Contact Your Congressmen: Inspiring Large-Scale Help With Student Debt
Much of paying off student debt is constructing reliable habits and routines to slowly but surely pay back those loans. However, there are times when the metaphorical bee gets in one’s bonnet (or sun hat or baseball cap—whatever you might wear on your head), and a desire to do something about student debt and do it now arises. Do not waste this energy. In these moments, use the methods you have available to contact your congressmen and contribute your hopes for and thoughts on student debt.
Choose a Means of Getting Attention
A two-year-old I frequently watch has multiple ways of getting attention. She, with her darling voice, summons the desired person (“mom!” or me, or a sibling). She, with her imploring eyes, stares at the person she wants, then breaks into a scrunched-up-nose smile. She, with her carefully chosen yet often misunderstood words, explains the problem at hand. We should be doing the same, assuming we are the children and our representatives are the ones watching. So, familiarize yourself with multiple ways of getting attention in order to contact your congressmen. As we accrue methods, we can apply them tactfully so as to help where we can to bring student debt to the forefront of legislators’ minds.
On the “Contact Us” pages of many senators and representatives, the highly encouraged method is to make a call. Though phones for many people have become almost everything but a phone, this scenario affirms the power of talking to people, having them hear your voice. Find out who your local representatives are, find their office number on their website, and call.
In their article published during the last presidential election cycle, The New York Times strongly encouraged the phone-call method. When someone calls in, the staffers must address the problem at hand. They cannot robotically pour fourth generic answers, as happens with other contacting methods. (Okay, they can do this, but it is harder to make that work with a phone call, especially when you ask follow-up questions.)
The aforementioned New York Times article referenced advice from Emily Elsworth, a former staffer working for a couple representatives out of Utah. After a few years, she retired from this work and decided to publicize some tips on being effective in political outreach. While she did emphatically say calling is best, she did so through a series of tweets.
Her use of Twitter demonstrates one of the most effective aspects of social media: To popularize an issue you care about. You may not get your individual voice heard by congressmen, but you can promote messages and add your perspective on the student-debt conversation. Yes, go ahead and hashtag the relevant representative’s name – just bear in mind that the purpose is not to get a reply from that representative. The amount of Facebook and Twitter notifications coming in are many and are a low priority, compared to other issues staffers address. So think of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media as a means to bring the issue to the public front. You might even encourage others to call. If nothing else, you will increase the frequency of “student debt” and other key words, which could signal to legislators that the issue holds high public concern.
Mail and Email
Similar to phone calls, mail and email allow staffers to note down topics of concern. Writing a letter to ask a congressman what he or she is doing to facilitate or even contribute to the fight against student debt will most likely generate a pre-written response. It will, however, still add to whatever body of concern has been started in that office.
So yes, mail and email will almost certainly tumble into an algorithm and come out as raw data, rather than as the carefully placed adjectives and punctuation you had so proudly arranged. If you want your specific words heard, place a phone call. If phone anxiety raises its head, write out that letter, then call to read it. And then also send it as mail—might as well add to the pile of letters from people wanting something done about debt.
Use Them All
I do not think there is need to further belabor the how-to and general importance of each of these tactics. If you want more ideas, do a Google search on how to contact your congressmen. You will easily find articles like this list of creative ways to contact officials, or this handy list of student-debt related Twitter feeds you can read, retweet from, comment on, or just be inspired by.
If you have the time, or if you choose to make the time, use multiple tactics to contact your congressmen. Get your voice heard by representatives and state senators. Like the little girl I watch has discovered, we can best get attention from whoever is in charge by calling, articulating what we want, and (metaphorically) tugging at shirts. The influence of our voices can only become more prominent when we employ multiple means and encourage each other to continue to take action.