, sod it, I missed my window." Gird your loins to be the little needle that keeps poking poking poking long after the initial flood of calls tapers off.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:41 AM on November 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

I hesitate to call myself an expert, but I've worked on the Hill and as a professional grassroots organizer/trainer, so I feel confident in my opinions here: try to keep it to one issue per call (the logging programs don't handle multi-issue calls gracefully and the intern will probably just log the first issue you mention), and no more frequently than every few days. We did get frequent flyers and your opinion still gets recorded in the system, but there might be some eye-rolling if you are "that person who calls about EVERYTHING." Basically, structure your talking points with the awareness that there's a database the staff are using to track constituent sentiment, and it wants to know who the person is, where they live, how they contacted the office (phone/email/etc), what the issue is, and yes/no. If you're not having an in-person meeting, nuance is kind of a waste. They can take some notes, but they won't be detailed, so don't go nuts with that. Generally at the end of the week (or more frequently, depending), a staffer will run a report for the elected based on that data to see what kinds of contacts the office is getting on which issues.

Also, it is still totally worth calling even if your member is already doing what you want or has already voted. I used to run campaigns called "thank and spanks" - after the fact contacts. If your member does what you want, give them political cover.

If you REALLY want to spend less time cold-calling, if you've got one issue you care the most about, find out who staffs that issue and get their card/email address. And then send them relevant, concise information (like recent news articles from respectable sources, white papers, etc) periodically when registering your opinion. Not constantly, and don't demand replies, but just be consistent and helpful. And try to meet them in person if possible when they're in-district so they can put a face to a name. Then you get to be the savvy constituent who isn't a jerk AND sends data points that can be worked into weekly memos for the boss/talking points. Most personal staff are jacks-of-all-trades and handle more than one issue, so if you can make their job easier by doing some research for them, they will appreciate and respect you, and your opinion will matter that much more.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:54 AM on November 21, 2016 [46 favorites]

Oh, and, writing original-text emails is also worth it in addition to a call if you have the time. We had a program that would automatically identify and batch all of the copy-paste emails so that we didn't have to read each one separately to log and respond to them, but original ones did take time to read, and generally for the top issues in each week's report, we'd pull a sample letter on each side of the issue for the boss and the legislative director to read so that they could better understand specifically what people were thinking. If you can write clearly and concisely, do it!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:57 AM on November 21, 2016 [25 favorites]

"You've probably heard that one of the most effective ways to advocate ... is to call your local representatives."

It's great to call your "local representatives," but you have to know who those are -- i.e., you have to know that you are in their Congressional district. If you call the office of a rep who is not in your district, their staff will not consider you a constituent and will weight your opinion accordingly or may even screen you out. You can call Paul Ryan all you want, but if you're not in his district, your call may not get the attention you think it deserves -- if it gets any attention at all.

Here's a link to find your rep by zip code. Here's a full directory of members of the House.

Also, writing a letter to your rep and sending it by snail mail still carries weight that a phone call and/or email may not. Consider writing a letter.
posted by blucevalo at 7:31 AM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

1. Move to Washington DC
2. Congratulations! You no longer have representation in Congress. Problem solved!
posted by schmod at 7:46 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Quick question cause I'm a dummy: what kinds of issues would be better directed at a House Rep than a state rep or is it everyone?
posted by The Whelk at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2016

I don't quite understand this question? Your state legislators don't vote on bills before Congress, they don't have the power of confirmation of certain presidential appointments...? What am I not getting?
posted by praemunire at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2016

I called on my lunch, and the first call was hardest. After the second or third it got pretty easy.

One thing I've heard and I'm interested to see if it matches other people's experience is that empathy beats anxiety. If you can feel that you're doing this for someone else, it is much easier.
posted by stoneegg21 at 1:51 PM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

House rep = Federal rep = Your representative in the federal US House of Representatives. They vote on federal legislation. When people talk about "Congress" or "The House," this is mainly what they're talking about. You can find your US rep here.

State rep = Your district representative in your state's legislature, who can vote on statewide legislation. You can probably find your state rep by googling "Find [STATE NAME] rep."

However! I think many people use the term "state rep" when they mean "federal rep," so that might get confusing. Basically, if an issue is national, contact your US House of Representatives person. If an issue is state-wide, contact your [STATE NAME] representative person (your state may also have a different name for that; in California, for instance, those people are "Assemblypeople").

There are likely tricks to knowing whether a particular piece of legislation is federal or state, in terms of how it's named, but I'm not confident enough in my knowledge of that to make assertions. It's also totally fine to contact your federal/US reps about issues in your state (because part of their job is to help their constituents) and to contact your local/state reps about national issues (because maybe they could put in place local bills to at least cover the local residents). Does that help?
posted by lazuli at 7:40 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

You also have US Senators, two for each state and who represent every person in the state in the U.S. Senate, and likely also a [STATE NAME] state senator, who represents your district in your own state's legislature. Same thing, with US Senators voting on nationwide bills, and state senators voting on statewide legislation. The president has power to veto (and influence) national legislation; your state's governor can veto and influence statewide legislation.

Your city and/or county likely has a similar-ish structure in terms of who can write, approve, or veto legislation, too. When people say to get involved at a local level, this is the level they generally mean.
posted by lazuli at 8:51 PM on November 21, 2016

You're going to talk to a 22-year-old recent grad. Who takes these calls literally all day long. Even if you stutter and stammer, you won't be the weirdest person they talk to that hour, much less that day.
This is so helpful to remember. I called my rep today and got a very polite staffer, even though I was pretty bumbly.

On calling Paul Ryan, I reeeeeally want to call with this script:

"Hi Paul,
I don't know if you remember me but we're in 4th period French together and I sit in the back. Anyway, um, I just thought know... you seem like a really neat person and I was um wondering if you wanted to you know get coffee some time or something. No big deal or anything, just you know, just like hang out or something. Anyway, ah, see you round."
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:15 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!   |   The Next Step for Neuromorphic Chips Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments