Column: No, really, call your representatives

A vast number of people are disappointed in our government lately, particularly at the federal level. While it’s easy to drown in the never-ending confusion that has been the American news cycle for the past weeks, there are still a few tried and true rules of democracy that should operate just as well today as they have in the past.

A few weeks ago, I called one of my representatives for the first time. It was a mundane activity, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous before making the call. I had written a few paragraphs to read and, at moments in the beginning, I could feel my voice beginning to tremble.

But after it was over, I realized it was no big deal. Did I change the world? Probably not. Did I exercise one of my duties as an American citizen by letting a representative member of my government know what one of their constituents thinks? Yes and I felt pretty good about it.

The point I’m trying to make is that calling your representative is a dead simple option to ensure your voice is heard. All of the numbers can be found through a Google search (I’ve also supplied the numbers of West Virginian representatives at the end of this column) and taking a couple moments to figure out what you’re going to say isn’t much of an obstacle. It also gets easier the more you do it; I was far more comfortable with my second call than my first, mostly because I knew what to expect.

Through my experience, an assistant will answer the phone and patiently listen as you say what you need to say. As a rule, you should be concise so others have an opportunity to dial in. After you’re finished, the assistant may take your name and address and that’s pretty much it. I’ve found it’s better to call your representative’s local office, where the focus is more on listening to constituents than performing the D.C. grunt work, but you can definitely call both.

I’ve had friends and family ask me after making a call: Do they really care about those? There’s no easy way to quantify this because every representative is different, as is the public’s response to various issues.

But there’s a recent example to suggest that the government still considers public opinion when making legislative decisions. In early January, House Republicans voted to gut an independent ethics watchdog — the Office of Congressional Ethics — during a closed-door meeting. The vote spurred immediate backlash, both from the public and then-President-elect Donald Trump, causing the House Republicans to abandon their plans. According to The Washington Post, this was in part because of a “barrage of angry phone calls from constituents.”

So, while our democracy might seem hopeless when someone like Betsy DeVos is confirmed by the Senate Education Committee — despite exhibiting almost no knowledge of the department she could control and despite plagiarizing a portion of her Senate questionnaire, according to CNN — know that you still have the power to do something about it.

DeVos’ fate is now up to a Senate floor vote, which will be decided by a simple majority sometime next week. West Virginia Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R, and Joe Manchin, D, have voiced that they will vote for and against DeVos, respectively, according to The Charleston Gazette-Mail. But neither has cast their vote and their phone lines are currently open for you to express whether you support or oppose their decisions.

But outside of DeVos, there are countless issues to bring to your representatives’ attention. Do you care about the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, Trump’s executive order to ban travel from seven majority-Muslim nations or any of the other troubling events that have bombarded Americans in the past week? If so, you should make a call.

Even if your representative cannot have a direct influence on a particular issue (a West Virginia representative can’t overturn an executive order, of course) they are still your voice in Washington. It’s their jobs to represent their constituents’ concerns and it’s your job to bring those concerns to their attention.

Below are the local office phone numbers of West Virginia’s representatives. Note: If you are registered to vote in another state, you will want to contact the representatives from that state.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R: 304-347-5372

Sen. Joe Manchin, D: 304-342-5855

Rep. Evan Jenkins, R: 304-522-2201

Rep. David McKinley, R: 304-284-8505

Rep. Alex Mooney, R: 304-925-5964

Jared Casto can be contacted at [email protected]