Every time I send an email to urge folks to contact their members of Congress, I get a handful of replies that resemble one or the other of these two quotes:
1.) “I’m not going to contact my member of Congress because he is a crazy, extreme, corrupt nincompoop who is going to vote whichever way the corporate lobbyists tell him to vote.”
2.) “I’m not going contact my member of Congress because I know she cares about consumers, the environment, social justice and generally shares my utopian vision of a perfect world.”
Believe me folks, if you’re looking for a reason not to have to deal with the quagmire of vitriol and rancor that is the 112th Congress, I hear you.
And I wish I could say, “Yeah, don’t bother. You with the corrupt member of Congress and you with the just and principled member of Congress, don’t worry about it. The people who really need to contact their members of Congress – whoever they are – will do so. You can just sit this one out.”
But I can’t say that. Because it’s not true. And that’s not how democracy works.
To the person who says he has a corrupt, corporate-influenced member of Congress, I say this:
“Do you really think it’s better if this member of Congress only hears from people who AGREE with him? If you feel like you’re being ignored, at least you can hold him accountable for that – and at least he knows you’re there.
“By not contacting his office, you’ve made it so he doesn’t even have to bother ignoring you. He doesn’t even know you’re there.
“Let’s get something straight: there are millions of us. We’re the American people. We are the 900-pound gorilla in the room. Our members of Congress are free to ignore the people, if they choose. But if they do, we can (and should) make it very, very uncomfortable for them. At minimum, we should not take for granted our power to make our presence known.”
To the person who says she has a brilliant member of Congress whose values are identical to her own, I say this:
“Do you really think it’s better if your member of Congress only hears from people who DISAGREE with her? Because if you think your member of Congress cares about public health, safety and the environment, then, chances are, there are corporate interests that will spend unlimited amounts of money to flood her office with negative messages.
“By not contacting her office, you’ve made it easy for her to doubt the existence and support of people like you who think she’s doing the right things.
“Meanwhile, she’s not ignoring you. She’s working for you. But if you ignore her – and she only hears from the loudest and shrillest of her political opponents – she might think her constituents really don’t support the strong, substantial reforms that are necessary to fix our nation’s worst problems.
“She might suppose the best she can do – and therefore the best use of her energy – is to pass meager half-measures. Because that’s what she thinks her constituents want.”
As our appallingly unpopular Congress resumes its work this fall, they’re going to try to pass some bills. Some of them will be terrible. Some of them will be beneficial.
So, please, when I (and others working on progressive campaigns) urge you to contact your members of Congress about pressing legislation, please do so. Because I can guarantee that if you’re not contacting your legislators, someone else is.