‘How to contact Congress’ is what’s wrong with Congress

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The viral tweets this weekend from former staffer Emily Ellsworth demonstrate what’s wrong with Congress. The habits Emily is promulgating are dangerous for our democracy.

First, let me acknowledge the good: It’s great to see people encouraging civic engagement!

{mosads}Now the bad: I must adamantly disagree on HOW we engage. It’s time for Congress to evolve and to hear from constituents through the channels that people use to communicate now – and that’s not via picking up the phone, and definitely not snail mail. We should not encourage letters and phone calls only because doing so creates a barrier – it prevents more voices from being heard. People complain about polarization, yet the fact that Congress makes it difficult for Americans to reach out via online platforms (like email) only makes this problem worse. The moderate majority is not being heard: activists and extremists take the time to campaign around phone calls. Plus, a staffer cannot possibly speak with every interested constituent on the phone. There are simply not enough hours in the day.

I understand that phone calls “can’t be ignored” but every industry except government has evolved to accept electronic feedback. We communicate our opinions on review platforms like Yelp, and to brands/companies directly through their websites, email, and even via twitter. (I once booked a JetBlue flight through Twitter during the December 2010 North American Blizzard. And anyone who has dealt with costumer service via the phone vs. Twitter knows that tweets are more efficient and effective.) Consider this analogy: We now can order food by (a) going to a restaurant in person, (b) calling and picking it up, or (c) online through services like Seamless or the store’s own app. Just because I order through an app does not mean I care less about my food tasting good. Just because I want to contact Congress electronically, does NOT mean I care less.

We’re paying politicians’ salaries with our tax dollars. Imagine hiring an employee and having that person say to you, “You must call me to reach me. I will not respond to your emails.” Would you say that to your boss?

I urge you to reach out to your representatives and their staffers electronically (assuming that’s your preferred style) and leave archaic methods of communication where they should be, in the past.

Maria Yuan is founder of IssueVoter, a nonpartisan website that gives people a way to stay informed and connected to elected officials. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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