03.01.2017

Town Halls vs. Phone Calls

Jim Toes is CEO of Security Traders Association

James Toes - President & CEO, STA

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting with congressional members who have oversight of the financial services industry. During these visits, there have been times while waiting outside a congressional member’s office that I’ve overheard a staffer speaking with a constituent over the phone. More times than not, these conversations are democracy in action. Sometimes however, the calls are painful to hear due the lack of civility expressed by the caller. In those rare occasions, I have found myself closing my eyes and mumbling to myself, “Please don’t let that be an STA member.” Kidding aside, regardless of tone these calls all end the same way, with the ever-patient staffer politely saying, “The congressman/woman appreciates you calling. Thank you.”

…picking up the phone and calling your representative is a highly effective way to not only express your opinion but to have it registered and counted to somewhat the same degree as your vote.

Voter frustration, expressed at local town halls has received much attention lately. While I will not speculate as to whether these outbursts are organic or orchestrated, I will state that opinions expressed in these forums are not the sole sources of information a congressional member uses when trying to understand where their constituents stand on a particular issue. While the squeaky wheel gets oiled, congressional members do rely on data obtained through other means, like a phone call. Yes, picking up the phone and calling your representative is a highly effective way to not only express your opinion but to have it registered and counted to somewhat the same degree as your vote. I speak from firsthand experience and strongly recommend that interactions with your congressional representatives become more than a bi-annual event. If you’re inclined to try this, here are some helpful tips and resources. First, with very limited exceptions, you should only call those congressional members who represent you: two senators and one house representative. To find these individuals simply go here and type in your zip code. Second, know that congressional members appreciate unfiltered feedback from their constituents that has not been scripted by a third party. So feel confident to use your own words and voice.

Next, here is a simple and effective script to follow:

1. Give your name, city and zip code. This way they know you are a constituent.

2. State whether you expect a response. This way the staff person is able to input your remarks in the proper database.

3. State the issue and your opinion. “I am in favor of XYZ” or “I oppose XYZ.” It is not necessary to state the reason for your opinion, but if you do, brevity is best as it allows more callers to get through.

4. Please be nice. The people answering the phones are only messengers and their job is difficult enough. Thank them for their hard work.

Putting this all together, it sounds something like this.

“Hi. My name is Jim Toes. I’m a constituent from New York, zip code 11030. I do not need a response. I am in favor of the XYZ Act and hope Rep. John Doe supports it. Thank you.”

That’s it. I hope you find this information helpful in exercising a right that is not afforded in many parts of this world.

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