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Don’t be a jerk when you call Congress to save net neutrality

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Net neutrality advocates are asking people to call members of Congress this week to demand action. It’s a good idea to contact your senators and representatives to let them know where you stand on any issue, and expressing yourself in your own words is more meaningful than signing your name on a form letter. I would know; I used to do this professionally to help protect the national parks (which also need your help right now).

But before you call, be prepared. Here are some tips:

Be respectful

This is my top suggestion. When you call a member of Congress, you’re probably going to be talking to junior staff, whose job is to record very basic notes about your conversation. They are the messenger. Don’t yell at the messenger.

You are far more likely to have an impact by sounding calm, collected, and knowledgeable about what you are calling about. Yelling really gets you nowhere. It just tells Congress that you’re mad about something. You are more likely to be taken seriously as a constituent and a voter if you speak clearly and respectfully.

Ask to speak to a member of the legislative staff

There’s a small chance you can talk to a more influential person on a Congress member’s staff if you ask. When you are connected with an office, ask to speak to a legislative aide who handles telecommunications or internet policy. This person is more likely to understand you and may even want to have a conversation with you. If they are not available, ask to leave a message for them and present your concerns.

Keep it short and urgent

Congressional offices handle a ton of calls and messages each day, so don’t try to drone on about the issues. Start with a clear statement about what you want, and what action you are hoping the lawmaker will take. If you have personal stakes, make them known. Be sure to note if you work in a relevant industry or hold a position that the office will pay attention to. Also be sure to note how imminent this need is. (The FCC is voting to repeal net neutrality on Thursday.) Finally, let the office know you are a constituent and that you will be voting on this issue in the future.

Know the facts

Brush up on the issue before you call, and have a few bullet points ready in case you are asked a question about something. Mention specific things instead of general ideas. For instance, you don’t need to use the words “net neutrality.” Instead say you are calling about the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order.

Who to call

It’s best to call your own senators and representatives, since your voice as a constituent is most meaningful. You can look up phone numbers for your members of Congress by entering your zip code here. If you have time, try to call your lawmakers’ home district office, too.

Good luck!

Democracy is still about talking to people to find common cause. The internet is a wondrous invention that connects us all, but for now, the old-fashioned phone call is still a powerful tool.