I am wearing my Call Congress sweatshirt right now, drinking from my Call Congress water bottle. In my dresser is a t-shirt that I wrote “Call Congress” and the phone number for the Congressional switchboard (202–224–3121) on in white puffy paint in 2017 before I found any of this other merch. My second most clicked google doc is actually a deck I made for weekly Call Congress sessions I made my friends do with me at the beginning of the Biden administration, since adapted for more global use once it got retweeted to a wider audience. Calling Congress is my whole brand.
I stumbled into it in the first year of the Trump administration during the health care fights. Republicans had spent the previous decade with one goal — to overturn the Affordable Care Act. It seemed almost miraculous then, that even when Republicans had control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, public pressure was enough to keep them from getting it done. Democrats stayed together and three Republicans joined them and it was because millions of people around the country showed up and made themselves heard.
Of course it doesn’t always work. As Waleed Shahid points out, last summer more people than ever in human history marched for racial justice and we don’t have any federal legislation to show for it. I went to my first protests for gun control and the Iraq War, two places where public pressure has at best mixed results.
And yet still, I tweet: Call Congress.
There are practical reasons of course. Politicians work for you, and they should hear from you. And even when your elected representatives are on your side of an issue, your phone calls help them prioritize issues and give them fodder for arguments with their colleagues. Occasionally they might not even know there’s an issue until you call them.
There are political reasons too, of course. Many offices mostly hear from people who are used to being heard and who have a lot of time on their hands during the day to make calls — older, richer, whiter people who tend to be more conservative. Progressives with time and energy need to make calls to balance those people out, overwhelm them if we can.
At the heart of it, though, is this: democracy belongs to all of us. Our time, our energy, our money, our voices, our votes — the future should be ours to shape. And this is why I don’t know what to do with Kyrsten Sinema.
I’ve said this about 153 times already, but in the summer of 2020 when the rest of us were preparing for the most important election of our lifetimes in the middle of a pandemic where people were losing their jobs, getting sick, and dying at an accelerated rate due to the actions of the president, Senator Kyrsten Sinema took a paid internship at a winery.
She was a sitting Senator of the United States Congress and the country was in crisis and she was INTERNING at a WINERY for MONEY.
Newsflash for Kyrsten Sinema — you’re still a sitting Senator of the United States and we’re still in crisis. We’re rapidly running out of time to address the climate crisis in any meaningful way. Republicans across the country are at best trying to suppress the vote of Black, brown, indigenous, and poor constituents, and at worst are actively trying to overthrow an election that happened nearly a year ago while prepping to make sure they are more successful at overthrowing the next one. Health care costs keep rising, wages are stagnant, and people in her state continue to go hungry and unhoused.
Meanwhile she’s on vacation in Europe and training for an Iron Man, and the only people she seems to take phone calls from these days are her donors.
At the bare minimum we should be able to expect our elected officials to take their jobs seriously. When their constituents call, we should expect them to respond. They may not always do what we want, and often it will be infuriating, even heartbreaking. But at the bare minimum we expect them to take the call.
We cannot accept less from our elected officials than meeting our urgency with their own. The crises that brought us Trump have only gotten worse, even in his absence. We only get so many opportunities to make transformative change, and I can’t help but be devastated that at this moment that we are so ill equipped. With so many people in this country fighting for each other and for our future, to be represented by someone who not only lacks the commitment and the urgency to meet the moment, and seems completely uninterested in her failure to represent her constituents, her office, or even herself is devastating.
We deserve better, and in the next election we’re going to have to go and get it.