Advice for activists

On community radio and a local professor’s tips for contacting your representatives

After work on a recent Wednesday, the day CN&R puts the paper to bed (when we ship it to the printer), I headed over to downtown’s KZFR studio to join Sue Hilderbrand on her weekly public affairs show, The Real Issue.

I was running on less than four hours of sleep, having been up the night before doing research for an editorial related to President Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from California as well as a new, biweekly feature called Eye on 45. The latter is a reference to watching our 45th president and his maneuverings—the near-daily controversies surrounding his executive orders, cabinet appointments, staffers’ so-called alternative facts and so on (see this week’s installment on page 11).

I was so tired that, as I was speaking with Hilderbrand, it felt like an out-of-body experience. There were a number of “Ums” and a few cases of “You know.” This is why I sit in front of a keyboard and not a microphone, I thought, as she deftly steered me through the first portion of her show.

Hilderbrand wanted to hear my take on what the public thinks about the new incarnation of the White House, since I hear from a lot of folks through the paper’s letters to the editor. CN&R is seeing a flood of letters each week, I said, and we’re not seeing just the familiar names—a host of new writers are sharing their thoughts. Aside from a few outliers, most of them are worried or outraged or both.

The real star of the show that evening was professor Diana Dwyre, who teaches political science at Chico State. She was there to chat about politics, especially the tools citizens can use to engage their representatives.

First off, Dwyre noted that politicians—from congressional members to state representatives and even municipal leaders—devote much of their staff’s efforts to tracking the sentiments of their constituents. They care in no small part because voters determine whether they’ll keep their jobs. Having worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan back in the late 1990s and in district offices for a representative in the New York state assembly before that, Dwyre knows her stuff.

Here are a few of her pointers for contacting your representatives’ offices:

• Say you’re a constituent and be sure to give your address and ZIP code.

• Say something original. If you’re working from a script as part of a grassroots effort to speak to a particular topic, try to put things in your own words. Better yet, describe how something will affect you personally.

Dwyre’s advice is applicable to all voters—regardless of party preference or whether they are concerned with local, state or federal policy. Right now, of course, our nation is focused on Washington. That’s because there’s a lot on the line—think the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare, as well as environmental and Wall Street regulations. Congress is in recess this week, but big decisions are on the horizon.

Depending on the office, Dwyre said, some politicians may start paying close attention with as few as 50 calls on a subject. That’s a small number considering each congressional district has 700,000 constituents.

Kind of makes you want to pick up the phone, doesn’t it?