Why You Should Not Call Members Who Aren’t Yours

Calling Members of Congress (MoCs) that are not yours is actually counterproductive to successfully deploying constituent power. The only Members of Congress you should be calling are YOUR two Senators and YOUR Representative in the House. There are no exceptions. Here’s why.

Members of Congress don’t care what people outside of their district (for House) or state (for Senators) think. Remember, MoCs care first and foremost about getting re-elected—and the people who can cast actual votes for or against them are their own constituents. If you can’t vote for or against them in their next election, they don’t care what you think—they are laser-focused on their district/state only. Good staffers will ask for a zip code to ensure they’re speaking to an actual constituent. If they don’t, chances are your phone call is not getting memorialized in any way.

When you call a MoC who isn’t yours, you make it harder for actual constituents to reach their own MoCs. People from Maine need to be able to reach Senator Collins about the issues they care about. People from Alaska need to be able to reach Senator Murkowski about the issues they care about. And so on. But if phones are ringing off the hook from other states, actual Mainers and actual Alaskans—the people Senators Collins and Murkowski really care about—can’t get through. Phones are congested enough as it is—don’t be part of this problem.

Calling from out of district/state gives MoCs an excuse to dismiss legitimate concerns about an issue. For example, if Senate staffers have the sense that most phone calls are coming in from out of state, they will tell their boss that. That gives the Senator a reason to dismiss call volume as the concern of “out-of-state troublemakers” (which they don’t care about) instead of the concerns of their actual constituents (which they should and most times do care about). This example from Senator Murkowski underscores that Senators do care and take note of where calls are coming from:

Murkowski: Well, as a very immediate for instance, this morning I was given the update on what we are receiving in incoming calls, incoming emails, and who they’re from. And as of—what did we hear this—10:30 I guess—the bulk of the calls were coming from the Lower 48, which is understandable because Alaskans are not up yet.

But wait, aren’t there exceptions?

No. There are no exceptions. Not even if:

  • The issue is of national importance. Many issues are, and votes taken by Senators certainly affect all Americans, not just constituents from their state. But calling from out of district/state is still counterproductive for all of the reasons above, no matter how much national significance an issue carries.

  • The MoC is in House or Senate leadership. Yes, majority and minority leaders and other members of leadership are in charge of their entire caucuses, and they hold more influence and power than anyone else in their party. But that still doesn’t mean they care what people who aren’t their constituents think—they don’t. You should only call Nancy Pelosi if you live in California's 12th Congressional district. You should only call Mitch McConnell if you live in Kentucky. And you should only call Chuck Schumer if you live in New York, for all of the same reasons above.

  • The senator is a swing vote. This is where it’s particularly counterproductive for you to make out of district/state phone calls. If a Senator is on the fence on an issue, it means they are going to weight the views of their constituents even more heavily than they usually would. But to do that, they have to be able to hear from their own constituents. They can’t do that if out-of-state callers are jamming phone lines or making staff think that opposition is coming strictly from out-of-state and not in-state.

  • The MoC is on a specific committee of jurisdiction over an issue. Committee assignments matter, and members of committees of jurisdiction sometimes have more influence than members off-committee. But that makes it all the more important that constituents of that MoC make phone calls to them—not that everyone makes phone calls to them.

OK, so… What does work?

Calling YOUR two Senators and YOUR member of the House. Going to a town hall. Scheduling a district office visit. Finding your MoCs at public events. Actions that take more effort on your part have more impact. Actions that take very little effort have weak impact. The original Indivisible Guide has more details on each of these tactics here.