Petitioning our government is not only a right but a responsibility. Now on GovTrack we’ll walk you through how to call Congress about bills you have an opinion on. Look for the new “Call Congress!” buttons on all bill pages on GovTrack.
When you click Call Congress, we’ll ask if you support or oppose the bill, and then we’ll give you a script you can read from — if you want — when calling Congress so that your call is effective. And, to make the call really easy, we’ll call you. You enter your phone number, we call you, and then automatically your call is patched into the office of your representative. Right now we’re only able to have you call your representative in the House, but we’ll add the ability to call senators soon.
Give it a try and let your voice be heard!
I first became interested in constituent communication in 2007 when I attended a conference in DC about it instead of studying for a really important PhD exam the next day. What I learned at the time was:
Congressional offices are ridiculously overloaded with communication with the public. 313 million emails came into Congress in 2006 (iirc), which if you do the math … is in the ballpark of 300-2000 emails per office per day. And given the current office budgets allowing for just a few people (in the House) to be dedicated to dealing with communications like that, there is no way, as passionate as they are about it (which also became quite evidence both from the staffer panelists and those that were in the audience), for them to respond to all communications.
Writing Congress is not just a hard problem for constituents but it’s also a hard problem for Congress. Congressional offices absolutely do want to hear from their constituents, but they have a lot of constituents writing in about any of around 10,000 bills before Congress.
I used to think that phone calls made for bad advocacy. They’re inefficient, there’s no guarantee the congressional office is going to even write down that you called, and there’s no public record of your advocacy. That’s all still true. But, as it happens, a phone call is also perhaps the least-bad option. Phone calls are still, on balance, an effective form of advocacy. And crucially it is just a lot cheaper for websites like GovTrack to build a phone call tool than to build a letter-writing tool. So that’s what we did.
This isn’t my first foray into constituent communication:
- We tried a collaborative letter writing experiment (results) here in 2009. What we learned from that is that anything that looks like a petition is really not particularly effective. Constituents need to take personal action, whether it be a personal letter or a phone call.
- The Congressional Management Foundation worked for many years on devising a better technological approach for submitting constituent letters to congressional offices, which I helped with. Ultimately these efforts needed buy-in from Congress. There was no interest from the Senate (no surprise) and while the House began implementing some of our work, we’re many years later now with no results.
- I spent 18 months building POPVOX, a platform for advocacy, which helps constituents write letters to Congress. That actually worked really well. Unfortunately when you quit your own start-up it becomes difficult to maintain relations going forward, so we can’t use that on GovTrack.