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Twenty-three days into Donald Trump’s Presidency and his administration is already rewriting all the rules. Yes, this is true in a depressingly literal sense — see his flurry of unconstitutional Executive Orders, his unprecedented placement of Chief White Supremacist Strategist Stephen Bannon at the head of the National Security Council, or his apparent insistence on conducting all international diplomacy via Twitter—but I’d like to take a look at one particular side effect of the political chaos: Capitol Hill has had to fundamentally change the way it gets shit done.
Prior to the Day The Earth Stood Still And Tried Not To Vomit (which you may, at your leisure, interpret as referring to either November 8 or January 20), it was usually pretty easy to reach your elected official’s DC or district office—and it was by far the most effective way for constituents to influence their vote. Conservatives availed themselves of this tactic much more reliably than liberals—Republican callers tended to outnumber Democratic callers by at least 4 to 1—and that persistence has paid off handsomely for them: the GOP is the most ideologically conservative it’s been in decades, whereas until recently one might have assumed that most Democrats in Congress were not, in fact, human beings but invertebrates.
Here’s the good news: since Trump’s ascent to the Presidency, the moderate-to-left contingent (i.e. the majority) of the American electorate has been politically engaged like never before—we’re marching in droves and frenziedly calling our representatives and quite literally obstructing business as usual—and Congress is finally taking notice!
And… here’s the bad news: there are so many people calling Congress that the phones are completely jammed. And it seems like no one can agree on the next best way for constituents to make their voices heard. The bureaucratic infrastructure of our government is outrageously outdated, with no standard practices in place for collating constituent feedback, and staffers seem split on whether or not voicemail or email or even fax leaves much of an impression (protip: maybe don’t send your Senator a pizza with a note attached? A+ for creativity, though, @juliasilge). Still, not all of us have 12 hours to redial and redial and redial every single phone number for every single district office for every single one of our representatives, so here’s some advice that might help you get your message through to your representatives.
Send an email—and get on the mailing list
Sure, sending an email through a web form feels like the most functionally useless way there is of trying to get in touch with someone—especially an elected representative—and the jury is out on whether or not it’s an effective way of getting a staffer’s attention. (Pro: your message gets sent directly to the staffer or department responsible for whichever issue you specify! Con: if staffers don’t even have time to answer everyone’s phone calls, when are they supposed to find the time to read all this email?)
However! These web forms typically ask for your address—including your zip code—and give you the option to sign up for a mailing list. CLICK “YES”! DO IT! Subscribe to every single one of your representatives’ mailing lists! Those emails are going to be your best source of information on upcoming town halls and in-person events—and those offer by far your best opportunity to make an impression.
Send a fax using the Power Of The Internet
Results on this particular technique vary, as some offices just receive faxes through a digital inbox—making them no more or less effective than email. But some offices—such as Senator Toomey’s (PA-R) Pittsburgh office—still have fax machines! It can’t hurt, right?
You’re in luck! One e-faxing service in particular— FaxZero—is making this really easy for us. Their dedicated “Fax Your Representatives” section provides a list of fax numbers for every single member of Congress and even includes a handy PDF with tips on contacting your representatives. However, there are a few caveats: first of all, their lists appear not to include any contact information for representatives’ district offices (whose staffers tend to be more available to record and respond to constituent feedback)—all the numbers I’ve examined are for D.C. offices. Second of all, FaxZero will only let you send up to 5 free faxes per day—and every fax you send will include FaxZero branding on the cover page.
Fortunately, other e-fax services abound, though none let you send quite as many free pages as FaxZero. On the browser, there’s MyFax, which pretty much invented e-faxing and which allows you to send 2 free faxes per 24 hours. And if you’re looking for a mobile app, you’ve got even more options.
If you want to save money and you only want to send one or two faxes, FaxBurner might be a good choice, although the way it works is a little convoluted—FaxBurner assigns you a fax number, which you can use for 24 hours to send and receive faxes for free; after your 24 hours expire, you can request a new fax number. Here’s the catch: you can only send five pages for free, total, for as long as you have the account, so if you plan on doing this a lot you won’t be able to rely on them for very long.
To be honest, there aren’t a lot of great free options on the market—most fax services, even e-fax services, cost money. If you are willing to invest in this technique, I recommend Genius Fax. It’s a fairly intuitive (in my experience) iOS app by the makers of the truly indispensable Genius Scan, and reasonably affordable to boot: you can fax a single page for $1 or buy 50 pages’ worth of credit for $20. The catch with this app, as with most mobile fax apps, is that you’ll need to either scan a physical document with your phone or send a PDF/image to your device.
Call committees, not just Congresspeople
At the end of the day, calling is still the most effective way to get in touch with Congress. Fortunately, however, calling your representative is not your only recourse! All members of both the House and the Senate each have several committee assignments—and each committee has its own office with its own fleet of staffers. First of all, familiarize yourself with the various committee assignments of your Senators and your Representatives. If you’re trying to reach your congressperson about an issue that is particularly pertinent to one of their committee assignments, you’re in luck! Look up the contact information for that committee (most committees have websites, and most of those websites have phone and fax numbers) and call away (or fax, using the above techniques).
What if none of your reps serve on a committee that pertains to your issue? Good news: since the committee is a function of the federal government as a whole, your call will be logged no matter what! But please, please, please—do not call the local or DC offices of congresspeople outside your state/district! All you’ll do is clog up the phone lines for their constituents.
There you have it: a handy-dandy guide to using the internet to bug the ever-loving dickens out of your elected officials until they agree to properly represent your interests! Happy resisting, friends.